Tag Archives: Speed Art Museum

Arts

A Little Room to Breathe

Installation is the presentation of works of art. The following is a look at museum installations in New York, London, Edinburgh and Louisville that all work well in different ways.  In great installations the sequence and juxtaposition of art objects presents a silent argument, making a case for the richness or provocative value of the works laid out in a gallery.  Great installations give maximum value to the artworks and exploit, to that end, lighting, wall color, spacing, explanatory labels and the placement of pedestals and gallery furniture. Great installations also require that the selection of works be judicious and sustain attention and engagement. Too often exhibitions are weakened by the inclusion of mediocre work: better the A work by the C- artist than the C- work by the artist with an A reputation. Failure to consider ways of breaking open the canon of received opinion and the inability to make surprise a component of gallery arrangements are also common shortcomings.  So what works?

‘Action Painting I’, Gallery 403, 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York; photograph: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Installation view of Action Painting I (gallery 403), The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp

The Museum of Modern Art, newly re-opened in October after a major expansion, sidesteps the common pitfalls.  There is an increase in the white space between works; the re-hang gives precedence to artists neglected earlier, especially women, artists of color, and artists from parts of the world other than Europe and North America.  The Haitian artist Hervé Telemaque adds to the understanding of Pop Art as an international phenomenon, and the Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen expands the definition of Minimalism.  In the first gallery devoted to Abstract Expressionism, the viewer is greeted by Pollock, deKooning, and David Smith – but also by Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, Pat Pasloff, Lee Krasner, Isamu Noguchi and Beauford Delaney: four women, a Japanese-American, and an African-American.  The matrix of art history is loosened, media are no longer separated (photography or film almost omnipresent), and masterpieces are de-emphasized in favor of a more searching exposition of the human imagination and the range of expressive solutions. The lock-step march of isms has been replaced by a meandering and discursive path.  Ironically, in many instances, it is also an arrangement that fosters a situation of clear visibility – that is, a hang that makes the masterwork heroes more heroic, enhancing their aesthetic impact, while giving the supporting cast members larger roles.  Picasso’s 1907 Demoiselles D’Avignon is juxtaposed with Faith Ringgold’s image of racial conflict, American People Series #20, executed in 1968. Ringgold’s image references Picasso’s Guernica, and the label asserts that the comparison intensifies “the questions Demoiselles raises about representations of women, power and cultural difference.”  Success!  Demoiselles acquires added complexity and the Ringgold competes very well indeed next to the early Cubist breakthrough painting. 

Best of all, one-third of the MOMA galleries will be re-hung or shifted around every six months, which means a complete re-hang every 18 months.

Another model installation is the new Islamic Gallery at the British Museum, opened in the fall of 2018, which celebrates the way in which Islamic artifacts of all kinds match form to decoration. Even humble clay water filters feature elaborate geometric piercings. The uses of calligraphy, the arabesque interweaving of plant and animal forms, the multiple elaborations of geometric patterns – all are presented with a clarity that surpasses the earlier, rival Islamic art installations at the Louvre and the Met in New York. The lowest levels of the cases have ancient Persian animal figures to engage children, and there are a variety of please-touch items supervised by a museum educator at a low table. And, to add to the pleasure of the Gallery, when I visited there was an adjacent halal café with grilled figs and a spectacular lavender honey tart.

The smartest installations are often the ones in which curatorial responsibility is turned over to the artists. At the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh some ancient Pict and Celt artifacts are installed against backgrounds devised by the artist Andy Goldsworthy – mud, pieces of slate and, most effectively, wooden sticks to set off the 600 B.C.E. Ballachulish figure, an Iron Age fertility figure or goddess. 

Which brings us back to Louisville and Southern Indiana.  Three recently opened galleries have ambitious programs and intriguing spaces which lend well to very satisfactory viewing spaces. Quappi Projects at 517 East Market Street in Louisville has high ceilings, excellent lighting and elegant proportions.  The Moremen Gallery, on the second floor at 517 East Market Street, makes excellent use of the former glass walled offices and conference rooms for modestly scaled one-person shows. The Kleinhelter Gallery at 701 East 8th Street, New Albany (Indiana), is housed in a 19th Century brick building that offers the option of hanging on plain or brick walls. The loser in the newer gallery sweepstakes is the collection-rich Filson Historical Society (Louisville), which did not allow for adequate exhibit space in its recent expansion. The primary galleries are cramped, awkwardly lit, and require a staff member to accompany visitors who wish to visit the exhibitions.

