Tag Archives: The Speed Art Museum


Arts Tasting Menu

Hand cut cultural treats from the Bluegrass region and beyond to fill your plate. This week the horse takes center stage.


Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825 – 1950. The Speed Art Museum, Louisville. November 15, 2019 – March 1, 2020.

Edward Troye, Kentucky, 1866. Oil on canvas. Loan to the Speed Art Museum courtesy of a private collection.

No other animal is as uniquely identified with the history and culture of Kentucky as the horse. The exhibition of equine and sporting art illuminates the many ways that the horse has become part of our understanding of the identity of Kentucky into the modern era.


Andre Pater: An American Journey. The Headley-Whitney Museum, Lexington. Through November 17th.

Acclaimed sporting artist, Lexington’s Andre Pater, has been finding fresh and dynamic approaches to his subject matter for over 40 years. This retrospective exhibition of Pater’s work includes more than 90 works from private collections. His vivid and nuanced paintings are much sought after around the world. The exhibition captures the evolution of the Polish-American artist’s journey in art and America.


The Sporting Art Auction. Keeneland, Lexington. November 17, 4PM.

Henry Faulkner, Keeneland. Oil on board.

A joint effort between the Keeneland Association and Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington, the auction will bid out almost 200 sporting art and related works.The catalogue is available online and you can also register to bid. Giddyup!

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Designing Women at The Speed

Thoroughly Modern: Women in 20th Century Art and Design was conceived as a sequel to the Speed Art Museum’s blockbuster exhibition, Women in the Age of Impressionism.  But this small, elegant display of women’s work stands on its own merits as one of the Speed’s best recent installations.  The exhibition consists of only 35 objects or dinner ware sets but is mostly pottery.  The show is on view until July 1st at the Speed in Louisville.

The artists are given momentous status with blown-up portraits of each on tall wall graphics placed between cases and wall works.  As a display strategy, it works brilliantly.   Modestly scaled decorative arts gain in interest through the borrowed glory of their makers’ heroization.  

The artists are by birth American, Austrian, British, French, German, Hungarian, and Russian, and their media include woodwork, paintings, prints, textile, silver and ceramics.  This is a homegrown endeavor organized by the Speed’s curators, drawing on the strengths of the Speed’s own holdings, local collections, and the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Center.  The artists range from Susie Cooper and Eva Zeisel, towering figures in the history of 20th century decorative arts, to a gifted amateur china painter, Althea Moore Smith.  None of the women have been given proper recognition for the magnitude of their artistic achievements, and the fact that most are relatively unknown piques heightened interest.  

Anne-Marie Fontaine French, (birth and death dates unknown) “Vase Fontaine #2”, 1934, Porcelain

Two vases by Anne-Marie Fontaine, (birth and death dates unknown), a designer for Sèvres porcelain in the 1920s and 1930s, are a case in point.  To my knowledge, there has never been a museum exhibition in the United States dedicated to 20th century Sèvres. Fontaine’s supernal decoration of a three-part cylindrical vase is ethereal: overlapping gold and blue clouds rise in curved bands, interspersed with a sun, rain, feathers and stars. One can imagine Fontaine’s vase set off against rectilinear white walls in a LeCorbusier house of the period.  The pot’s restrained elegance, cosmological whimsy, simple geometry, and integral relationship of its motifs to the vessel’s form mark it as an Art Deco masterpiece.

Eva Zeisel American, born in Hungary (1906-2011) Century Platter and Bowls, designed 1950 Whiteware

Not all the works in the exhibition are luxury goods. Eva Zeisel (1906-2011) designed for a mass market, working for manufacturers like Hall China in Ohio, Shenango Pottery in Pennsylvania, and Red Wing Pottery in Minnesota, and towards the end of her life, Crate and Barrel. Eva Zeisel’s 1955 Century platter and bowls anticipate Aero Saarinen’s TWA terminal: Their extended undulant curves made the set easy to stack for storage and easy to retrieve.  Zeisel’s pottery is often characterized by a covert anthropomorphism: the handles of the Century dishes rise in hallelujah exultancy. In 2004 Zeisel wrote, “I have rarely designed objects that were meant to stand alone.  My designs have family relationships.  They are mother and child, siblings, or cousins.  They may not have identical lines, but there is always a family relationship.” 

