30 Hours At The Speed Art Museum: A Field Journal
In celebration of the Speed Art Museum’s grand reopening, museum director Ghislain d’Humieres decided to throw a party.
It wasn't just any party. It was free and open to the public, and it utilized every inch of the redesigned and expanded 220,000 square feet of museum space. And it ran for 30 hours nonstop.
Here’s my field journal from the marathon art party:
10:40 a.m. -- Atrium
The ribbon to the museum has officially been cut. Visitors who have been packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the atrium disperse: some head across the art bridge toward the neoclassical sculpture. Others flock downstairs to the Art Sparks kids' area. And yet others position themselves on the staircase, angling their phones and cameras toward the massive site-specific chandelier.
According to d’Humieres, thousands of guests are expected today. This isn’t the first time he has thrown a party like this.
“This is the third museum that I am opening; the first was in San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Art -- the de Young,” he says. “We did 36 hours over there and had 52,000 people.”
That was almost 10 years ago, but d’Humieres wanted to replicate the event at the Speed because he felt it was the best way to showcase the museum as the “hub of creativity” he envisions it becoming within the community. To that effect, d’Humieres has recruited performers and representatives from many Louisville arts organizations, including the Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet, Kentucky Opera, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players, and Squallis Puppeteers.
“We’re going to be showing every expression of creativity, from music, dance, acting, even zumba, mandala-making with the monks,” d’Humieres said. “It is about showing people what the new Speed will be, and there is no better way to show people what you will be doing than by doing it.”
11 a.m. -- Native American Wing
Early responses to the museum are enthusiastic from Louisvillians and visitors alike. Frank Martinez is from California and is in the city for a few months on business.
“Well, we have the Getty in L.A.,” Martinez says. “And you guys are up there. We have competition.”
11:30 a.m. -- Special Exhibition North
In celebration of the Speed’s legacy, staff decided to showcase items from the museum’s permanent collection on the third floor, where future special exhibitions will be housed. Former contemporary art curator Julien Robson is exploring this space, lingering by “Wallflowers (Mixed Emotions),” a mixed-media wall installation that looks like a pinwheel of delicately folded paper carnations.
“It’s interesting to see how the collection has grown, and how it develops through different curatorships," Robson says.
He notes that the pieces brought in by Peter Morrin, the longtime director of the Speed Art Museum, served as the basis for the work that he did within the institution.
“It’s great to see them together, and to think in terms of what Miranda [Lash, the new contemporary curator] is doing with it, taking it in her direction,” Robson says. “I think it is a challenge for every curator because you arrive with someone else’s collection, and then you put your own fingerprint on it, which helps the collection to grow and kind of become richer every time there is a new curator.”
12:15 p.m. -- Renaissance Room
A voice calls out from the Renaissance Room.
Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? Oh, that I were a man!
Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players are performing sections of excerpts from various works of Shakespeare. At present, it's “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Chase Bishop, a junior at Floyd Central High School, is one of the performers.
“So far I have been incredibly excited, if a little intimidated, to be performing century-old scenes in such a beautiful setting,” Bishop says. “The accumulation of all the arts was really nice.”
1 p.m. -- Atrium
The percussive rhythms of the Louisville Leopards, a drum ensemble made up of student musicians between the ages of 7 and 14, can be heard throughout the museum.
4 p.m. -- Art Terrace
At 14 years old, Lorena Powell just barely remembers the first time she came to the Speed years ago.
“It was my first art museum, and I had this profound sense of awe -- I didn’t really know what was going on around me,” she says while exploring the Art Terrace on the second floor.
But Powell says she does remember some of the exhibits on display today.
“Like the Medieval room, I remember being little and thinking, ‘I feel like a princess,’” she says. “Going back in there and seeing all these new exhibits around it, personally it makes me feel like I’ve grown up a lot.”
Many of the visitors today have their own memories of the Speed. But, like Powell, they're delighted in the way the pieces are being presented in the new space.
“It’s like a big party: There’s music, and there’s children reading pieces they’ve written, and there’s lots of art that we haven’t seen in a long time,” says Jean Schwendau, a visitor who was raised in Louisville. “I’ve moved away, so it was fun to go back and look for some things we had seen as kids.”
Kit Davis echoes that sentiment. She says she feels like she is carrying on some kind of tradition by visiting the museum today. According to Davis, her mother grew up in the city and would spend the weekend with her aunt, who lived in the Puritan Apartments on Fourth Street.
“They used to bring her a lot, and looking back, and as she got older, she realized that the reason why was because this was brand-new,” Davis says. “This was 1927, 1928, 1929 -- you know, and I think it's just fun to see how it has expanded.”
6 p.m. -- Art Sparks
The redesigned Art Sparks offers hands-on learning stations to help adults and children connect with art and each other. And it definitely appeals to all ages.
A group of college-aged women gathers around one of the activity tables, upon which they've splayed an array of glossy note cards. I ask one of the women to explain the game to me.
