Louisville’s Speed Art Museum debuts reinstalled galleries

The Speed Art Museum is undergoing a major reinstallation project, the first comprehensive revision of the Museum’s permanent galleries since 2016. With plans to completely reimagine the presentation of the Speed’s Contemporary, American, European, African, Native American, and Kentucky collections, the reinstallation typifies the community-driven approach central to the Speed’s curation and programming, using art to spark meaningful conversations and reflection for visitors.

In conjunction with the Speed Art Museum reinstallation, the museum is reinstating its hours to be open five days a week on Wednesday through Sunday and also reinvigorating beloved in-person programming like Museum Tours and Teacher Professional Development Workshops that were limited during the pandemic. 

The revitalized curatorial approach to the permanent collection galleries will bring 30 percent more art out of storage, highlight recent acquisitions including contemporary works by Maia Cruz Palileo, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Jeffrey Gibson, and shift from primarily geographic and chronological categories to new thematic groupings that provide critical cultural context and inspire fresh interpretations around both new and longstanding works on display. The reinstallation began in May 2022, and 60 percent of the public gallery spaces have already been reinstalled as of October 2022—an unusually expedited schedule that has allowed the Museum to remain open to the Louisville community throughout the process.

The reinstallation will continue through the winter, and a majority of the galleries will be complete by spring 2023.

“We are thrilled to debut reimagined galleries as we once again welcome visitors into our space five days a week, giving them something new to experience every time they come to the Museum,” Raphaela Platow, Director of the Speed Art Museum, said. “These new curatorial interpretations reflect the power of a diverse range of artistic perspectives and build on our commitment to tell stories that matter through our collections and exhibitions.”

The reinstallation sees the Museum’s placement of contemporary works moved from a “white cube” space on the second floor of the museum’s 2016 wing to the historic first-floor galleries adjacent to the main entrance in the Museum’s original Beaux Arts wing, which previously housed the early European art collection. This shift in context is designed to give visitors an immediate, accessible entry point into the relevance of the Speed’s collection by greeting them with art that considers contemporary issues, while flipping the script on how and where contemporary and historical works are frequently displayed in museums. It also celebrates the Speed’s efforts to expand its contemporary collection over the past 10 years, bringing opportunities to see new works to the foreground of the visitor experience.

“This reinstallation is a timely opportunity to reflect on the strengths of our collection and maximize its potential, bringing new works on display for the first time and placing celebrated icons from the canon of art history in conversation with artists working at the forefront of contemporary and historically marginalized traditions,” Erika Holmquist-Wall, Chief Curator and Mary and Barry Bingham, Sr. Curator of European and American Painting and Sculpture, who is spearheading the Speed’s reinstallation efforts, said. “By breathing life into our collections with fresh perspectives and juxtapositions, we hope to transform the museum experience and inspire new takeaways for visitors.”

Under the leadership of contemporary curator Tyler Blackwell, who joined the Speed in August 2022, the contemporary galleries reopened in their new location on September 16 with “Crosscurrents: Contemporary Art from the Speed Art Museum Collection and Beyond,” featuring recent acquisitions, significant loans, and more than 40 other works from the existing collection, many of which are on view for the first time in decades. The exhibition presents recognized artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg alongside artists whose work challenges traditional systems of power in the art world and beyond, shining a spotlight on Barbara Kruger, Lorna Simpson, Sam Gilliam, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, and others. Recent acquisitions included in “Crosscurrents” reflect the Speed’s commitment to filling gaps and building on the strengths of its holdings, with notable works by Bob Thompson, Vian Sora, Kambui Olujimi, Janine Antoni, and Winfred Rembert.

“I hope to offer visitors the opportunity to enter the museum and immediately come across artworks that speak to the complex social issues of our times as well as the dynamic aesthetic developments in artmaking today,” Blackwell said. “The Speed continues to acquire compelling, internationally-recognized contemporary artists who actively work to center historically marginalized perspectives and make art feel accessible and relevant to our visitors.”

