Finally! The Speed Art Museum will open its doors to the public again on March 12, 2016, after a long three years of renovation. It will be open for 30 hours straight, from Saturday at 10 a.m. until Sunday at 4 p.m. We got a sneak peek this week at this impressive new museum. And when we say impressive, consider these statistics:

  • It’s a $56 million expansion.
  • It was closed for three years.
  • The total space is 220,000 square feet.
  • The new North Wing is 62,500 square feet and three floors.
  • The new South Wing contains a state-of-the-art movie cinema.
  • The attendance goal this year is 200,000 people.
  • The average yearly attendance before the renovations was around 100,000 people.
Speed Art Museum
The original Speed Art Museum building dates back to 1927.

The museum isn’t just art galleries. It’s an experience of culture, art and community all in one central location. The museum building itself is a work of art, as you will see below, with the new, modern additions paired with the renovation of the original 1927 building.

When we interviewed Museum Director Ghislain d’Humières last year, he told us what the goals were for this new museum. He wanted this museum to be a “hub of creativity”. A museum is not just a place to visit once a year; it is a cultural center in the community for everyone.  We believe he will achieve this goal.

Speed Art Museum
Here’s a view from below looking up to the central gallery.

People, and Louisvillians in particular, enjoy the familiarity of their attractions and landmarks. Rest assured that all of the old favorites are still there, and once you get your bearings, you’ll realize that you are in a familiar setting; it’s just had some major improvements. What many people didn’t realize is that only a small percentage of the museum’s entire collection was ever on display at any given time. The majority of the collection was in storage and was rotated out, and some works never made it out of storage at all. Frankly, there was not enough room before to showcase everything, but now, there is plenty of room.

What will you see at the Speed Art Museum?

Curators have been busy the past three years taking inventory, restoring pieces and determining how to display everything in the best way. Curator Miranda Lash sums up what guests will see:

  1. Art that was on display up until the point the museum closed
  2. Art that has been in storage and never displayed in public
  3. Art that has been recently accumulated
  4. Art that has been commissioned for specific sites (for example, the wishbone sculpture on the front lawn)
Speed Art Museum
A contemporary piece stands proud in its new home.

Cumulatively, that’s a lot of art.  The museum achieved its goal and actually surpassed it. Using some of the new tag lines from the Speed below to guide your tour, here is a look at what you will see starting tomorrow.

It’s Your Speed Art Museum

Conjoining old and new is no easy task. This is the same museum we have all known and loved for almost a century. Now it is enhanced and meant to bring the community together. The goal here is one of inclusiveness. Art is personal and emotional and accessible to all. You do not have to be an aficionado or scholar to enjoy art. Art provokes a very emotional, honest response that no book can teach you.

Speed Art Museum
Old meets new: here’s the part of the building where the new North Building meets the original 1927 gallery. The Henry Moore sculpture sits outside and soon will be in shallow water.
Speed Art Museum
The glass bridge from the new North Building to the original 1927 building is symbolic and functional.
Speed Art Museum
Here’s another view of the transparent bridge. Underneath it is a classroom and work space.
Speed Art Museum
A new site-specific commissioned piece by Spencer Finch is in the atrium of the North Building, entitled “Kentucky Sunlight (Lincoln’s Birthday)”.
Speed Art Museum
Windows in the North and South Buildings have a flecked metallic pattern that runs throughout. This pattern is supposed to resemble rain, and the pattern actually reflects light, protecting the art from harmful rays of the sun.
Speed Art Museum
The original grand staircase has been renovated and named after Owsley and Christy Brown.
Speed Art Museum
This is the South Building, where the movie theater is located.

Explore the Universal and the Personal

Art is both of these things: universal and personal. The Speed wants you to experience art on another level. Rather than just walking through the galleries, looking at the art, they want you to notice:

  • How was it created?
  • What was its function?
  • What technique was used to make it?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What is the context?
  • What is the emotional response to the piece?

The first room in the original 1927 gallery is a testament to this process. Works of art are on display from many centuries, all with a common thread of its creation by a human hand. This gallery is a fusion of everything from ancient to contemporary art.

Speed Art Museum
The Chagall sits near a tribal mask in this gallery. It’s all about the cumulative experience.
Speed Art Museum
The North Building now contains all of the contemporary collection, and with so much more space, it can all be displayed in grand fashion.
Speed Art Museum
The Speed has a huge glass collection, with most of it residing in storage over the years due to lack of display space. That problem has been remedied.
Speed Art Museum
The bottom floor contains the beloved Kentucky collection, with everything from art to front door façades, sugar chests and silver on display.
Speed Art Museum
The old revolving door is gone from the central original 1927 gallery. Here are the many beautiful sculptures visitors will find.
Speed Art Museum
Silver and fine crystal in the Kentucky gallery
Speed Art Museum
Local artist Sam Gilliam’s large work hangs across an entire wall in a North Building gallery.

Experience Art at a Whole New Speed

While you can experience art on a cerebral level, you can experience art on a more tactile level, as well. Head downstairs to the new ArtSparks for an all-encompassing journey for your senses with art. Modeled after the Exploratorium in San Francisco, this is not just meant for kids; rather, everyone is encouraged to come down here to experience the collection. There are areas for “noticing,” “talking” and “making” that will expand your perspective on art.

Speed Art Museum
Notice the color choices in art and the profound effect they have.
Speed Art Museum
A compilation of different women portrayed in art
Speed Art Museum
Making art with different elements of light

Other Features


The Speed now has an app you can download that is called “At Your Own Speed.” You can take a tour via your smartphone with the amount of time you have available, whether that is 30 minutes or three hours. Beacons will also notify you of things in each gallery or at events.


Labels have all been redone and are great resources. Each one tells the name and then the context of the piece, such as how a certain piece was used in a private home or why someone wore a certain piece of decoration.


Eat at Susan Hershberg’s latest restaurant, Wiltshire at the Speed. If you are pressed for time, there is a separate on-the-go food area and coffee bar, with a side entrance for easy entry.


There is a new museum store, located next to the visitor services area. Look for home decor, gifts, books, jewelry and soon … Derby hats!


Delve into the amazing array of films that will be shown in the new, state-of-the-art movie cinema with seating for 142. This is located in the South Building and has its own entrance, which means it is open after the museum has closed, namely weekend nights. There are big plans for this space, all created by curator of film Dean Otto, and we are excited to see them unfold.

Speed Art Museum
A parting shot

We guarantee that when you go to the all-new Speed Art Museum, you will have the same reaction we did when we left: “THAT was worth the wait!”

Click here to keep apprised of all of the 30 hours of nonstop programming. All grand opening events are free. After the grand opening, regular admission will be $12 for adults; $8 for senior citizens, military personnel and children ages 4 to 17; free for children ages 3 and younger. There will be free admission on Sundays.

Photography by Adele Reding Photography


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About the Author
Heidi Potter