Eva Zeisel American, born in Hungary (1906-2011) Town and Country Salt and Pepper Shakers and Teapot, designed 1946 Earthenware

Zeisel’s biomorphic salt and pepper shakers for her 1946 Town and Country china precede by two years cartoonist Al Capp’s cartoon invention, “shmoos” which had comparable shapes.  Zeisel’s implements intertwine and seem inseparably affectionate.  Pertinently in a 1987 New Yorker interview, Zeisel asserted, “I think with my hands.  I design things to be touched – not for a museum.  A piece is ready when it has the shape of something to cherish.”  Wit is a continual factor in Zeisel’s art: the lid of the Town and Country teapot is off-center, giving it the comical air of a jaunty beret.

Zeisel worked in Germany in the late 1920s, and then traveled to Russia where she rose to the position of art director for the Soviet glass and china industries.  Imprisoned for plotting against Stalin, she eventually was released and made her way to the United States.  She was given a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, and is credited with designing the first all-white modernist dinnerware. She continued her protean creativity until shortly before her death at the age of 105 in 2011.

Susie Cooper, (1902-1995), is also profiled with wonderful examples.  An English artist born in the Staffordshire town of Burslem, Cooper’s most characteristic product is the trio, a cup, saucer and cake plate suitable for Britain’s ritual breaks at elevenses or at afternoon tea.  In contrast to Zeisel’s functionalism, the diction of ceramics in Cooper’s work seems more about convening, contemporaneity, and the contract of hospitality between host and guest. Her customers were the emerging British suburban middle class, who embraced 20th Century values of informality, enjoyment of color and innovative form. The patchwork enamel hues in Cooper’s earlier works are be-jazzed cousins of Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism.

Susie Cooper British, (1902-1995) Vase, about 1925, Earthenware

A lusterware vase depicting a leaping antelope in front of an orange tree has a jubilant rhythmic composition characterized by unexpected intervals between figure and ground.  The antelope was a favorite motif of Cooper’s, and was used in one of her pottery marks. Cooper could be more restrained in her designs. In a 1931 trio on view, the decoration shifts to delicate patterns of scrolls, circles, dots, and plant forms. 

Susie Cooper British, (1902-1995), Cup and Saucer for Coffee Service, 1933, Earthenware

Of the paintings in the exhibition my favorite is the 1930 Two Cats on Stairs (Tooky, 10th Street by Marguerite Zorach, (1887-1968), whose reputation until recently has been overshadowed by that of her sculptor husband, William Zorach, the apostle of the ideology of direct carving. Marguerite Zorach was one of the first Americans to embrace the Fauve palette; a textile artist as well as a painter and printmaker, her painting in the exhibition is an exercise in Cezannesque pictorial tension, with its reverse perspective (the bannister recedes towards the viewer rather than into the distance, a red sill in the foreground is bound together with the wall of a brick building in the distance, the view of the roof through the window is angled up, the stairway tilted to the right). There are six interlocking rectangles in the painting giving the radiant backlit cats a supercharged stage set.

Marguerite Zorach American, (1887-1968,) “Two Cats on Stairs”, ca. 1930, Oil on canvas

Blanche Lazzell American, (1878-1956), “Abstract Petunias”, 1946, Color woodcut on laid Japan paper

Morgantown, West Virginia native Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), is represented by a painting and a print.  Like Zorach, Lazzell domesticized European innovations: her 1917 loosely pointillist painting of Woodstock, New York, is constructed of large patches of overlapping complementary colors.  It was done at Byrdcliffe, an arts and crafts school well-known for their costumed revels.  Lazzell subsequently worked in Provincetown, Massachusetts – like Louisvillians Fayette Barnum, Maude Ainslie, and Mary Spencer Nay, who also worked there and found opportunities in the less sexist, more relaxed environment of summer art colonies.  Lazzell’s 1946 woodcut, Abstract Petunias, is a cubist arrangement of spiraling flat planes of color: Lazzell was one of many Provincetown woodcut artists, like Cincinnatians Maud Hunt Squires, Ethel Mars and Edna Boies Hopkins, who used Japanese ‘white-line’ woodcut technique.  Many of Hopkins’s most memorable prints depict Appalachians in Eastern Kentucky. 

