A Louisville Museum Is Staging a Show About Breonna Taylor With Help From Amy Sherald and Theaster Gates

Taylor, a Louisville native, died nearly a year ago.

The cover of Vanity Fair's September 2020 issue, featuring a portrait of Breonna Taylor by Amy Sherald. Courtesy of Vanity Fair.
The cover of Vanity Fair's September 2020 issue, featuring a portrait of Breonna Taylor by Amy Sherald. Courtesy of Vanity Fair.

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, will reflect on the death of Breonna Taylor—who was shot by police in the city a year ago next month—in a new exhibition.   

The title of the show, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” came from Taylor’s mom, Tamika Palmer. 

“Early in the exhibition planning process, I had a conversation with Ms. Palmer, where I asked her to share what this exhibition meant to her and her daughter’s legacy,” says Allison Glenn, who guest curated the show. “From her response, I developed this three-word title that spoke to the spirit of her reply.”

Details about who—or what—will be included in the show have not yet been announced, but it will open across five galleries at the museum on April 7. Entry to the exhibition will be free thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation. 

Allison Glenn. Courtesy of the Speed Art Museum.

Curator Allison Glenn. Courtesy of the Speed Art Museum.

Stephen Reily, the Speed’s director, approached Glenn, who is an associate curator at Crystal Bridges in Arkansas, about the show last fall. 

“We slowly started to think about how our museum, which is deeply committed to using art to serve the whole community, could respond,” Reily says. “What is the role of an art museum in serving a city and trauma? We had to ask ourselves the question: how would a museum even try to get this right?” 

In talking to colleagues and peers, Glenn’s name came up quickly, Reily says, noting that she’d previously worked with Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects in Chicago and Prospect New Orleans. “She’s someone who has deep experience working with great artists in response to real events in real places,” he says.

For this effort, Glenn convened a group of artists, scholars, and other experts to advise on curatorial decisions for the show. “I sought their consult on everything,” she recalls. “Everything.” 

Gates, who reinstalled the Cleveland gazebo where Tamir Rice was shot as a memorial in Chicago, was Glenn’s first call. Then came, in no particular order, artists Amy Sherald (who painted Taylor for the cover of Vanity Fair) and Hank Willis Thomas; multidisciplinary filmmaker and curator Jon-Sesrie Goff; art historian Allison K. Young; art strategist Mecca Brooks; art administrator La Keisha Leek, a cousin of Trayvon Martin; and retired military officer Raymond Green, who is a cousin of the late Alton Sterling. 

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Together, they make up the show’s advisory panel, a group that Glenn likens to a “board of directors for the curatorial framework.” 

“These people really helped shape the truth of this all, which is that what happened is part of a national conversation,” Glenn says. “I really tried to make sure I was positioning myself in concert and conversation with many voices that I admire and respect before I brought any ideas to the museum or the local community.”

This, she added, was done out of “respect for the subject and respect for the year that Louisville had last year—and continues to have.”

Meanwhile, the Speed’s community engagement strategist, Toya Northington, convened a steering committee of Louisville artists, activists, mental health professionals, and other community members who serve as advisors on a local level.

“A museum like ours should never live in isolation from what’s going on in the city,” Reily says. “The killing of Breonna Taylor and the year of protests changed the course of our city. At the Speed, because we believe that great art and artists can help the city, we were hungry… to find a way to address it.”

“Promise, Witness, Remembrance” will be on view from April 7 through June 6, 2021 at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.


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