The Ken­tucky home of Al and Mary Nor­ton Shands was de­signed for an im­mer­sive art ex­pe­ri­ence.

American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

In the 1980s, Al and Mary Nor­ton Shands com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tect David Mor­ton to de­sign a home for them and their art col­lec­tion. The sprawl­ing villa sits among the rolling hills of the Ken­tucky coun­try­side and is called, ap­pro­pri­ately, Great Mead­ows.

House and land­scape are lit­er­ally part of the col­lec­tion. Sol LeWitt and other artists cre­ated works to be painted on the walls and ceil­ings, and Maya Lin cre­ated an earth­work that com­ple­ments the other sculp­tures dot­ting the mead­ows. “I don’t want it to look like a sculp­ture park,” Al says. “I want each piece to have its own voice.”

I found it par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing to see Lin’s Ken­tucky Line, 2006, slowly soft­en­ing un­der veg­e­ta­tion and in the dis­tance Alex Hart­ley’s con­tem­po­rary folly, A Gen­tle Col­laps­ing, 2015.

Lin’s de­sign for the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans’ Memo­rial was se­lected in 1981 when she was an un­der­grad­u­ate at Yale. Ken­tucky Line is one of her “earth draw­ings.”

Hart­ley’s folly is a gal­va­nized steel rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a mid­cen­tury tract house frozen in a state of de­cay, await­ing na­ture to over­take it as well.

The two pieces il­lus­trate the in­evitabil­ity of change. In­side the house, vi­tal­ity reigns both in the col­lec­tor who is en­er­get­i­cally “about to be 90” and in the col­lec­tion.

Shands’ of­fice is en­veloped in a vi­brant wall draw­ing, #1082: bars of color, 2003, by Sol LeWitt. “It may be the only wall draw­ing he did that also cov­ers the ceil­ing,” he ob­serves.

Mary Shands, who died in 2009, co-founded and was the first pres­i­dent of the Ken­tucky Art and Craft Foun­da­tion (now Ken­tucky Mu­seum of Art and Craft). Al re­calls go­ing to what at first felt like too many craft shows but was soon hooked. “One day I hap­pened to wan­der into a booth that had fig­u­ra­tive sculp­tures by Ken­tucky ce­ramist Wayne Fer­gu­son,” he says. “I bought one, and as I was walk­ing to the car I turned around and bought two more pieces. I re­al­ized that some­thing had hap­pened to me in that mo­ment.” At first, the cou­ple bought pri­mar­ily lo­cal crafts and then grew to ac­quire crafts by artists with in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. Even­tu­ally they pro­gressed into sculp­ture.

“We had sim­i­lar taste in art as well as in friends,” Al says. “I think there may have been three times we dis­agreed. One time we were in a New York

gallery and saw a piece by the ce­ramist Ken Price. We were both im­pressed but I said, ‘Mary, this thing is too ex­pen­sive, we’re not go­ing to spend that kind of money.’ I couldn’t stop think­ing about it, though, and it be­gan to bother me that we didn’t buy it. I called the gallery and they told me, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Shands, but it’s al­ready been sold.’ On Christ­mas as I was open­ing a present from Mary I found, to my com­plete sur­prise, that she had bought me that piece by Ken Price!”

Al had spent time in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., when he was in prep school and was “al­ways at­tracted to mu­se­ums. The won­der­ful thing about it then was that you could have the whole place to your­self,” he says. “At the Phillips Col­lec­tion, which was then in the do­mes­tic set­ting of the Phillips’ home, there were hardly any guards. It was dark with spot­lights on the paint­ings. That’s af­fected the way I do light­ing in my house.

“Phillips had tremen­dous taste, things were avail­able then and he had the money. There are no fillers at all. Each pic­ture pro­jected you into a new world. They weren’t like wall­pa­per. I didn’t re­al­ize how the ex­pe­ri­ence af­fected me un­til I col­lected my­self.”

He con­tin­ues, “Is­abella Ste­wart Gard­ner and Dun­can Phillips did the right thing for their time, but life goes on, it doesn’t stop at a mo­ment in time. Our ar­chi­tect knew the di­rec­tion we were tak­ing and built a house that could ac­com­mo­date that.

“We com­mis­sioned pieces, and I in­vite the artists to spend a week­end here or it could [be] just to wan­der around. I then ask them where they think their piece should go. Be­fore you buy or com­mis­sion some­thing, you have to know where the artist is com­ing from. Once you’re con­vinced they’re cre­ative, it’s ex­cit­ing to let them go. I like to get into their psy­che. ‘Why did you do what you did?’ There are about 14 com­mis­sions in and around the house.”

He says, “There’s a lot of great art out there, but I don’t want to live with it. I want stuff I want to live with in my house. I want art that makes me come back to it. One of the rea­sons I come back to a piece

is be­cause the artist hasn’t com­pleted the con­nec­tion of the yang and the yin. If a piece is too fin­ished, it loses its mag­netism.

“Since the Sol LeWitt is in my of­fice,” he con­tin­ues, “I spend a lot of time with it. Once I think I know what he was up to, I find some­thing new.

“I love this re­treat that art pro­vides,” he ex­plains. “On the other hand, I worry that I’ve cut my­self off from the rest of life. I live at the end of a mile-long drive­way far from the dis­tur­bances of life. But art can pro­pel you into the un­cer­tain­ties, dif­fi­cul­ties and con­tra­dic­tions in the world that in­spired the artists.”

He wel­comes groups to the house and of­ten takes on the role of do­cent. He says, “The art be­longs to any­one who wants to look at it. I learn by talk­ing with the peo­ple who come to look.”

