"Immeasurably Important." A Historic Gift Earmarked for the Booming Field of Asian Art

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum

Bloomington, Indiana. Tuscon, Arizona. Nashville, Tennessee. The list of small American cities housing museums receiving large and transformative art gifts continues to grow. Let us now add Cincinnati to the list.

In May, Cincinnati Art Museum has announced the largest single monetary gift in its history, an $11.75 million endowment for its collections of art from South Asia, Greater Iran and Afghanistan. It was bequeathed by Alice and Carl Bimel and establishes the Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art. She died in 2008; he in 2013.

The Bimels traveled widely in Asia, where they collected art and previously made donations totaling $2 million to the museum. Alice was a museum volunteer for more than 40 years and a docent. In 1972, she was the first woman named to the museum’s board of trustees. Carl retired in 2004 after a 45-year career as a business owner and consultant in the concrete industry.

With the works that they have given to the museum, their total donation amounts to more than $14 million.

The gift comes at time when Asian art is a hot commodity. According to Invaluable, an e-commerce site for the art world, in 2014, total sales of Asian art and antiquities was $237.3 million; the next year, sales increased 17 percent, to $276.6 million.

Given the couple's long relationship with the museum, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the gift landed there. That said, it underscores a point I made most recently while analyzing the Metropolitan Museum of Art's high-profile woes. Donors realize they can get more bang for their buck by giving to smaller museums rather than overstocked "legacy" institutions.

Cameron Kitchin, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, underscores the point, noting that the gift "will advance a key area of study that is immeasurably important and highly relevant in contemporary society."

In related news, check out our take on a key player in Cincinnati's vibrant arts scene, ArtsWave, the region's local arts agency and the nation's "first and largest community campaign for the arts."