Toledo Museum of Art adds two monumental outdoor sculptures by artists Josiah McElheny and Wangechi Mutu to its collection
The Toledo Museum of Art has acquired two major works by leading contemporary artists Wangechi Mutu and Josiah McElheny. Both will be installed within the next year in TMA’s Georgia and David K. Welles Sculpture Garden, which features a growing collection of more than 25 exceptional works of art sited on the Museum’s verdant 40-acre campus. Mutu’s The Seated II (2019), a bronze sculpture of a woman reaching over 6.5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, is inspired by the caryatid – a sculpted female figure found in African and European art that doubles as a load-bearing architectural element. McElheny’s Moon Mirror (2019) is a crescent-shaped work of colored glass and stainless steel that suggests a luminous half-moon resting on a plane. At 8.5 feet wide and 16 feet tall, its curved shape also lends itself to frame performances and other acoustic improvisations.
“The Toledo Museum of Art looks forward to engaging our community through these important additions to our outdoor collection by two of the most versatile and innovative artists working today,” said Adam M. Levine, Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art. “We are grateful to the members of the Georgia Welles Apollo Society for their support of Josiah McElheny’s Moon Mirror and to the donors who supported the acquisition of Wangechi Mutu’s The Seated II.”
Mutu’s The Seated II is part of a series of four works of seated females entitled The New Ones, will free Us, originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The series title reflects the artist’s belief in the liberating power of new ideas, new people, new forms of knowledge and new ways of living. The figure in The Seated II has protective coils covering her body like armor and a shiny round disc on her forehead, reminiscent of traditional African adornment worn by women of status, which mirrors the light and surroundings. The female sculpture represents all women, but particularly Black women, who in our societies are the recipients of such immense responsibility and trauma. Staging a feminist intervention, the artist presents a regal, unencumbered figure in full possession of her own power. This enigmatic and otherworldly presence is a force to be respected and reckoned with.
“The new ones, the new voices include the young people, the immigrants who are the newest arrival to the country…all of the people who are fighting for rights of the most marginalized communities – essentially anyone who is entering or attempting to enter the conversation and demanding that they be treated equally,” Mutu previously stated when speaking about the series. “The New Ones include us if we are ready to be part of the conversation.”
Born in Kenya in 1972, Mutu came to the United States in her early 20s. Today she divides her time between what she calls her mother home – Nairobi, Kenya – and Brooklyn, New York, her adopted home. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union and Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale University. Her work, which focuses on large scale collage-paintings, video, performance and sculpture, has been exhibited widely nationally and internationally, including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Brooklyn Museum, Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Studio Museum in Harlem and Tate Modern in London, among others.
Based in New York, McElheny (born 1966) extends the possibilities of glass through sculptural works that elude easy definitions and established categories. McElheny explores the factory techniques of glass-making and reconnecting his work to the glass industry and its communities, history and sites. For the glass in Moon Mirror, he collaborated with a 100-year-old family business in upstate New York that manufactures lenses for airport runways. The firm and the artist devised a new method of pressed molding that results in an exceptionally strong and durable glass. The custom-made glass tiles in an array of blues create a shimmering, light-filled sculptural experience that embodies shifting perceptions and reflections, much like the moon itself. The purchase of Moon Mirror was made possible by TMA’s Georgia Welles Apollo Society, the Museum’s art acquisition membership group.
“The sculpture and performance platform Moon Mirror celebrates the prismatic potential of the factory, so being welcomed to Toledo, ‘The Glass City,’ and enveloped in the history of the glass industry couldn’t be more perfect,” said the artist. “The marvelous Toledo Museum of Art and its campus has, for so long, been a place of education and living creativity. To have Moon Mirror come alive and reflect light, sound, music and voice – performance in general – in such a special community is really exciting.”
McElheny was named a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow in 2006. His work has been exhibited at distinguished institutions worldwide, including Stanford University, the Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.
TMA holds one of the most historically significant and comprehensive collections of glass in the world. In 2006 TMA opened its Glass Pavilion, designed by the Pritzker-Prize winning architecture firm SANAA, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the medium’s study, stewardship and display. Moon Mirror joins another brilliant work by McElheny represented in TMA’s collection: Impurities (1994-2001), a horizontal sculpture of glass objects and maps, charts the medium’s history and its changing compositional qualities across eras, regions and cultures.
“These outstanding and profound additions to the collection, The Seated II and Moon Mirror, uniquely connect the Toledo Museum of Art to its history and culture, and their acquisition underscores TMA’s commitment to outdoor sculpture as a forum for self-reflection, meaningful dialogue and social connection,” said Diane Wright, TMA’s senior curator of glass and contemporary craft.