'Crosscurrents' exhibition installation view at The Speed Art Museum. Photo by Mindy Best.
‘Crosscurrents’ exhibition installation view at The Speed Art Museum. Photo by Mindy Best.

Thematic Presentations

The Speed’s shift toward thematic presentations of its collections will place works in context, allow galleries to be refreshed and rotated more frequently around new themes, and create opportunities to commission new works that respond to historical pieces in the collection. New interpretation and labeling will also be tailored to address present-day cultural topics through the lens of historical works. Exemplifying these approaches, the newly reopened Satterwhite Gallery houses the exhibition “The Speed Collects: Empires to Revolutions,” which explores the Museum’s collection of 18th– and early 19thcentury European and American artwork through the lens of social, political, and cultural

transformations that defined the era. The gallery features a longstanding icon of the Speed’s collection, Portrait of Madame Adélaïde by 18th-century French painter and women artist’s advocate Adélaïde Labille‑Guiard, alongside Gaela Erwin’s Licia and Neema, which the Speedcommissioned in 2016.  Further juxtapositions appear throughout the reimagined early European galleries, interspersing Dutch and Flemish “Old Masters” with works by contemporary artists like Tiffany Calvert that deconstruct the traditional imagery of Renaissance painting. 

The reinstallation and major collection initiatives will continue over the next two years with a comprehensive and extensive reexamination of the Speed’s Native American and African art collections led by newly appointed Curator of Academic Engagement and Special Projects, fari nzinga. The Speed recognizes that works of historical and present-day cultural significance must be presented in context and with respect to their heritage, and the reinstallation process will include a thoughtful reconsideration as well as ongoing research dialogue with communities and tribes. 

“I am looking forward to leading an intentional and thoughtful reinstallation of the Native American and African art galleries to bring them into a cohesive, nuanced, and evocative display in conversation with other areas of the collection,” fari nzinga, Curator of Academic Engagement and Special Projects, said. “The reopened galleries will serve as an impactful resource for artists, the academic community, and the general public in Louisville and beyond.”

The Speed’s 5,600-square-foot Kentucky gallery houses the most comprehensive collection of works by artists and craftspeople from the Bluegrass State, spanning the 19th century to the present. The reinstallation will see an enhanced space organized around themes including frontier life, the legacy of enslavement, and the significance of the Ohio River in the state’s history and culture through paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts created by Kentuckians. The departure from a purely chronological presentation will allow the gallery to bring works by contemporary Kentucky artists into the conversation, while continuing to present focused exhibitions like the Kentucky Women series, the current installment of which offers a closer look at the work of influential folk artist Helen LaFrance (on view through April 30, 2023).

About the Speed Art Museum 

'Crosscurrents' exhibition installation view at The Speed Art Museum. Photo by Mindy Best.
‘Crosscurrents’ exhibition installation view at The Speed Art Museum. Photo by Mindy Best.

The Speed Art Museum, in Louisville, Kentucky, is an independent, encyclopedic museum, and the oldest and largest art museum in the state, where our mission is to invite everyone to celebrate art forever. The Speed serves as a cultural hub where people can connect with each other and the work of artists from across the world in new and unexpected ways. Raphaela Platow currently serves as Museum Director.  

Established in 1927 by philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed, the Museum has undergone several renovations and expansions, now occupying over 200,000 sq ft on the University of Louisville’s campus. The most recent of which, led by wHY Architecture’s Kulapat Yantrasast in 2016, tripled the amount of exhibition space and added a state-of-the-art cinema, a family education center, indoor/outdoor café, a Museum Store, and a multifunctional pavilion for performances, lectures, and entertainment to the

Speed’s robust offerings. Thanks in part to the generous support of the Owsley Brown Family and the Brown-Forman Foundation, admission to the Museum is Free on Sundays. For more information, visit speedmuseum.org. 

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