Thoroughly Modern succeeds because it is an exhibition of unfairly overlooked artists: it provides new visual information for all but specialists in 20th Century painting and decorative arts.  It obliterates conventional distinctions between ornament and abstraction, undermines the primacy of painting and sculpture, and subverts the canonical hierarchy of male artists working in familiar styles.  Most of all, it is an affirmation of the rich and still only partially discovered pathways of modernism.


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Hayden and Ross-Ho: Craft Revisions

“Thoroughly Modern: Women in 20th Century Art and Design” on view at the Speed Art Museum through July 1st, is being promoted as a sequel to the Speed’s next blockbuster, “Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism.” The achievements of female painters of the 1920s and 1930s are shown to consist of easel-sized, modestly-scaled works often accomplished in artists’ colonies -freer and less sexist environments than prominent art academies, which had only just begun to admit women.

Female artists also achieved prominence as designers of table wares in glass, silver and ceramics. Biomorphic and geometric ornament was vibrant and fully in touch with contemporary art in the period. It anticipated current concerns with the linkage between color abstraction and materiality, or ornament as an intrinsic element in visual language rather than an extraneous add-on.

“Thoroughly Modern” is also a pertinent prequel to the shows at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC) of the work of Nathan Hayden, “What Was Magic of Numbers, Hypnotic and Wonders” and Amanda Ross-Ho, “Contents and Index.”

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Blue Glove Left #3” and “Blue Glove Right #3”, 2015, Dyed stretch cotton sateen, acrylic paint, cotton piping, armature wire, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery. Viewer: Ted Wathen

Craft at the Speed show remains in the traditional domestic sphere, one realm in which early 20th century women could gain professional recognition. The twin exhibitions at KMAC reference and subvert traditional notions of craft and gender roles. Both Ross-Ho and Hayden employ craft techniques but move decisively from the dining table to the sculpture pedestal, from the living room to the art gallery. Abandoning utility is to assert their artworks’ independent authority and hospitableness to multiple meanings. The hand is the instrument of mystical automatist transmission for Hayden, and for Ross-Ho it is the touchstone of surreal engagement with the studio environment as an extension of consciousness.

Hayden – like a hip-hop/electronic music version of a Sufi whirling dervish – dances for an hour a day to induce otherworldly visions. A former Louisvillian, Hayden’s works from his period in Kentucky (2004-2006) are miniature works in ink and acrylic wash with delicate stippling. Subsequently, Hayden made ‘cards,’ small drawings that are the source of his larger works. The print curator Carl Zigrosser wrote about ‘multum in parvo’ (a lot in a little) works of art in which “a multiplicity of detail is concentrated into a unified principle, the particular is transformed into the universal, and a largeness of meaning is conveyed with the utmost economy of means.” Hayden’s drawing is a practice of faith and the cards are mounted on small earthenware lecterns like a medieval book of hours intended for private devotions.

Nathan Hayden, “Unfalconable”, 2015-2016, ink/found pigment on paper, ceramic sculpture, Collection of Aaron Pietrykowski

There is an intriguing tension between the imagery and its spiritual content. In “Unfalconable” accessibility and transcendence are in opposition.  The paper is divided into quadrants, each depicting a Manichean contrast between black forms made up of rectangles and triangles, a yellow-orange ground, and hieroglyphs suggesting mountains, vegetation, celestial objects or adobe structures.

The imagery is vaguely southwestern, filtered through popular colors and motifs of the 1970s, in turn based on 1930s art deco, ultimately deriving from Mexican and Native American symbolic languages. Hayden turns the regional sense of place inside out, making a someplace a conceptual no place or an any place, ironically re-capturing the original cosmological implications of his forms. His method is more devolution than deconstruction.