Installation View, Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950. (1590)

More intriguing in terms of installation is the contrast between the current exhibitions at the Speed Art Museum and KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft). At the Speed, Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950 has a whopping 162 works on view, at least 140 of which depict the equine stars of the race course and breeding industry.  The majority are extracted from Kentucky  collections.  From a museum-strategy point of view, the subject gave the Speed an excuse for access to Bluegrass holdings that would otherwise remain behind closed doors. 

Documentary but also laden with a romanticizing self-regard, the carefully delineated champions’ confirmations are emblems of the horse owners’ prestige:  the nobility of the animals imply by extension their owners’ lofty status.  Artists were partners in the thoroughbred and saddlebred businesses, and the story is told with panache in Tales from the Turf.  In addition to paintings there are prints, silver trophies, artists’ tools, a map of the Bluegrass, a circular pedigree diagram, an example of the actual purse that was presented to a winner in the 19th Century, and a bronze masterpiece of a jockey and rider by the art moderne sculptor Wilhelm Hunt Diederich, who employed a simplifying cubist geometrification.

The introduction to the show includes three paintings by the greatest 20th Century equestrian painter, Sir Alfred Munnings.   In Going Out at Epsom from 1929-1930, Munnings’s alla prima brushwork, especially in the clouds that surmount the scene, complements the energy, excitement and nervousness before a race.  The three Munnings paintings are real zingers, and placement opposite the entrance to the show provides an upbeat introduction.  The gallery-goer is then carried along by six different wall colors, from pale to dark blue, and a sequence of mauve-eggplant hues.  Wall texts, wall text illustrations, varied rhythms of spacing of pictures on the wall, and the piped in sound of clopping horses’ hooves – all keep attention at a high level despite the show’s repetitiveness.  There are also some great curatorial mysteries to be solved, for example, the detection of an American horse altered to appear to be English. In Edmund Troye, the show has a major master whose place in the pantheon of great American painters needs to be more widely acknowledged. The show concludes with three newsreels of Kentucky Derby races from the 1940s. 

A complete contrast is the KMAC installation of “Picasso: From Antibes to Louisville.” It is remarkably understated. The walls are off-white, the pictures are lined up with little variation, and labels are remote, printed out on plasticized sheets. The show consists of three galleries, a timeline, a video about the founder of the Musée Picasso in Antibes, France, and photographs of Picasso at work by Michel Sima.  The first gallery has a reproduction of Picasso’s 1946 Joy of Life, a painting which shows Picasso in a playful, relaxed mood after the horrors of the war years.  The rest of the gallery is devoted to preliminary studies for the Joy of Life, and still lifes from the same year. In this period Picasso was visiting Matisse every two weeks, and the interchange with the older master is apparent.  Picasso, as he had done repeatedly throughout his career, took on the mantle of classicism: the spare graphite studies are of a centaur and several fauns, many playing the regional duale double barreled flute. They are accompanied in the studies by extraordinarily zaftig nymphs with ballooning breasts.  But these mythological fantasy drawings are not easily dismissed on sexist grounds:  Picasso’s lyrical line and the taut compression of his contours imply acrobatic vitality and a division of space that activates every sheet.  

Installation View: “Picasso: From Antibes to Louisville”, KMAC Museum

A second gallery has a selection from Picasso’s Vollard Suite, installed in a flat-footed manner, eight vertical prints followed by eight horizontals. Turn the corner and there is Picasso’s portrait of the maestro art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who commissioned the suite that preoccupied the Spaniard from 1931 to 1937. Picasso makes his viewers complicit in his male gaze: we are voyeurs witnessing the gaze of the middle-aged males in the prints.  The linear contours of the female nudes in these prints have their clearest precedents in Greek vase painting. Sexuality, death, aggression, evil and innocence are some of Picasso’s themes: in effect, Picasso addresses the tissue of human relations, love and antagonism, with classicizing men and women, horses and Minotaurs.  Blind Minotaur Guided through a Starry Night by Marie-Thérèse with a Pigeon, aquatint, drypoint, and engraving, executed in 1934-1935, encompasses the emotional extremes Picasso invested in the Minotaur, symbolizing lasciviousness but also guilt; violence but also despair.  

Installation View: “Picasso: From Antibes to Louisville”, KMAC Museum

The last gallery is reached from a corridor with a very informal Picasso timeline, a nice contrast to the buttoned-up installation of the rest of the show.  A selection of prints done between 1952 and 1956 demonstrate Picasso’s experimental approach to printmaking and include lithographs, silkscreen and aquatint.

