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Inka Essenhigh | Speed Art Museum

Inka Essenhigh, Green Goddess II, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 60''.

Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection

March 24, 2023 – August 6, 2023

The Speed Art Museum presents Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection, a major exhibition celebrating the extensive and significant collection of contemporary artworks assembled by the late Alfred R. Shands III (1928-2021) and Mary Norton Shands (1930-2009). This presentation also commemorates the transformative gift of art made to the Speed Art Museum, numbering over 100 artworks. 

It was Al Shands’s wish that the contemporary art collection he and his late wife, Mary, amassed at their Great Meadows estate in Crestwood, Kentucky be displayed together in a public exhibition before being dispersed to museums across the state. In this way, he sought not only a closure to the collection’s life at Great Meadows, but also a bridge to the works’ future lives in other contexts. Shands, a former Episcopalian priest, hoped to mount an exhibition that would be dynamic but also contemplative—a place where museum visitors could be inspired and explore what meaning the works could spark in their own lives.

This exhibition fulfills Shands’s desire to allow a greater audience to engage with works of art that gave him such pleasure over the years and to allow them the same opportunities to connect with the art—and each other—before the works become part of different collections and different stories. Rounding the Circle is curated by Julien Robson, director of the Great Meadows Foundation as well as a close friend and private curator to Al Shands. Having worked with Shands for more than twenty years, Robson is intimately familiar with Shands’s unique interest in the relationship between the works in the collection, as well as their connections to the surrounding architecture at Great Meadows. This knowledge will deeply inform the exhibition, creating a display of the artworks in an inspiring new context while also honoring Shands’s keen aesthetic sensibility. 

Artists in the exhibition include such renowned figures as Anish Kapoor, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Siah Armajani, Petah Coyne, Olafur Eliasson, Elizabeth Murray, Afredo Jaar, Betty Woodman, Sol LeWitt, and Tony Cragg, alongside leading Kentucky artists such as Vian Sora, Cynthia Norton, Kiah Celeste, and Sandra Charles.

The Speed Art Museum has been committed to collecting and exhibiting significant artworks from all times since the museum’s founding in 1927. Its rich collections today are largely the result of the generosity and vision of private citizens who have chosen to become great benefactors, and the Shands gift is the latest chapter in this long legacy of support. 

The Speed is a collection of collections, each compelling on its own terms yet capable of telling richer, more extraordinary stories when brought into dialogue. In this sense, the museum has been made far greater by Al & Mary Shands’s legacy and gift, an extraordinary benefaction to the city and the commonwealth. As the Speed Art Museum approaches its centennial, this collection of works will serve as a new and enduring pillar for the institution—generating reflection, dialogue, and inspiration for museum audiences for generations to come.

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