As the Bloomington community awaits the fall 2019 reopening of the Eskenazi Museum of Art following a two-year $30 million renovation, one aspect of that renovation has come under scrutiny.
The closing of Angles Café and Gift Shop and the removal of its popular manager and buyer Murat Ali Candiler has been met with disapproval.
Candiler emailed his friends and loyal patrons of the café in early June to tell them of the change. He wrote that IU Human Resources would try to find another position for him on campus. However, American Studies professor Micol Siegel and other faculty began protesting the decision.
Eventually, Seigel wrote a letter to David Brenneman, director of the Eskenazi Museum of Art, urging him to reconsider his decision. The letter and petition were signed by over 200 faculty, staff, and museum patrons.
The letter, dated June 10, claims that the café and gift shop space will be downsized by 75%, will switch to selling merchandise and dismiss Candiler from his position.
“An ample body of IU faculty, staff and students love the space Murat Ali curated, the gorgeous collection of objects the store displayed, his wonderful coffee and the cadenced, quiet space the café offered,” the letter reads. “Do we need another dining hall? Is it really important to offer another outlet for IU baseball hats?”
Candiler could not be reached for comment.
Brenneman said several claims in the letter were inaccurate. While the retail space will be downsized, he said it will still carry gifts such as posters, postcards and other gifts based on the works of art in the museum’s collection.
“There will be wonderful things in the shop, but they will really be focused on our collections,” Brenneman said. “We’re not going to be selling IU baseball caps, striped basketball pants and IU logo T-shirts.”
He said the change was based on broader institutional goals to renovate the I. M. Pei-designed museum to prioritize student engagement.
The letter and petition also argues that Candiler provided a unique service to museum customers.
“Murat is an incredible asset to Indiana University in this position,” the letter reads. “He is an ambassador of art and culture. Speaking five languages, he found astonishing goods worldwide and could explain their provenance to the casual browser like a global tour guide."
Brenneman said that he was very sorry they had to let Candiler go considering the newly repurposed café. He said that RPS has been tasked to make the new café a special place.
Nandini Gupta, associate professor of finance at IU, said Candiler had exceptional taste and that she bought a necklace from him, which she wore on her sabbatical. While visiting a gallery in London, the curator took note of it and asked her where she got it. Her answer was Bloomington, Indiana.
“It wasn’t an expensive thing,” Gupta said. “It was just something that Murat picked out from some designer in Brazil, and it was actually made from a recycled espresso cup. It was just clever and funny and beautiful.”
Apart from the eclectic array of gifts offered, Seigel said the space was used by members of the IU community as a gathering place.
“You could go there, you could hang out and have coffee, lots of graduate students held office hours there, I always met people there, I took visitors to campus there,” Seigel said. “When you think about the loss of a space, you kind of shrug and you think, ‘Oh well, the march of progress is cruel.’ I’m not sure that it’s progress.”
Gupta said Angles was a distinctive place for faculty, students and visitors alike.
“It’s a very important space as far as the business faculty are concerned because we are a little further off from the other side of campus not near Kirkwood,” Gupta said. “This offers a good place to take outside speakers and job market candidates.”
Brenneman said the museum wants to capitalize on the foot traffic of the thousands of students who travel through the Fine Arts Plaza on their way to classes.
In the past, a concrete wall and a parking space had screened the museum from the north-facing terrace and separated the museum from the arboretum.
When the museum opens, the café will serve as an entrance to the museum from the arboretum. Brenneman said that the café and gift shop will occupy the same space.
“I’m sorry that folks are really upset about it,” Brenneman said. “Hopefully once the museum opens and once we get the space up and running, once people actually come and participate and see what a beautiful social space this will be, maybe they’ll think a bit differently.”