So ultimately does installation matter? In the case of the Picasso show at KMAC, the underplayed arrangement is a plus, allowing black and white drawings and prints to command center stage.  The curatorial problem remains: how do you make the work of art mean more? How do you make the work of art more present and more accessible?  How do you sustain attention?  Each exhibition and each exhibition space demand different solutions.

Tales from the Turf: the Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950 , Speed Art Museum, 2035 South Third St., Louisville, KY, 40208.  Closes March 1st.

Picasso: From Antibes to Louisville, KMAC Museum, 715 West Main St., Louisville, KY, 40202.  Closes March 22nd.

Arts

Arts Tasting Menu

Hand-cut cultural delicacies from the Bluegrass region and beyond.

This week, interesting talks and presentations are featured.

Appetizer

Black Horse Men of Kentucky with Dr. Katherine Mooney. Speed Art Museum, Louisville. February 16th, 1-2:30 pm.

Mooney is Associate Professor of History at Florida State University. Her presentation will explore the history of the Black Horse Men of Kentucky. She will be signing her book, Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack. The presentation is in conjunction with the Speed’s current exhibition, Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825 – 1950.

Entrée

2020 Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Kentucky Theater, Lexington. February 5th, 7 pm – 9 pm.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning presents its latest inductees into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees are Cleanth Brooks, Lucy Furman, Sena Jeter Naslund, Sam Shepard, and Hollis Summers.

Dessert

Robert C. May Photography Lecture Series: Erika Larsen. Gatton Student Center, University of Kentucky. January 31st, 4 pm.

Erika Larsen, Mik’nuraq, 2015, archival pigment print.

Renowned photojournalist Erika Larsen comes to UK for a talk in conjunction with an exhibition of her work at UK Art Museum, Erika Larsen: Ritual for a Changing Planet. Larsen’s work appears in National Geographic. Her current work explores how indigenous cultures are utilizing ritual practices to cope with the effects of climate change on their natural environments.

Arts

Arts Tasting Menu

Hand-cut cultural delicacies from the Bluegrass region and beyond.

More worthwhile museum shows in the region.

Appetizer

Picasso: From  Antibes to Louisville. KMAC Museum, Louisville. Through March 22nd, 2020.

About fifty of the artist’s works in ceramics and on paper from the Musée Picasso in Antibes, France, are exhibited for the first time outside of Europe. Might be wise to purchase advance tickets for this one.

Entree

Something Over Something Else: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series. Cincinnati Art Museum. February 28th through May 24th, 2020.

Romare Bearden (1911–1988), United States, Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Mecklenberg County, Miss Bertha and Mr. Seth, 1978, collage on board, Collection of Susan Merker. © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Paul Takeuchi.

The work of African-American artist, writer, and composer is featured in this important exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum. One of America’s greatest collagists, this exhibition features thirty collages from Bearden’s Profile Series, which is both autobiographical and also addresses the scope of the African-American experience in this country.

Dessert

Loose Nuts: Bert Hurley’s West End Story. Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Through April 19th, 2020.

Bert Hurley (American, 1898–1955), Loose Nuts: A Rapsody in Brown, 1933. Pen and black ink, brush and black ink, crayon, watercolor, and graphite on wove paper.

Louisville artist Bert Hurley was know almost exclusively within the African-American community. He was known in Louisville’s West End as a talented visual artist and musician. Much of his work has been lost but this exhibition features a handwritten and illustrated novella which takes place in the vibrant West End of the 1930’s.

Arts

It Just Kinda Dawned on Us

..and the sun keeps comin’ up…

This venture has been a long and healthy haul – and now our future is even more robust. When we (my Co-Publishers Tom Martin, Art Shechet and I) first launched UnderMain in 2014, we were simply having fun. We enjoyed uncovering what we thought was hidden in the shadows or living under the main thoroughfares of the then-present consciousness of art and culture in our region.

That was the way this all started: With caffeine and laughter, many morning meetings turned to their adjacent afternoons full of new ideas. Sitting at the same table at Le Matin Bakery, one Wednesday after the next, we came up with the title of our ad-free, visually rich digital magazine: UnderMain. We decided then that its primary mission would be to shine a light on artists, writers, gallerists, creative spaces and ideas, collectors, curators, and critics who work hard everyday and struggle to be heard and seen.

I am not sure why we were searching the darkened spaces or if we just felt there was not enough visibility in print publications, but no matter – because now we’ve flipped the switch in this little digital space. Whether it was passion, fatigue, frustration, ideation, or the simply act of creating, we had it and found enough of it mirrored in you to thrive all these years.