“Well, they have picture cards of works that are featured throughout the museum, so you draw a card and keep to yourself,” she explains. “And then you pick a word card -- things like ‘heavy,’ ‘creative,’ ‘loud,’ ‘arrogant’ -- and choose the best your picture cards and explain.”
One of the other women interjects: “It’s like Cards Against Humanity for art!”
8 p.m. -- Atrium
There’s a puppet DJing the party tonight -- Hippie Johnny of Squallis Puppeteers, to be exact. He’s about six feet tall, has a long mop-textured beard, and spins some great vinyl.
8:30 p.m. -- Cinema
Here I run into Soozie Eastman, executive director of the Louisville Film Society.
“There’s some experimental film starting at 8:30, might be a chance to go and get cozy,” she says, so I slip into the dimmed cinema and wait for “The Dark, Krystle” -- a 10-minute short by Michael Robinson.
Made up of snippets from the 1980s primetime soap opera “Dynasty,” “The Dark, Krystal” is divided between the repetitive facial expressions and melodramatic body movements of the series’ star characters, Krystle Jennings (Linda Evans) and Alexis Colby (Joan Collins). As would be expected, there are a lot of forced tears and wine glasses, but the film strikes a note that is both eerie and humorous in a way that the original creators of the television show did not intend.
According to Speed film curator Dean Otto, Robinson is known for his found footage films.
“He really dives deep into trashy pop culture and takes that material and completely reworks it in another way,” Otto says. “He is someone that I knew I wanted to screen at the opening here.”
Otto says that since moving to the Speed from his former position as associate curator of film at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, he has both embraced and been embraced by the local film community and organizations such as the Louisville Film Society, Louisville Film Commission and the Kentucky College of Art and Design.
“I really want to continue to build a great, strong film community by looking at film production, film education and film exhibition, and how those can come together and really create a dynamic film community," Otto says.
9:30 p.m. -- Cinema Lobby
“Well, I’ve been here for 10 hours? 11 hours? Actually, 12 hours now that I look at it,” says Teddy Abrams, the music director of the Louisville Orchestra, as he slumps in a chair in the cinema lobby. “But if I was a Louisvillian, I’d make sure I got myself down here because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Along with Robert Curran of the Louisville Ballet, Abrams has presented two joint performances of the orchestra and ballet today, with two additional performances lined up for tomorrow. He says this sort of collaboration between art institutions is exactly what the city needs.
“This is exactly where cultural programming and large arts organizations really need to to be thinking -- big picture, really multidimensional, interactive, using all genres and reaching all backgrounds,” Abrams says. “Just look at the diversity of people here -- it’s exactly the audience that all the arts organizations are trying to reach.”
10 p.m. -- Grand Hall
Multicolored lasers pierce the fog that hovers over the Grand Hall. A new crop of visitors -- many coming from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Highlands -- are here to replace the toddlers in footie-pajamas being pushed through the museum in strollers.
The crowd huddles and bobs to the beat of Wax Fang, a Louisville rock band that combines elements of classic and experimental rock music, as well as electronic and folk.
Midnight -- Cinema Lobby
As Otto predicted, the midnight movie crowd arrives in force for “Abby” by Louisville director William Girdler.
Otto says Girdler, “Louisville’s impresario of schlock cinema,” hit box-office gold in this 1974 Blaxpoitation film inspired by "The Exorcist." In this case, a marriage counselor becomes possessed by the devil, and only her father-in-law can expel the demon.
1:30 a.m. -- Tapestry Room
I know we’re not supposed to touch the art, but there is a bed in the Renaissance tapestry room (Bed Hangings, French, late 17th century) that is looking more and more appealing as the evening goes on.
Time to grab a few hours of sleep at home.
8 a.m. -- Atrium
Crowds gather in the Atrium again for a sunrise blessing of the museum presented by the Center for Interfaith Relations. An assortment of dance, prayer, song and chants represents all major world religions.
11 a.m. -- Art Bridge
When August Northcut got off work at the Butchertown bar Louis The Ton at 3 a.m., he went home to shower, got his girlfriend, and they decided to pull an all-nighter that would conclude at the Speed.
“We’ve been here since 6 or 6:30,” Northcut says. “This is a fantastic museum, super impressed. I was telling her that I lived in Savannah for awhile with the big art school [Savannah College of Art and Design SCAD Museum of Art], and this is easily comparable, if not better, than the museum they have down there.”
4 p.m. -- Outside the Museum
The doors of the museum have closed, but visitors who have congregated outside are already planning trips back.
“We’ll be back for plenty of Sundays,” says Luis Frames, referring to Owsley Sundays, a free admissions project sponsored by Brown-Forman.
Named for Owsley Brown II, who was CEO of the company from 1993 to 2005, the free Sundays will begin March 20 and continue through March 2021.
For Louisvillians who missed the 30-hour art extravaganza, there remain many opportunities to check out the city’s newly redesigned cultural hub.