The Speed Art Museum presents “Five Recent Acquisitions,” on view through December 31. This exhibition highlights five recently acquired artworks from the museum’s collection that are exceptional for their originality, technical virtuosity and rarity.
This installation celebrates the sheer quality of great works of art and examines the role of museums in presenting the very best art to the public. “Pursuing the Masterpiece” contains only five works of art so that viewers will be able to devote more time interacting with each piece, as opposed to the few seconds that the average visitor spends looking at an artwork in large exhibitions. The hope is that visitors will be delighted by close inspection of these wonderful objects, as well as gain a better understanding of why staff and trustees committed the precious resources of time, energy and money toward the pieces’ acquisition and care.
On view are Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart’s greatest painting in America, “Adam Naming the Animals,” Paul Cézanne’s rare and wonderful “The Large Bathers,” a beautiful sugar desk from central Kentucky, the royal beaded tunic and cap that belonged to the king of the Nigerian town Okuku and Sam Gilliam’s pivotal painting “Restore.”
“Adam Naming the Animals,” 1686, is a masterpiece by one of the finest painters of animals of all time. Commissions for Ruthart’s paintings came from European aristocracy, including the princes of Liechtenstein. In the menageries of various baroque courts Ruthart had the opportunity to study a wide array of animals, ranging from domestic pets to exotic creatures from around the world.
“The Large Bathers” (1896‹7) by Cézanne is one of only three lithographs †and eight accepted prints †by the acclaimed Post-Impressionist painter. The Speed print is a rare example of the work’s first state. The composition featuring male figures in a landscape is an interpretation of Cézanne’s most famous painting at that time, “Bathers at Rest (1876‷7), now in the collection of the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Penn.
Gilliam’s large-scale painting “Restore,” 1968, is a monumental masterpiece. It holds a critical place in the career of this important artist and shows why this artist is considered a major contributor to the history of American post-World War II painting. Inventive in materials and processes, “Restore” is a turning point, a breakthrough work in which Gilliam broke from the rigid structuring of stripes or bars embraced by some of the Washington Color School painters and points toward his internationally acclaimed “draped” or “suspended” paintings.
The Yoruba beaded tunic and cap, circa 1916‱934, are major additions to the museum’s collection of African art. It once formed part of the treasury of royal objects belonging to the oba (or king) of the Nigerian town of Okuku. The king wore these objects during his coronation or installation, after which they were used only for important ceremonial occasions and sacred rituals. The tunic and cap are rare in that their rich history and ownership are fully documented in a book by German scholar Ulli Beier.
The sugar desk, circa 1810‱840, was created in central Kentucky in the early Nineteenth Century. It is remarkable for its delicate scale and richly patterned veneers. This sugar desk’s distinctive, spindly legs and shaped bottom rail connect it to a group of case furniture made in the Mason County region. The desk will become a focal point in the Speed’s collection of Kentucky-made art from the pre-Civil War period.
An interactive game to accompany the exhibition, “Masterpiece Quest,” has been custom-created by the Speed’s education program evaluator, Gwendolyn Kelly. It was designed so that visitors can learn the inner workings of how and why the museum selects specific pieces of works for its collection. “Masterpiece Quest” is a self-guided discovery game that invites visitors to engage with each work of art through multiple levels of play.
The Speed Art Museum is on Third Street. For information, www.speedmuseum.org or 502-634-2700.