So, as your UMPrez, I am delighted to announce that UnderMain has received a three-year commitment from the Great Meadows Foundation (GMF) to continue our programming.

It should be noted that the generosity of the Great Meadows Foundation is supported by a near equal match of anonymous donations and in-kind contributions from so many. The writing, management, coordination, editing, curation of our content is brought to you by an undying commitment from our contributors and editors, many of whom work in an entirely philanthropic manner. Together we have remained consistent and fresh over the last five years and, with this three-year commitment, all that we have done means all the more there is to do.

As I elaborated in our proposal to the Great Meadows Foundation, UnderMain must now move beyond our light-and-shadows naiveté into a more prominent place of advancing the level of discourse in Kentucky about visual art and culture. These three programs are at the heart of that effort:

Studio Visit Series 

In 2014, we ventured out and into area artists’ studios. I was privileged to write and publish a few of those first visits  (“Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life”and “Dark Dualities: David Kenton Kring”) and now I spend more time connecting writers with artists and publishing their stories. There comes with that a certain reward, a specific joy in connecting two individuals who learn from one another as these writers and artists did: Keith Banner visits Michael Goodlett and Jim Fields visits Skylar Smith. Jim’s own words might say it best:

I began writing exclusively for UnderMain three years ago with a primary focus on artists, their work and what inspires them. For me, ‘the blank page is both exhilarating and intimidating and, like creating a work of art, writing is a process that requires both vision and revision. It is about making certain choices, being aware of various connections, and synthesizing information in order to give my ideas shape and meaning. Working with artists in their studio settings requires implicit mutual confidence and trust, with equal vulnerability, and being ever mindful to not be blinded by the obvious. I am honored to have been selected as one of the writers to participate in Under-Main’s Studio Visits Series under the auspices of The Great Meadows Foundation. While I am grateful for the stipend I received, my real reward for writing ‘A Studio Visit with Skylar Smith: Her Story’ came from the artist herself when she emailed me shortly after the article was published: “You gave voice to things I have not been able to articulate, yet resonate for me—thank you for this.”

In 2019, with our first funding commitment from the GMF, our focus has narrowed to Kentucky artists and we have thus far published eight studio visits, those above and the following: Miles Turner visits Mia Cinelli, Emily Elizabeth Goodman visits Melissa Vandenberg, Hunter Kissel visits Harry Sanchez, Jr. , Miriam Keinle visits Lori Larusso, Sso-Rha Kang visits Carlos Gamez De Francisco, and Natalie Weis visits Vian Sora.

Upcoming is a visit by the Speed Museum’s Miranda Lash with Louisville artist John Brooks, Paul Michael Brown’s visit with Lexington artist Robert Beatty, and Cooper Gibson’s visit with James Lyons.

In 2020, UnderMain will organize thirteen studio visits with Kentucky artists and our writers will not only be paid a stipend for their work, but – at the request of Sso-Rha Kang – I have included a small amount for travel expenses as I have always tried to connect artist and writer from different areas of this region.

Critical Mass Symposium

In 2016, we launched the Critical Mass Series, a symposium intended to advance critical thinking in the arts and promote further discussion about Kentucky’s position as it relates to the broader art community.

Critical Mass I  took place in 2016 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum and was moderated by Stuart Horodner. Then in 2018, we followed that with Critical Mass II at KMAC with Joey Yates moderating – fully intending the symposium as a biennial. The discussions however, generated such enthusiasm that it led us to rethink that idea – and in 2019 Matt Distel of The Carnegie in Covington held Critical Mass III.

Critical Mass IV is being planned for March of 202o and will feature the GMF Critic-in-Residence Koan Jeff Baysa.  So, please watch our site for upcoming details.

Critical Reviews of Local Exhibitions 

Since inception, we have held this as one of our highest priorities and, at year end, we are encouraged by the impact these reviews have had. They have exposed the curatorial work of many institutions in Kentucky and the Central Kentucky region, including: The Moreman Gallery and KMAC in Louisville; 21c Museum Hotel, Mary Rezny Gallery, Institute 193, and the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington; the Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio; and the Kleinhelter Gallery in New Albany, Indiana.

Engaging critical writing from both within and outside of our state has helped to advance the level of critical discourse about contemporary art and its role in defining our regional identity. With the support of the Great Meadows Foundation, UnderMain will increase the publication of these reviews to twenty per year with an increase in pay to our writers.

Thanks to all who support our endeavor. The UnderMain concept is growing, and with new programming like UMRadio – a recurring feature of the weekly program Eastern Standard on WEKU, a local NPR station, and UMDingers, a surprise treat coming in 2020 – we continue to aim higher. And, when that big ball hits the top, we’ll move into the dawn of the dusk knowing full well how to light the way.

