Love In All Forms

“Pearl Collectors” by Sibylle Peretti. Photography courtesy of Heller Gallery.

The Speed Museum introduces two new dazzling exhibitions


By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos provided by the Speed Art Museum


With a new year upon us, the Speed Art Museum is hitting the ground running with the opening of two new exhibitions in February. “Collecting – A Love Story: Glass from the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection” opens on Feb. 5, and “Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper” begins on Feb. 19. I had the opportunity to speak with both curators to learn more about these exciting new collections.

Collecting – A Love Story: Glass from the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection

This exhibition looks at the contemporary glass collection from Leonard and the late Adele Leight. The two were married for 69 years and both shared a love of collecting, contemporary glass in particular. Their collection includes ceramics, furniture, paintings, works on paper and more, explained Scott Erbes, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Speed Art Museum and Co-Curator of this exhibition. With well over 200 glass objects in their collection, Erbes said choosing only 69 items was a challenging task. All 200 pieces have been promised or already been given to the Speed according to Erbes.

“Dizzy Girl”
by Joyce J. Scott. Photography courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery.

The Leights began collecting glass in the late 1960s and acquired their first piece by Joel Philip Meyers in 1968 from the Speed Art Museum. “The title ‘Collecting – A Love Story’ has two meanings. It refers to Leonard and Adele and their devotion to one another and to the shared devotion of building a collection that appealed to them,” explained Erbes.

In the exhibition itself, you can expect to see 69 pieces of contemporary glass by over 50 different artists ranging in date from the late 1960s to a few years ago, according to Erbes. “One of the unique things about this exhibition is because the collection is so big and so good, it rolls out across the whole museum. It will begin in the North building in the Adele and Leonard Leight Gallery, but then it will roll from there through the main axis of the original 1927 building and then end in what we call the Loft Gallery, a new gallery at the South end of the museum. It’s a chance to see these objects in a setting with others like them but also to see them in other parts of the museum too. We will see what kind of dialogue they have with other objects that are on view from the collection,” said Erbes.

“Yellow Shoe” by Isabelle de Borchgrave.

Erbes has worked with the Leights’ collection for over 20 years, so he brought in a second set of eyes, Norwood Viviano, to look at it from a new perspective. Erbes is hoping that this exhibition will bring joy to all those that come and explore it. “I have a section of the exhibition that talks about Leonard and Adele’s lives together and as collectors that I hope visitors can learn from. I think sometimes people assume it’s daunting to be a collector, but it doesn’t matter what you collect if you’re passionate about it. If you want to live with it, enjoy learning about it and looking at it all the time, anyone can be a great collector. So I hope the exhibition delivers that message as well,” said Erbes. There will also be a series of virtual lectures about the exhibition, so keep an eye out for those on the Speed Museum’s website.

Collecting – A Love Story: Glass from the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection
February 5 – June 20, 2021

“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” by Jeffrey Gibson. Photograph by Pete Mauney.

Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper

Isabelle de Borchgrave is a Belgian printmaker, furniture designer, painter, sculptor and artist who creates trompe l’œil artwork. Trompe l’œil is a French term meaning to fool the eye by making unconventional materials look concrete. In de Borchgrave’s case, it’s creating gowns and costumes out of paper that seem so real you have to take a second and third look.

“She’s giving new life to all of these incredible costumes, fashions, jewelry, shoes and everything that these people are wearing in these portraits. The clothes are long gone, some of them, in some cases, are still preserved, but she brings them to life in a whole new way,” explained Erika Holmquist-Wall, Curator of the exhibition. “She’s using a medium that is so accessible and so simple. Any elementary kid could take paper and pen and pencil and fold it up, but she’s creating all of this incredible beauty out of the simplest materials and the most basic of art materials,” said Holmquist-Wall.

“Maria-Maddalena d’Austria”
by Isabelle de Borchgrave.

The exhibition is five shows in one, Holmquist-Wall explained. The first section, “Papiers à la Mode,” takes you on a journey through 300 years of fashion history, from Queen Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel. The next section, “Splendor of the Medici,” takes visitors through Florence, Italy and the great Medici banking family. “All of the works in that part of the exhibition are based on actual portraits of the Medici family members. They’re outfitted in these incredibly sumptuous and luxurious textiles, gowns and jewelry. That is the most detailed section of the show,” said Holmquist-Wall.

The third section, “The World of Mariano Fortuny,” focuses on the gowns of the Spanish clothing designer, Mariano Fortuny. “He designed and used fabric in a way that actually looked back to the ancient Greeks with very loose wraps and gowns, but with an incredibly vivid and vibrant use of color. Fortuny fabrics are still used today, such as in high-end wallpaper and textiles,” said Holmquist-Wall.

The fourth section, “Les Ballets Russes,” looks at the stage and ballet costumes of the famous ballet that started in 1909 under Sergei Diaghilev, according to Holmquist-Wall. “Many of the stage sets, designs and costumes were designed by major artists at the time such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and other major names in modern art history. During every production the Ballets Russes put on, they tried to achieve the height of modernism,” explained Holmquist-Wall. The final section is a series of kaftans that are inspired by the Silk Road. This section strays away from the European and American style of the rest of the exhibition, but you can see the transcontinental exchange of patterns, colors and ideas, explained Holmquist-Wall.

“Mantua” by Isabelle de Borchgrave.

Steve Humphrey and his wife Janice Carter Levitch Humphrey are sponsoring the “Mantua” gown, which was found in 1989 in a manor house’s attic. “We know that it likely belonged to a woman named Sydney Perry who was probably the original wearer of the dress. She was an heiress with a considerable fortune who inherited a castle in Wales. She was probably between the ages of 17 and 22 when the gown was made, between 1755 and 1760. So it was a time when she would have been formally presented at the English court,” said Holmquist-Wall. The dress’s textile was handsewn and produced in France, then sent to England where the dress was put together.

“This show is so incredible when you see these gowns. It’s transporting and creatively inspiring. My hope is that after people see these works and immerse themselves in the vibrant color and fact that they are all made of paper, that they are inspired to develop their own approach to whatever it is they do creatively or to make and realize that it’s possible,” said Holmquist-Wall. “I also hope that it will make people look at art and paintings in different ways because she’s bringing them to life.”

Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper
February 19 – August 22, 2021

The Speed Art Museum
2035 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40208