A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Altar of the
Hand, 17th century
Late 19th and 20th century objects from West and Central Africa form the museum's collection of African art. The collection features objects from the Yoruba, Benin, Kuba, and Dan people, and highlights include three magnificent carved Yoruba panels and a splendid Fang reliquary figure.
Benin altars of the hand are dedicated to the power of the right hand, because it is the right hand that does important things like hold a tool or weapon and offer sacrifices to the gods. The four female figures on this altar are depicted wearing garments made of red coral beads, signaling their connection to the Benin court. They carry musical instruments; music is often used to alert the ancestors to prepare to receive messages from the world of the living. The altar helps bring about success in all endeavors.
The Speed Art Museum has hired consultants to guide it on whether it should expand at its present site on the University of Louisville's Belknap Campus or build a new museum, perhaps downtown.
A downtown museum "without question, would cost $100 million-plus," said Arthur Greenberg, one of the consultants.
There is no timeline and no preferred option at this time, said Peter Morrin, the museum's director.
Morrin said the Speed has more than 13,000 pieces, but only about 15 percent are usually on exhibit. It needs more room to display its permanent collection and special exhibits, and a better layout so visitors can circulate more easily, officials said.
And more room is needed to show and store collections already promised to the Speed, including contemporary art, 20th-century glass and ceramics, Asian and African art, prints, and varied Kentucky materials, said Speed spokeswoman Penny Peavler.
"This isn't simply about making the treasure chest bigger," Morrin said. "It's about how we can share our resources and make them more accessible."
The museum has a large base of devoted visitors, including more than 5,000 memberships. Among the regular visitors there yesterday were Clarence and Nita Getman, a retired Louisville couple who come to the Speed several times a year.
"There's always something new," Clarence Getman said. "The impressionists are my favorite genre, and I like the special exhibits." He added that that the parking is convenient and the university setting adds to the atmosphere.
Laura Mechlin of St. Matthews was busy in the basement education center, which is equipped with interactive playthings. As she kept an eye on her three toddlers, she said she comes every six or eight weeks to "let my children play and be creative."
The Speed opened on campus in 1927 and was expanded in 1954, 1973 and 1983.
A $15 million renovation was completed in 1997; it included a new education center and interactive gallery, and improved exhibit space and storage areas. In 1999 the museum built a 300-space adjacent parking garage with storage space and a workshop that cost $7 million.
Speed officials have been pondering their future for two years, visiting a host of museums. Last year they took part in a forum featuring prominent architects, with the discussion held in the context of a possible Speed expansion or relocation.
The museum has about 135,000 square feet. The ideal would be to have at least 200,000 square feet.
Being on the Belknap Campus has some advantages, Peavler said. The Speed and U of L have many cooperative programs for students, and many of the Speed's part-time employees are students.
The Speed owns its buildings but leases the land from U of L for free. The university gave the museum an option last year on an adjoining tract where an expansion might be centered.
The Speed has an invested reserve of $58 million earmarked for operations and a $17 million endowment set aside to expand the collection.
Much of the money came from a $50 million bequest in the mid-1990s from Alice Speed Stoll. But Morrin said only the interest can be spent, and any capital to expand or relocate must be raised.
The consultant team hired last month includes:
Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York, a museum master planner and the team's leader. Its clients have included the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
AMS Planning & Research Corp. of St. Louis, which has done work for the San Jose Museum of Art and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Greenberg, a director with AMS, said its task is to interview civic leaders, Speed patrons and board members, and others about what the museum needs.
Wolf & Co. of New York, whose specialty is developing costs and budgeting for museum projects.
The consultants are expected to have a draft master plan by late July on how the Speed can meet its long-term goals.
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Tribal Arts of Africa
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