Arts

In Their Own Words

Listen to interviews gathered for our segments on Eastern Standard, the weekly public affairs radio magazine on WEKU.  Click on the images to listen to UnderMain’s Art Shechet, in conversation with Speed Museum contemporary arts curator Miranda Lash; Tatiana Gant, executive director of the Montana Arts Council discussing with Sky Marietta the value to rural artists of their “Artrepreneur” program; and Wendy Barnett sitting down with Ave Lawyer, co-founder of Lexington’s unique On The Verge theatre company, and actors Kevin Hardesty and Rachel Lee Rogers to discuss the production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part Two.

Miranda Lash, Speed Art Museum curator of contemporary art

Tatiana Gant, Executive Director, Montana Arts Council

Kevin Hardesty, Rachel Lee Rogers in A Doll’s House, Part II

Arts

A Review: Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past

Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past is on view at the Speed Art Museum through October 30th. It complements an earlier art exhibition, Gaela Erwin: Mother that was on view at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center for the Visual Arts this past summer.

In each show Erwin explores her genealogy, both familial and artistic. The German Expressionist Max Beckmann wrote in 1939, “the self is the greatest mystery in the world.”  Like Beckmann’s pursuit of “the mystery of being,” Erwin’s art may be seen as a continual effort to be ever more specific about the psychology of identity, household relationships and art historical heritage. The family portraits are less about lineage and more about penetrating self-discovery. The artist is not leaning on art historical models for legitimation or prestige, but to delve deeply into the nature of portraiture in past and present practice.

Gaela Erwin (American), Portrait of my Mother in her Wedding Dress, 2013, chalk pastel, Collection of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c Museum Hotels

Erwin’s greatest invention in the Cressman show was to depict her nonagenarian mother asleep, reclining full length, attired in her wedding dress. Erwin’s mother (now deceased) suffered from dementia and Erwin’s use of her mother as a subject ironically presents a gifted physiognomist contemplating a loved one subtly expressionless. The bridal gown unfamiliarizes the sitter: dress-up is a way of losing touch with time, and heightening, in this case, the struggle of age versus beauty.

In her affecting portrayals of the last years of her mother’s life, Erwin conveys a telling inventory of the symptoms of dementia evoked in John Bayley’s phrases describing his wife, Iris Murdoch: “behindhand;” “unreassured;” “wonder on the edge of fear;” “the daily pucker of blank anxiety.”  Erwin charts her mother’s mien, the dropping lower lip, the sagging flesh, and the bulging carotid artery, yet also intimates empathy for a striking woman seemingly accustomed to being beautiful, the chalk uncannily taking on the substance of rouge and lipstick. The pastel is handled very directly in this work and left unblended as in the bold red and black marks defining the arthritic fingers of the sitter’s right hand.

Several double portraits of Erwin and her sister Shelley were in both exhibitions. Especially in the costumed double portraits in the Speed show, the artist intimates the complexity of sibling relationships and the numbing exhaustion of negotiating the care of a dying parent. In The Erwin Sisters as Artist and Poet compressing the figures against the frontal plane signals both closeness and discomfort. Nonetheless, the recurring portraits in 18th and 19th Century costume create an air of politesse, courtly manners and courtesies, as if these traditions offered a pathway to an authentically civil society.

Gaela Erwin, Self-Portrait as Twins Separated at Birth, 2016, pastel on paper, Courtesy of the Artist

An extension of the portraits with her sister is Erwin’s Self Portrait as Twins Separated at Birth. The backdrop of trees adapted from Francis Cotes in four works is here rendered a trompe l’oeil picture within a picture held on the wall behind the double portrait with push pins and masking tape. The finesse with which the sheen of blue satin is rendered in the 18th Century Erwin, on the left, contrasts with the abstract expressionist gestural drawing describing the faded Union Jack t-shirt in the contemporary Erwin on the right.

The gaze of the informal, t-shirted and blue-jeaned self is direct and confrontational, while the historicized figure averts from looking at the viewer. A traditional symbol of vanity, a peacock feather, adorns the shawl draped over the arms of the costumed version. The constricted period gown and blonde wig gives the fictional character an air of hauteur, dominating the sister two centuries her junior. A literal depiction of the idiom denoting worry and anxiety, “ I am beside myself,” is given a narrative cast. As in many other works in the exhibition, there is a sense of incipient action – the moment before the moment something momentous will happen, perhaps when artifice is revealed and the real Gaela Erwin steps forward.