Nathan Hayden, “Shapes for Shadows”, 2014-2016, Table of ceramics, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist and CB1 Gallery

Hayden’s larger works are earthenware forms in adobe pink clay and dyed wall hangings in industrial felt. The clay works are repetitive explorations of quadrilateral plinths with bisymmetrical curved or zigzag shapes. They provide a self-referential vocabulary lesson echoing the meta-language in the drawings and in their disciplined repetition of limited variations on winged flanges, harken back to 1950s and 1960s writers like M.C. Richards, whose book “Centering in Poetry, Pottery and the Person” captured the attitudes of ceramists like Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and William and Mary Scheier, who conceived of their potting as a form of meditation.

Nathan Hayden, “what was meant to be here was no longer”, 2014, ink on industrial felt, Courtesy of the artist and CB1 Gallery

Hayden’s large industrial felt hangings either adhere to the visual vocabulary promulgated in the small drawings and ceramics or expand into otherworldly Mandalas of radiating chevrons, bristling nodes, bursting suns, seedpods and spiraling vortices. Segmented and bisected but asymmetrical, the largest hangings, for example, “what was meant to be here was no longer” evokes cosmic visions and assert the universality of root systems and natural structures.

Hayden acknowledges the influence of the Swedish visionary Hilda Af Klint, who shared with Kandinsky, Jawlensky and other pioneering abstract artists the influence of theosophical speculations on alternate states of being. In his use of clay and industrial felt, Hayden extends abstract modes of presentation and the resurgence of the handmade.

Amanda Ross-Ho,”White Goddess #16 (LA COTE)”, 2008, Acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 114″ x 118″, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

Amanda Ross-Ho also references craft traditions, especially traditionally feminine realms of weaving and needlework. She does so in a way in which female subservience or do-it-yourself amateurism associated with those arts is undermined. The fifteen-foot tall “White Goddess #16 (LA COTE) is a simulacrum of macramé in acrylic on canvas drop cloth. The one at KMAC is derived from a 1970s craft magazine and copied from a projection. Gargantuan imitation gloves are transformed from rubber to cotton and like the macramé, serve as emblems of labor, but also as stage props in a theater of the absurd or surreal artifacts from a liminal state between dreaming and pre-awareness.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled T-shirt (World Map)”, 2015, Jersey, rib, thread, acrylic, mascara, 58”x84”x4″, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

The artist’s frame of reference is the studio and workplace. Shirts and gloves show accidental spills and offer a metonym for the creative process. “T-Shirt (World Map)”has an apparent sweat-stained collar. On the bottom of the shirt and on the sleeves are dashes and splotches of yellow, green, red and purple, like an abstract expressionist vocabulary lesson from a late painting by Hans Hofmann. “Untitled Smock (Accident)” is a retro purple smock with slash pockets and round snap buttons. It is stained with red paint, connoting a mishap, as the title indicates, or the feigned residue of the oeuvre of an artist using a poured paint technique, not unlike Helen Frankenthaler.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Textile Arrangement (Towel Rack XL #2)”, 2015, Chrome towel rack, acrylic and dye on washcloths, hand towels and bath towels, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

Work and the conditions of artistic operations are also covert protagonists in the implied drama of “Untitled Textile Arrangement (Towel Rack #6).” Undermining the sanitary sterility of hotel  rooms, the viewer is left to speculate whether the black stained, neatly folded towels are the revenge of an irate chambermaid outraged by the oppressive conditions of her servitude, the side effects of an oil spill, or an expression of creativity in tie-dying. The clothes and towel racks broach the charged subject of employment. Art is work and the artist’s studio is the workshop in Ross-Ho’s imagery, parallel to other emotionally redolent work places that resonate with the hidden drama of diurnal activities.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Still Life (Real Archive/I Know What To Do)”, 2011, Hand-drilled sheetrock, latex paint on folded paper, pushpin, found images, linen tape, map tacks, power bar foil backing, construction paper glare device, laser print, acrylic on plastic thumbtack, graphite and wine on Bristol paper, aluminum thumbtack, boot tape, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

The studio is also a model of consciousness in Ross-Ho’s work and self-reflexively represents the cerebral conditions of art-making. “Untitled Still Life (Real Archive/I Know What to do” offers a model. The artist utilizes a pegboard format drilled by hand in slightly unconventional dimensions but with the standard one-inch interval between holes. Continuing the labor theme of the over-sized garments, pegboard connotes a utility area, like a garage, storage shed or workshop. It is a hallmark of the well-organized craftsperson or home improvement enthusiast, who uses peg hooks to hang peggable products or tools. The hooks are supported by gravity alone, and the well-installed pegboard has an even weight distribution along several mounting points.

