I stood at the door, excitedly clutching my purse. God forbid I knock anything over. It was my first visit to Adele and Leonard Leight’s house to view their art collection composed largely of contemporary glass. What a delightful dilemma to be in. You, too, can experience seeing their collection (minus the anxiety) at “Collecting — A Love Story: Glass from the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection” at the Speed Art Museum. This excellent show is co-curated by Scott Erbes, curator of decorative arts and design, and Norwood Viviano, a glass artist and associate professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
The exhibition is a tribute to the Leights. Married 69 years, they collected a variety of 20th and 21st century decorative arts, including ceramics, furniture and the aforementioned studio glass. Adele died in 2018 at age 94; Leonard is 98 and still buying art. They bought their first contemporary glass piece in 1968, during the decade the American Studio Glass movement started. Erbes started working at the Speed in 1999, the same year he first visited the Leight’s collection. Over 240 pieces of glass art have been donated or promised to the Speed. The show, spread across the museum, showcases 69 works by 57 artists.
“From the beginning of the exhibition planning, I knew I wanted and needed a fresh set of eyes and fresh thinking on the collection,” said Erbes. “I have so enjoyed working with the collection for over 20 years, but my perspective is definitely shaded by my familiarity with the pieces. I greatly admire [Viviano’s] artistic practice and his work as an educator; the duality made him the perfect co-curator.”
The Leights own a commissioned work by Viviano that is not included in the show.
“Collecting — A Love Story” is not in one gallery, thus giving visitors a chance to see other art in the museum.
There are a few pieces in the first floor Atrium near the staircase, including one by MacArthur Fellowship (aka the genius grant) recipient Joyce J. Scott. Her “Dizzy Girl,” with its focus on racism and misogyny, features heads encased in nooses. Take the stairs to the Adele and Leonard Leight Gallery. Along the way, look at the three geometric sculptures by the husband-and-wife team Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová.
The Leight Gallery highlights many important artists of the American Studio Glass movement, such as Dominick Labino, Dale Chihuly and Toots Zynksy. (There are several works in the Speed I consider “mine” and Zynksy’s “Bird of Paradise,” composed of fused glass threads, is one of them. I’m grateful the museum is a good caretaker.) The godfather of Kentucky blown glass, Stephen Rolfe Powell, is also included.
Go back to the first floor, walk across the bridge to the Sculpture Court where three additional pieces are located. “Odoriko,” a life-size, cast glass sculpture of a kimono minus the body, is by Karen LaMonte. It’s a fascinating work that had me searching how something like that could be made. Take the stairs to the second floor. The signage directs viewers through the American and European Galleries (which houses another work of “mine,” the Sara Sax Rookwood vase also owned by the Leights) to the Loft Gallery. Here you’ll find a wide array of artists, including Jeffrey Gibson (another MacArthur Fellowship recipient), stained glass artist Judith Schaechter and local artist/UofL professor Ché Rhodes. Also in the Loft Gallery is a video about collecting, explaining how the Leights built their collection.
The flip side is their sharing of that art. “When I first met [the Leights],” Erbes said, “I was introduced to a couple devoted to one another, to collecting and to the many artists in their remarkable collection. Over the years, I witnessed in them all the qualities of dedicated collectors: an irresistible attraction to art, commitment to looking and learning, trust in their own vision and judgment and a need to be surrounded by objects that captivated their eyes and minds. Thankfully for all of us, they also dedicated themselves to sharing their joyful discoveries with others, generously promising their collection to the Speed.”
Two artists featured in “Collecting — A Love Story,” Ché Rhodes and Beth Lipman, are discussing their art in Zoom webinars. Reserve free tickets on the Speed website.
‘Collecting — A Love Story: Glass from the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection’
Through June 20
Speed Art Museum
2035 S. Third St.