In the catalogue to the exhibition, Eileen Yanoviak, Exhibition Coordinator at the Speed Art Museum, places Erwin’s portraits firmly in the tradition of the fantasy portrait, with its openings to associations and fictions about the past:  “They are a sort of ‘self-fashioning’ through history, a way to select those attributes and narratives that define an individual. Removed from contemporary reality, these portraits seem to reveal the paradoxes and complexities of the present through the past.”

Erwin pays homage to pastel practice with riffs on studies by 18th Century masters in the Speed’s collection by Jean-Baptiste Perroneau (1715-1783), and Francis Cotes ( 1726-1770), as well as the 20th Century artist, Winold Reiss (1786-1953).

Gaela Erwin (American), Licia and Neema, 2016, Pastel on paper, Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition’s tour-de-force is a double portrait of Licia Priest and Neema Tambo modeled on the Francis Cotes depiction of two young women. The African-American subjects are resplendent in 18th Century costume: Erwin’s pastel is more finished in these likenesses than in other works in the show and Priest and Tambo occupy a more ample field. Erwin deploys her technical skills to provide a convincing case for the dignity and self-possession of the sitters. Yanoviak notes, accurately, that they are “aggressively present.”  The fantasy of elegant, aristocratic black women in 18th Century high fashion garb engenders a back-and-forth meditation on sexual and racial politics in the 18th Century and today. Staging does not constrict the figures or indulge an inveigling flattery but instead re-doubles ironic reverberations between person and persona, actor and role. Like a great evening of theater, the performers seem totally believable, the artificiality and glitz of setting and costume enhancing rather than detracting from the illusion.

The Speed needs to be applauded for a very full presentation of a Kentucky artist with an excellent illustrated catalogue. Also notable is the juxtaposition of historical works from the permanent collection and contemporary responses. For all art museums, the holy grails of relevance and accessibility are elusive – Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past sets a high and imitable standard.

Arts

Speeding Towards Impact: A Conversation with Miranda Lash

Visual arts in Lexington are in an exciting and reinvigorated phase. Lexingtonians are eagerly anticipating the opening of 21c Hotel, with its presentation of provocative contemporary art. The bold and exciting repurposed building for the UK School of Arts and Visual Studies, under the leadership of Rob Jensen, faces outward towards the community and holds great promise for increased university and community dialogue and interaction. Stuart Horodner has, not without some discordant voices, taken complete charge of UK Art Museum and turned around the museum with exciting programming, an open and inviting spirit, and increased attendance. And the Lexington Art League has refocused and reenergized after several years of crisis, and is presenting a signature show, Artist:Body, curated by Julien Robson, former contemporary curator of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

With increased commercial and not-for-profit gallery activity, such as the LexArts gallery at ArtsPlace, more frequent and well-attended Gallery Hops, and the still-to-open breathtaking new Living Arts and Sciences space, the visual arts in Lexington are, indeed, on a major upswing.

However, what will be, undoubtedly, the most important and impactful news on the visual arts scene in the region will occur in a few short weeks with the reopening of the Speed Art Museum after a more than three-year major renovation and expansion. Funded by a highly successful $60 million capital campaign, the new Speed Art Museum will be poised to move beyond a role as a regional art museum of some significance to becoming an essential cultural institution on a national level.

Closed since late 2012, the central elements of the expansion of the Speed involved the demolition of the often-controversial 1972 addition, the construction of a three-story north building and two-story south building, and connecting the two to the original temple of high art built in 1927. The design of the new buildings emphasizes light and transparency, inviting the public into the new museum. Surrounded by redesigned outside spaces that include an art park, plazas and patios, and a large, shallow pool, the openness of the museum is a marked contrast to its somewhat foreboding, pre-expansion past.

Speed4

Of equal importance to the expansion and redesign, is the new leadership at the Speed. Ghislain d’Humières was hired as Director of the Museum in 2013, succeeding Charles Venable who left for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. D’Humières, formerly Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma, and prior to that Assistant Director of San Francisco’s Museum of Fine Art, headed up the major expansion of the latter museum. His successful leadership of that project clearly made him a very appealing candidate to lead the Speed.

Since assuming his new position, d’Humières has made several critical hires to help him usher in the new era of the Speed Art Museum. Included in those new leadership posts is Erika Holmquist-Wall, formerly assistant curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, hired in 2014 as Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Curator of European and American Painting and Sculpture. In that same year Miranda Lash, formerly curator of modern and contemporary art at the New Orleans Museum of Art and one of the young rising stars of the curatorial world, joined the Speed as Curator of Contemporary Art.