There are no tools on Ross-Ho’s pegboards and instead they function as a quasi- bulletin board: the comparison to Leo Steinberg’s description of Robert Rauschenberg’s “flatbed picture plane” – a receptor surface – has already been made in discussions of Ross-Ho’s work. Steinberg anticipated parallels between Rauschenberg and Ross-Ho in noting “it seemed at times that Rauschenberg’s work surface stood for the mind itself – dump, reservoir,  switching center, abundant with concrete references freely associated as in an internal monologue – the outward symbol of the mind as a running transformer of the external world, constantly ingesting incoming unprocessed data to be mapped in an overcharged field.”

There are 12 additions to “Untitled Still Life: Real Archive/I Know What To Do” ranging from identical squiggles on a folded piece of paper to a color photo of a lioness sleeping in the crotch of a tree with one paw and two legs dangling. Ross-Ho also draws directly on the pegboard, circling a nail hole, marking a right angle and writing in pencil, “I know what to do.” She uses a variety of means to attach her images, including  white linen tape, map tacks, book tape, aluminum thumb tacks and push pins.  In one instance linen tape is simply attached to the pegboard itself with nothing held.

The images are at once mundane and intriguing: a manipulated photo of two men looking at scrawls on a wall with a teddy bear in the corner; a piece of black paper with an opening showing a pegboard hole partially overlapping a photo of two men in shirts printed with electric guitar images, one squeezing a remote photo bulb; a bearded man in a hat under a rock overhang, the rectangle cut out and revealing nine holes underneath. There is also a picture of macramé; a page of scribbles and wine stains on Bristol board labeled “real archive, digital archive, copy machine;” and a vertical sequence of a gloved hand sponging color onto a wall. Some photographs seem to reference Ross-Ho’s father’s profession of commercial photographer: an advertising photograph of four wine glasses and an image from an interior design ad with the words “Excellent Quality” appearing upside down.

Ross-Ho’s stream-of-conscious is more measured and less crowded than Hayden’s (or for that matter, Rauschenberg’s), and the pegboard support indicates that the accumulation of images and the associations they prompt are the work in the work of art as well as a departure point for other art production.  Ross-Ho’s variety of adhesives may stand for the varying stickiness of memory, the place of the image in a hierarchy of the imagination, or a system of indexing.  Like the holes in a sponge, the pegboard’s perforations reinforce the illusion of the flatbed picture plane as an absorptive surface.  Contradicting the traditional role of the pegboard, and making it into an ersatz bulletin board – but a bulletin board without overtly pertinent or useful information – comments as well on everyone’s contemporary task of deciphering and sorting the daily welter of information and misinformation.  Linkages between the textiles and the pegboards establish an allusive environment and protracted meditation on the creative process.

KMAC’S current mission statement proclaims “Art is the Big Idea, Craft is the Process.”  Hayden and Ross-Ho fit neatly within that expansive rubric.

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Radical Visions: A Review

Gordon W. Bailey has given thirty-five works of art to the Speed Art Museum. A World in My View: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey includes art by twenty-one artists.

An introductory selection of twenty-six pieces is on view at the Speed until February 5th.  All of the artists are African-American and are predominantly from the rural south. The selection is extraordinary on many counts – for the authenticity and depth of emotion in many works, for the range and brilliance of invention, for the improvisatory response to a welter of non-traditional scavenged materials, and not least, for the boldness and freshness of color.

Testimony to religious faith is a recurring theme. Herbert Singleton’s Danieal in the Lion’s Den depicts a stalwart Daniel with a shepherd’s crook standing very upright, looking straight ahead, seemingly unfazed by the lion and lioness confronting him. A hole in the red painted board which provides the support for this sculpture in low relief reinforces the witness to faith: conviction outweighs correct spelling or traditional artistic finish. A jagged broken edge of the board is echoed in the lion’s bared fangs.

