Speed Art Museum continues Louisville Black Avant-Garde series with William M. Duffy

This summer, the Speed Art Museum will present Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: William M. Duffy, the second installment of an exhibition series exploring the pioneering artists behind the Louisville Art Workshop, a radical artistic collective founded in the 1960s focused on furthering the careers of and building community among Black artists of Louisville, at a time when Black artists were routinely excluded from museums and galleries. Featuring work spanning over four decades, Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde: William M. Duffy highlights not only the sculpture for which Duffy is particularly known, but the full breadth of his wide-ranging practice including drawings, paintings, and digital art, and will be on view from June 28 through September 29, 2024.

The exhibition examines Duffy’s contributions as both an artistic and community leader who has provided a creative focus for young artists, inspiring generations of local artists to develop their talents and pursue their passions. In his work, Duffy draws inspiration from family relationships and everyday moments of beauty, as well as from found materials from the built and natural environments of his immediate surroundings.

“I have a long history with the Speed, dating back to my 1988 one-man show, and I am honored to be returning to the Museum for this exhibition,” said William M. Duffy. “I’ve been an artist my whole life because I needed to be—there was no way I couldn’t be, with the urge I felt to create. I’m excited to reflect back on decades of my work with the community that has meant so much to me and has continued to inspire me.”

In addition to fine art, the retrospective will also include commercial works commissioned by local community groups and works that Duffy made over the course of his long career as an educator in the Jefferson County Public Schools—including some created in collaboration with his students.

“William M. Duffy is not only a remarkable artist, but has inspired and mentored countless Louisville artists in addition to being an influential arts educator for thousands of children,” Speed Art Museum Director Raphaela Platow said. “Our exhibition will showcase not only works from his long and prolific career, but also works created alongside his own students from his years as an educator in Jefferson County’s public schools. As a leader of a vital artistic movement whose influence is still felt today, this retrospective of his work exemplifies how art has been and continues to be used as a tool to build connections in our community.”

Louisville Art Workshop

The Louisville Art Workshop (LAW) was founded in the 1960s by a group of like-minded artists as a way to support one another, advance their careers, and foster the creative process and development of new work through a variety of educational workshops, artistic critiques, and group showcases. Through a community-focused mindset, the group flourished with a progressive atmosphere that challenged the artistic and cultural norms of the time, and was notably one of the few integrated artistic groups of the period.

The late Dr. Robert L. Douglas was a founding member, alongside Fred and Anna Bond, who converted a West End Louisville storefront to create both a home for their family and an exhibition space for participating artists. Other prominent artists, such as G.C. Coxe, Ed Hamilton, and Kenneth Victor Young also helped to establish the Workshop and publicly debut its January 1967 exhibition, Designs in Space. This show and subsequent exhibitions inspired many other local artists to join and form workshops of their own, advancing subjects including sculpture, photography, poetry, creative writing, music, and theater.

William M. Duffy

William Duffy in
Studio, about 1982. Geoff Carr Photograph Collection. 023PC16.13. Gelatin silver print.
William Duffy in Studio, about 1982. Geoff Carr Photograph Collection. 023PC16.13. Gelatin silver print.
Courtesy of the Philson Historical Society. Photography by Geoff Carr.

William M. Duffy (b. 1953) joined the Louisville Art Workshop in the 1970s as one of its youngest members, seeking community after having felt like “the only Black artist in Louisville” before meeting other LAW artists. After the workshop dissolved, Duffy and fellow sculptor Ed Hamilton founded a new collective, called Montage, intended to not only foster collaboration between Black artists and create opportunities for their works to be shown more publicly, but also to be a site of gathering and inspiration for the whole Louisville community.

The goal of the collective was twofold: to help working artists further their careers while inspiring the next generation through artistic accessibility. Evolving from the model of its predecessor, Montage was meant to be part artist collective and part community space, where adults and children alike from the community could gather to engage with the artistic process and find inspiration.

“William M. Duffy is an artist and leader who exemplifies the spirit of Montage and the Louisville Art Workshop, using the arts to build community and create bridges between us,” Speed Curator of African and Native American Collections fari nzinga said. “In life and in his work, he has been a connector and a community builder, making space for all. Mr. Duffy has inspired generations of artists, through his own work and his career as a teacher, so it is an exciting opportunity for us to present the progression of his role as an artist and mentor of great importance to our community.”

This presentation continues the Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde series’ efforts to contextualize the Louisville Art Workshop’s historical importance and abiding impact on the cultural life of Louisville, building on the Speed’s mission to highlight the diversity of Kentucky’s artistic traditions and showcase artists who have been historically underrepresented in the Museum’s collections. The series was inaugurated in June 2023 with a survey of artist, educator, and scholar Dr. Robert L. Douglas.

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