Lash’s departure from NOMA was much lamented in the Crescent City, where she had arrived in 2008 in a city recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Known at NOMA for deep engagement with the artistic and broader community culture, and for commissioning site-specific works for the museum by local artists, Lash deepened that institution’s commitment to a broadened range of contemporary art and helped to make it a more accessible and popular cultural space. Her hiring by the Speed was seen by many as a real coup for the museum.

Lash

On a rainy afternoon turned sunny last summer, UnderMain went on a tour of the still-under-construction museum with Lash and the Speed’s Director of Marketing and Communication, Steven Bowling. The boldness of the design of the expanded museum and of the vision for the new Speed came through loud and clear on the tour and in a delightful early evening dinner with Lash. A place for the Speed in the conversation about great American museums is clearly on her radar.

Much of the expansive new gallery space of the Speed will be dedicated to contemporary art and will enable Lash to bring a wide range of exhibitions to Louisville. She clearly is eagerly anticipating what that square footage will allow her to do programmatically. The new outside spaces are also allowing her to commission a number of site-specific works for the Art Park and newly landscaped areas.

Significantly, the increased gallery spaces inside the museum will allow more of the Speed’s permanent collection, numbering over 13,000 works, to be shown. The museum’s reopening exhibition, A Celebration of the Speed Collection, will show more of the permanent collection than the museum is likely to show again in one exhibition for the foreseeable future.

Deeply interested in art as a portal into themes of culture, identity, and history, Lash resonated to and was inspired by the vivid, multicultural, free-flowing, tragicomic New Orleans story and vibe. It will be interesting to watch how she responds to a more buttoned up, nearly-Southern, nearly-Midwestern city. It’s clear that Lash will use her position at the Speed to deepen visitors’ engagement through contemporary art with the broader world and with issues and questions that resonate beyond the confines of our Kentucky space.

As a follow-up to our visit and conversation, Miranda Lash generously agreed to respond in writing to a number of questions that were posed to her.

UM: After, by all accounts, a successful tenure at NOMA, what in particular appealed to you about the position at the Speed?

Lash: First and foremost I was attracted by the opportunity to build something new. The Speed is on the verge of embarking upon a renewed era of innovation in contemporary art largely enabled by three factors: 1. the opening of a new wing for the contemporary collection in beautiful, large-scale galleries designed by Kulapat Yantrasast; 2. A substantial commitment made by the Speed to support the commissioning of site-specific pieces by leading international artists. These commissions will populate the new Art Park and the interior of the building; and 3. A commitment on behalf of the Speed to support the generation of nationally relevant contemporary art exhibitions and publications that will circulate around the country.

UM: Give our readers some idea about the breadth and depth of the Speed’s permanent collection in contemporary art. With the museum renovation and expansion, will there be opportunities to see more of the contemporary collection?

Lash: The Speed’s contemporary collection spans from wonderful examples of Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s to video artworks made just in the last few years. Visitors will be able to contemplate a large range of work, from great paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Alice Neel, and Sam Gilliam, to more recent pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Ghada Amer, Carrie Mae Weems and The Propeller Group.

Once the Speed opens at least 8,000 square feet of gallery space will be dedicated to the contemporary collection, and from time to time there will be opportunities to display parts of the collection in additional galleries. For the opening exhibition in March 2016, the Speed will dedicate two floors (the equivalent of 16,000 square feet) to the display of the contemporary collection. This is an enormous amount of space, and I am encouraging visitors to come see this display (which will be on view through August 2016), first because this will be the most expansive display of the contemporary collection that the Speed has ever had in its history, and secondly, it may be years before the Speed is able to display the collection in such a comprehensive manner again.

UM: How has the role of museum curator evolved over the years to this point in the early part of the 21st century? Is a curator a tastemaker, interpreter, promoter, entertainer, carnival barker? How would you describe your developing role as curator of contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Museum curators, now more than ever, are encouraged to think globally about trends, innovations, and relevant artists and exhibitions. It is not enough to know what is happening in your region (although a curator should know this well), you are also expected to keep current on a large number of national and international art biennials, fairs, and major touring shows. Thanks to the Internet and the rapid expansion of biennials and triennials across the globe during the last thirty years, we have more access than ever to currents of activity transpiring all over the world. With this explosion of information the need for filtering, as well as constant travel and looking, becomes all the more important.

Secondly, due the shrinking of state, city and federal funds made available to the arts over the past few decades, the development and fundraising responsibilities assigned to curators can at times demand as much time as actual content development. If you believe that curators should pursue sound and thorough scholarship, and maintain their editorial independence apart from commercial and private interests, I encourage you to support museums through your tax dollars and museum admissions.