Nellie Mae Rowe American, 1900-1982 Peace with Blue Hand, 1980 Crayon and graphite on paper 14 x 14 in. (35.6 x 35.6 cm.) sheet Gift of Judith Alexander

Nellie Mae Rowe is represented by Peace with Blue Hand. Rowe frequently traced her own hand in her art as a way of bearing witness and asserting her presence in the world. The hand points to the word “peace” and a bicolored red sun with green and brown rays. The curve formed by the artist’s thumb and wrist provides a contour for the silhouette of a bird: Rowe was a master at using one line to serve divergent forms. The hand/bird is flanked on the right by the back of a mauve cow and on the left by a pink-leaved flower crowned with a bud in the form of turbaned blue woman’s head. In Rowe’s art blue was often code for black. Race, mysticism, prayer, free association and a profound identification with nature come together in Rowe’s vision.

Purvis Young American, 1943 – 2010 Christ Watching Over Dudes, 1990s Mixed media on wood 68 × 24 in. (172.7 × 61 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey in honor of Chuck Pittenger

Purvis Young’s Christ Watching over Dudes shows the divine head loped over diagonally above three figures who are defined by an open weave of shimmering horizontal and diagonal strokes in green, carmine, black, blue and yellow.  Christ’s eyes are closed and his mouth is open, as if in prayer.  The three “dudes” are afloat, spectral presences, perhaps already entered into a redemptive afterlife.

J. B. Murray American, 1908 – 1988 Untitled, 1970s Mixed media on wood 25 1/4 × 25 in. (64.1 × 63.5 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

J.B. Murry’s work extends the spiritual theme. Murry was convinced that he was scribe for a divinely inspired “language of the holy spirit.”  The example at the Speed holds its own as a color abstraction of the highest order: translucent horizontal and vertical squiggles form a rose, blue and yellow bar hovering over vertical trails of green, yellow, black, blue and purple, partially surrounded by an orange border. The indeterminacy and richness of markings are seemingly offhand but deft in their intuitive sense of economy, providing just enough for a work of art so inbred with transcendence that Murry’s belief that he was amanuensis to divine dictation has its own fictive plausibility.

Not all of the exhibition sticks to spiritual themes:  Henry Spiller’s exuberantly bawdy women display their most intimate attractions with bravado, and Spiller’s extraordinarily well endowed donkey is depicted with echoing curves to provide maximum emphasis to this equine’s outsized masculine attributes.

James “Son” Thomas American, 1926 – 1993 Untitled, 1980s Unfired clay sculpture 8 × 10 × 8 in. (20.3 × 25.4 × 20.3 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Son House offer disorienting, unsettling experiences with their portraits of women.  The body of Sudduth’s woman is defined by a brown circle seen against a yellow ground. The asymmetrical face addresses the viewer with a commanding, arresting stare.  Comparably, Son House’s unfired clay head sports a wig, gold eyes and gold teeth, and her head is tilted to one side as if in animated conversation.  In both works there is an uncanny sense of the unfamiliar familiar, artworks that seem very real without the traditional trappings of realism.

Equally haunting are Welmon Sharlhorne’s precisely delineated fanciful architecture, evoking funhouse or carnival buildings.  Drawn on what appears to be the backs of yellow manila envelopes, the artist’s studied designs take their coordinates from folds in the paper.  One of his drawings features a clown figure wearing a beanie with a clock on his nose. (Sharlhorne spent many years incarcerated and clocks and closed doors in his drawings may have autobiographical significance).  The beanie demarcates the roofline of the building and flips in and out of three dimensionality, becoming a dome in Sharlhorne’s Escheresque perspective.

New York Times critic Roberta Smith has remarked that looking at the work of self-taught artists has made her “more open, less tolerant of rules and orthodoxies, more understanding of the human urgency to make art and how widespread it is.”  The indigenous artists’ works on view at the Speed offer precisely that aesthetic liberation.

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