Curator Erika Holmquist-Wall discusses the new The Speed Collects: Art in Europe installation and Claude Monet’s Nymphéas exhibition
By Sarah Carter Levitch
Photos provided by Speed Art Museum
Since the Speed’s reopening in 2016, there has been a continual flow of rich, stimulating exhibits coming in and out alongside their diverse permanent collection. Some past favorites of mine have been Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper, Andy Warhol: Revelation and Keltie Ferris: *O*P*E*N*, to name a few. This Spring, the Speed welcomes another unique exhibition, Claude Monet’s Nymphéas, while also revealing a reinstallation of their permanent art collection in Europe from the 14th through 17th centuries.
Over the past six years, the permanent collection has evolved, whether new works are acquired, works taken out on loan, or works gone out on conservation. Along with the pandemic and civil unrest, the team at the Speed has been asking themselves: “how can we be more responsive?” Their response is reflected in the open reinstallation, The Speed Collects: Art in Europe.
Given it can be easily dismissed as old European art, the new exhibit is about finding the thread that speaks to the commonalities in human nature that have stretched across the centuries. Curator Erika Holmquist-Wall noted, “We’ve been taking the old art and figuring out how to connect it to our lives today. The different impulses, drives and desires. There’s new labeling and new ways to talk about art. For example, the images of St. Sebastian, who was a plague Saint and only venerated during outbreaks of a pandemic.”
Holmquist-Wall expanded on how this reinstallation will also enable more flexibility to talk about and incorporate their collection: “For the past several years, we’ve used all museum areas for exhibitions. We were moving very quickly, and things were getting shuffled around a lot. By creating spaces for the Speed’s permanent collection and giving it a chance to shine, our goal is to make smaller spaces within the permanent collection gallery, which will allow us to either showcase a single work of art on a deeper level, smaller exhibitions that speak to themes and objects, or a space for community and education.”
Also, now on view at the Speed is a unique treat. Holmquist-Wall noted, “we are installing a really beautiful, important loan of one of the earliest versions of Claude Monet’s water lily portraits titled Nymphéas, 1897-1899. We have the work on loan to us for a year from the collection of Monet’s son, Michel Monet. Knowing that the painting stayed with the family for many years and now it’s here at the Speed is pretty special. Anybody who doesn’t know much about art history will recognize the name Monet and know his paintings of the water lilies, so it’s an incredible opportunity to have this work on view.”
“We’ll be showcasing it with some photographs by Stephen Shore, who spent time photographing Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, as well as the Speed’s Claude Monet painting,” titled The Church at Varengeville-sur-Mer, Grey Weather, 1882. She clued us into a present-day connection: “This work features a little church on the cliffs of the Normandy coast, and the church was just in the news a few weeks ago. The weather erosion of the cliffs is threatening this medieval hilltop Abbey that Monet painted over and over again.”
Holmquist-Wall provided insightful context for Nymphéas: “This work comes from the first series after installing his water lily garden. He produced around a dozen canvases that are about 30×50. He kept them in his studio and returned to them again at the outbreak of World War I when Europe was undergoing this massive upheaval. He returned to the topic of the water lily. Right around that time in 1917 and into the 1920s, as the war dragged on, is when he was producing the very large scale water lily pictures.”
Whether you’re a regular visitor of the Speed or have never been before, this new exhibit and the recent reinstallation of art in Europe are compelling excuses to visit. When new exhibits come on, one of my favorite weekend activities is to get lunch and a cappuccino at Wiltshire at the Speed and then walk through the galleries, so might I recommend the same to you!
Speed Art Museum
2035 South Third St.
Louisville, KY 40208