As an Epis­co­pal priest, he ran a house church in Louisville for 35 years. “There were al­ways about 15 peo­ple,” he ex­plains. “It was all based on dis­cus­sion. I al­ways left some­what dif­fer­ent for some­thing some­one said. Some­thing changed me.”

In 2016, he set up the Great Mead­ows Foun­da­tion to give travel grants to

Ken­tucky artists. He no­ticed there were few Ken­tucky artists in the col­lec­tion and con­cluded that lo­cal artists had be­come in­su­lar and had lit­tle con­tact with the art world be­yond where they lived and worked. An­nounc­ing the in­au­gu­ral grants, the foun­da­tion noted, “Sup­port­ing artists from across the state, the grants will en­able re­cip­i­ents to travel to visit con­fer­ences, ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions, art fairs and bi­en­ni­als, and to con­nect with pro­fes­sion­als in the field whose ex­per­tise can help them de­velop their prac­tice.”

Julien Rob­son, for­mer cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary art at the Penn­syl­va­nia Acad­emy of the Fine Arts, be­came cu­ra­tor of Shands’ col­lec­tion in 2012 and is now di­rec­tor of the foun­da­tion. Much of Shands’ col­lec­tion is be­queathed to the Speed Art Mu­seum in Louisville, where he is a trus­tee emer­i­tus. Other pieces will go to the Ken­tucky Mu­seum of Art and Craft. He feels he is only the tem­po­rary cus­to­dian of the art. It will take on a new life in the con­text of the mu­seum where it will be­long “to any­one who wants to look at it.”

1The three sculp­tures in front of the house are, from left, Jaume Plensa’s White Shadow, 2009; Alice Ay­cock’s Sculp­ture A (Mael­strom), 2012; and Alyson Shotz’s Axis of Ro­ta­tion, 2007.2Pe­tah Coyne’s pho­to­graph, Stream Monk, 1997, hangs in the en­trance foyer. De­scend­ing Heel, 1988, by Eliz­a­beth Mur­ray (1940-2007), is on the right. The ce­ram­ics are, from left, Clues, 1979, by Joe Bova; Shore, 1985, by Robert Chap­man Turner (1913-2005); Momo, 2000, by Toshiko Takaezu (19222011); Pal­ette cof­fee ser­vice. Touch­ing and Hold­ing, 1986, by An­drew Lord; Nascent Spi­ral Form, 1980s by Tom Marsh (1934-1991); Stack, 1981, by Peter Voulkos (1924-2002).

3Above the sofa in the sit­ting room/li­brary is Crea­tures of Ar­bo­ria, 1984, by Roy De For­est (1930-2007). Above the fire­place is Terry Win­ters’ Ra­tio, 1992. In the niche are ce­ramic pieces by Adrian Saxe, from left, An­te­lope Jar, 1983, and Mor­tar Bowl, 1984. On the ta­ble are two small works by Ok­sana Todor­ova from her Gus­ton Se­ries, 2015, and Dale Chi­huly’s Seaform Set, 1983.4Look­ing from the gallery into the liv­ing room are De­scend­ing Heel, 1988, by Eliz­a­beth Mur­ray (1940-2007); Javier Pérez’s Cú­mulo, 2001; Francesca DiMat­tio’s Shunga, 2016; and, in the dis­tance, Tony Cragg’s two-part sculp­ture Bestück­ung, 1987-88.5Pe­tah Coyne’s in­stal­la­tion, Al’s Gar­den, 1992-97, hangs in the din­ing area. Other work in­cludes, from left, Richard Dea­con’s sculp­ture Be­fore My Very Eyes #3, 1989; Jonathan Bo­rof­sky’s paint­ing 2,841,780 Paint­ing with Hand Shadow, 1983; and a print Two To Go, 1981, by Howard Hodgkin (1932-2017). The fur­ni­ture was de­signed by ar­chi­tect David Mor­ton (1941-2003).6In the sec­ond floor walk­way are, to the left, Matthew Met­zger’s paint­ing Moun­tain and River, 2014, and Ki­bong Rhee’s paint­ing Ver­ti­cal Mem­ory.

7#1082: bars of color, 2003, by Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), cov­ers the walls and ceil­ing of Al Shands’ of­fice. The two Biben­dum chairs are by Eileen Gray (1878-1976).8The walls of a bed­room are cov­ered by a wall paint­ing, For­est of Dreams, 2016, by Amer­i­can artist Odili Don­ald Odita. On the shelf are ce­ramic works by, from left, Bill Ste­wart, Wayne Fer­gu­son and Aurore Chabot. On the floor is a wood turned ves­sel by Ed­ward Moulthrop (1916-2003).9The master bed­room con­tains a com­mis­sioned in­stal­la­tion work by Betty Wood­man (1930-2018) ti­tled From a Log­gia in Tus­cany, 1994, plus two carved wood sculp­tures by folk artist Donny Tol­son, Ja­cob Wrestling the An­gel, 1982, at left, and Man and Woman, 1981, to the right.10At the back of the house with Mary Carothers’ sculp­ture Be­neath the Sur­face, 2016.11Re­in­stalling Richard Long’s sculp­ture Slate At­lantic, 2002, De­labole slate. It is 420 inches in di­am­e­ter.

12Al Shands in the kitchen. Above is Pep­pers and Onion, 1983, by Mary Ann Cur­rier (1927-2017). On the counter is a glazed earth­en­ware bowl, 1983, by An­drea Gill.13Maya Lin’s land­mark Ken­tucky Line, 2006 is in the fore­ground. Alex Hart­ley’s con­tem­po­rary folly, A Gen­tle Col­laps­ing, 2015, is in the dis­tance.

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