'Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection,' Comes To A Close Aug. 6

Jul 27, 2023 at 4:58 pm
Opening night of "Rounding the Circle" at the Speed Art Museum
Opening night of "Rounding the Circle" at the Speed Art Museum Photo by Alexandra Brumley

In the news release for “Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection,” Great Meadows foundation director Julen Robson said, “Al Shands would often remark that he wanted the collection to feel like a giant and welcoming dinner party, with works that present different ideas and can speak to each other in surprising and distinctive ways. As many of these artworks make their way to a new home at the Speed, all are invited to reflect, connect and bring their own perspectives to the table.”

The giant dinner party that Al Shands had dreamed of is coming to a close (for now) as the Speed closes “Rounding the Circle: The Mary and Al Shands Collection” on Sunday, Aug. 6. 

The show was brought to the Speed in March after the Shands’ estate matters were settled following Al Shands' passing in 2021(Mary Shands died in 2010), and features works by contemporary artists such as Elizabeth Murray, Petah Coyne, Tony Cragg, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Maya Lin, Kiki Smith, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Betty Woodman. The collection also includes pieces by many Kentucky artists and artists of color. 

“The exhibition at the Speed is something that Al wished to happen after he died, before the collection was completely dispersed,” Julien Robson told LEO in March. “The first part is on the third floor special exhibition gallery, which is a big space — 7,500 square feet, I think — and is arranged in a way in different galleries where what I’ve tried to do is to think about the way that he was interested in this conversation and to make a way in through correspondences in works so that there is a kind of dialogue going on between them.”

The exhibit brings together something unique in that it considers that the collection of works came from Shands’ home. In that home, there are windows, woodwork and architectural elements that these works have lived against for years. In the presentation at the Speed some of those elements, like windows and other woodwork are recreated in the current exhibition space. 

“They started collecting when Mary was made the head of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation in 1981, they started by collecting Kentucky Craft and Kentucky Ceramics,” Robson said. “Gradually those ceramics became national and internationally-renowned people, and the scale of it grew. By the mid-eighties, they're buying people like Robert Anderson and Ken Price, and gradually it became a sculptural collection.”

click to enlarge Photo by Alexandra Brumley - Alexandra Brumley
Alexandra Brumley
Photo by Alexandra Brumley

The Shands' often agreed on the work they purchased but approached it in very different ways. 

“Mary was a very immediate kind of respondent to work. He tended to chew over things a lot,” Robson said. 

In the time leading up to Mary’s death, Al had begun to take more of a lead on purchasing and commissioning art. “He started to commission artists to do whole rooms in the house,” said Robson. “They already had some installation works like the Betty Woodman and the Sol LeWitt. But then, from 2010 onwards, there were three more commissions in the house.”

The arrangement of the works at the Speed offers a bit of the context that came with their placement in Shands’ home. That context adds new layers of consideration to the presentation of these works in the gallery setting as it considers how the Shands’ lived with these works on a daily basis and saw them in relation to the architectural elements of their home. 

“What I've tried to do is to think about the way that he was interested in this conversation,” said Robson. “And to make a way, through correspondences in works, so that there is a kind of dialogue going on between them.” 

The final week of the show is the last chance to see pieces of this collection before the pieces are fully dispersed amongst the museums and other art spaces where the Shands made gifts.

Admission to “Rounding the Circle” is $20 for adults or free for members, UofL students and staff, and frontline healthcare workers with valid ID. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the website


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