Sometimes we are tastemakers, interpreters, and promoters, but most of all I think of us as storytellers, educators, and advocates for artists.

UM: What are some of the ideas, issues, perspectives, and questions that drive your curatorial decisions about exhibitions and programs?

Lash: I look long and carefully at the artworks in my collection and I think about the narratives that are embedded within it and how I can flesh these stories out.  I think about trends and conflicts in the world, and questions we are struggling with as a nation, and ask, how can art help the us navigate the complexities of these issues? Often I think about what is bothering me and why. For example, for years I was amazed and confounded by the way both “Northerners” and “Southerners” would talk about the “North” and the “South” in the United States, using broad generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes to communicate their point. For every assumption that was made, I would find a vast number of exceptions, and no clear consensus at the heart of any of these Northern or Southern stereotypes. So, as way of working through this, now I am working with a co-curator Trevor Schoonmaker on a large group show that aims to explore, essentially: what do we mean when we talk about the South and why?

UM: What obligation does a museum have to be of its place, reflective of its surroundings, it’s culture, environment, people?

Lash: This depends on the stated mission of the museum, which varies greatly between institutions. At the Speed, we take our role very seriously as an important (and for some the only) point of contact visitors may have to artistic trends and ideas going on in other countries. We want Louisvillians to be educated and excited about what is happening in Mexico City, Berlin, and Ho Chi Minh City, and we have more capacity than any other museum in Kentucky to provide this global perspective.

At the Speed we also have an obligation to present artwork that is relevant to Louisville. As a curator I look for topics and concepts that will have resonance with this region. For example, during my time here I have noticed that Louisville as a city has a huge interest in local food cultivation, sustainable agriculture, and food activism (helping people from all economic strata have access to healthy food). As a result I have been talking with artists who focus on this in their practice to see if they could be a fit for our site-specific commissions. The Speed has and will continue to collect and exhibit outstanding artworks by artists who are living in (or have lived in) this region. The structure for this continuing endeavor will be based on the strengths and merits of the artists’ work and their chosen subject matter rather than their regional orientation.

UM: At NOMA you were known for reaching into the local community including making frequent visits to local artists’ studios. Will you be doing the same in your current position and how should an artist prepare for a visit?

Lash: Yes, I love doing studio visits. Some tips:

1. Decide what you (the artist) want to get out of the visit: feedback on a particular direction? Advice on galleries and contracts? Advice on how to package and present your work to collectors? I can help with all these things. Please don’t hesitate to ask.

2. If this is my first studio visit with you, it is helpful to get an overview of your practice, which can be efficiently done nowadays with digital images on a laptop, tablet, or phone, or even color printouts (if the artworks themselves are not readily available). At least 75 percent of the visit however, should be dedicated to your most recent work – What are you thinking about now? What do you want to do in the future? Remember, it is my job to seek out new ideas and trends that most people have not seen before. Keep in mind that most studio visits will generally last no longer than one hour, so please budget your time in terms of what you want to cover. Again, having questions or topics planned in advance can help with time management.

3. Remember that the main goal during a studio visit is for me to get an overall sense of who you are as an artist. Feel free to talk with me about big picture concepts, overarching goals and ambitions, and what techniques and discoveries you are most excited about. This is not a time to ask for money, patron contacts, or to voice complaints about other artists, local politics, etc. Exhibitions and acquisitions are often the fruits of many visits and conversations over time, and can take years to develop. Instead of focusing on what I can do for you in the immediate future, think of it as a relationship that we can potentially develop over time.

4. I often stress the importance of being “studio ready.” This means, if a curator, critic, or patron were to come through town on short notice, I know I can call you or email you and you will be able to give a polished presentation on whatever is in your studio now. If my studio visit goes well and I sense that you are capable of making a clear, succinct presentation, I won’t hesitate to send other people your way.

UM: Over the next three to five years what are your main goals and ambitions for contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Overall I aim to put on good looking, provocative shows and get people excited about art. If I’m doing my job right, in three to five years Louisville will be present in the minds of my colleagues in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and beyond.  Really though, I do this job for the thrill of seeing an artist’s project come together really well. It is never guaranteed to happen, but when it does the result is euphoric.  A truly successful project can take on a life of its own, spill out onto the streets, and assume a magical quality. I’ll be grateful and pleased if I can make that happen here.  Please stay tuned for more.

A Celebration of the Speed Collection opens March 12 with the reopening of the museum.