A Q&A with the Speed’s new Curator of Contemporary Art
By Sarah Carter Levitch
Photo provided by Speed Art Museum
Starting August 1, 2022, the Speed Art Museum will welcome Tyler Blackwell as their new Curator of Contemporary Art. Blackwell brings ten years of experience working in museums and a passion for queer and historically underrepresented artist practices. Leaving his role as Cynthia Woods Mitchell’s
Associate Curator at the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas, Blackwell will undoubtedly help bring a fresh perspective as the Speed continues to rethink how they can be more engaged and responsive to the sociopolitical issues of our time.
Where did your love for art come from?
I think it comes from my dad. He was not a trained artist or art historian (far from it!). Still, he loved to visit obscure antique shops and consignment stores to find “worthy,” affordable artworks that were perhaps hidden away in a back room or stacked underneath five other objects. Over time, he developed an excellent eye for quality and authenticity. I was very fortunate to grow up around many great drawings and paintings that he found and pieces by artists he had begun collecting in-depth. Sometimes when I visit my parents in Texas, I have fun rearranging the “collection” in new configurations.
What are one or two of your favorite contemporary art pieces?
That is a tough question to ask someone who works with contemporary art and living artists! I think my answer will constantly be changing. A piece that comes to mind is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s elegiac, poetic “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991), which is comprised of a sort of “spilled” pile of multi-colored candies that, when first installed, equals 175 pounds. This weight parallels the healthy weight of Felix’s partner Ross Laycock, who died of complications of AIDS in 1991. Visitors to this work are invited to take pieces from the pile of candy, the loss of its weight mirroring Laycock’s frail body. However, as the pile of candy dwindles via this “fun” act of taking and eating a sweet, it is ultimately replenished by museum staff back to 175 pounds—a paradoxical gesture that suggests eternal or ongoing life as well as the artist’s pain of continuing to live beyond Laycock. Heartbreaking and beautiful. Artworks like this don’t require you to have specific knowledge about the artist or art history to engage with the piece. You get to participate on your terms through the shared joy of being able to eat a piece of candy while thinking, “why does the artist want me to do this?”
What drew you to the Curator of Contemporary Art Position at the Speed?
The Speed is a superb collecting institution. After working at a non-collecting contemporary art museum in Houston over the last four years, I was excited by the prospect of stewarding a contemporary art program and collection at a civic art museum. With a program actively rethinking how it is relevant to its audiences and broadening the stories it tells. The Speed also has a great history of supporting and presenting contemporary art and artists, and it is thrilling to think about contributing to that legacy.
What sort of art and shows do you hope to bring to the Speed?
I hope to bring a mix of emerging and established contemporary artists to Louisville! I imagine this means there will be presentations of artists you may or may not know. I feel strongly about the prospect of highlighting more artists of color, queer artists, and female-identifying makers. The Speed will continue to work hard to make itself a place for gathering and storytelling for everyone, not just a privileged few. One project I have already begun is what will be the first major museum retrospective of the Indigenous artist Marie Watt (Seneca Nation of Indians and German-Scot).
What is something you’re looking forward to in this new role?
I am genuinely looking forward to learning more about Louisville and its vibrant creative community. As we have seen over the last few years, the Speed has the unique potential to serve as an active site of connection and conversation between artists, history, community and people from Kentucky and beyond. I plan to build on this potential. I hope that our visitors to the museum will see their familiar collection favorites and be introduced to new perspectives or artist practices that feel fresh, relevant, meaningful and—fingers crossed—inspiring.
Speed Art Museum
2035 South Third St.
Louisville, KY 40208