Strange Harvest was on view at the Lexington Art League’s Loudon House from July 1st to July 24th.
Upon entering Nicolette Lim’s 2020 solo exhibition Strange Harvest, the viewer was greeted by two giant women. These figures, Amazonian in stature, towered over the viewer. Their eyes straight forward, gazing upon something undisclosed in the distance. They were nude save for a pair of thick woolen socks and the bundles of sticks (also known as faggots) strapped to their backs. The weight of the bundles evidenced by the rope pressing into their fleshy torsos. The figure in the foreground stood tall while the figure in the background crouched as if to collect the single charred matte black stick just out of her reach.
“Perempuan Minyak”, 2020, drawing on customized rice paper soaked in palm oil
Malaysian-born Chinese-American artist Nicolette Lim draws from a wide range of influences and experience; her art is inspired by Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, and Ann Hamilton just for starters. Lim grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she attended a rigorous and conservative traditional Chinese all-girls school. Lim’s identity as a mixed-race person, child of an American and queer woman made her the subject of intense hazing, bullying, and scrutiny from students and teachers. These experiences shaped Lim for life and the rigid disciplinarian structures of her girlhood play into her visual iconography. Images of girls in pinafore uniforms (similar to the one Lim herself was required to wear), books, and even an old school projector occupy space within the exhibition. One image which I found incredibly striking is a drawing of a girl standing upon a chair and tugging on her earlobes. This strange ritual feels both foreign and familiar all at once. Lim’s girls exist in a space void of distinguishing characteristics but occupied instead by bugs, sticks, anatomical illustrations, tears, seeds, and veins.
Strange Harvest recounted Lim’s experience of the haze, an annual human-made phenomenon in Malaysia where a thick smog blankets the country for weeks at a time as a result of slash burnings done by those in the palm-oil industry. These dangerous and ecologically disastrous practices, according to Lim, contribute to the disintegration of Malaysia’s ecosystems and environment. Lim recalls, as a child, perceiving the haze as a natural phenomenon, it being something persistent and unavoidable.
“Burung Puki”, 2020, soft sculpture with porcelain
A piece that best exemplifies the soft-violence of the haze is a large nest placed upon a table. The nest constructed of sticks and bows is occupied by several bird-girl figures who appear to be in the midst of a secret ritual, the purpose known only to them. One cannot help but feel concerned for these creatures, whose porcelain legs and sock-clad feet further emphasize their innocence, fragility, and humanness. Lim investigates the larger power structures of capitalism behind this ecological destruction, focusing on the laborers of the palm oil industry (usually women) who are paid poorly and work in unsafe conditions for long hours. Lim also metaphorically demonstrates the destruction of the haze through charred and blackened objects: wooden chairs, tables, and books.
“Seeds of Our Flesh”, 2020, drawing and installation
“Twelve Canes”, 2018, drawings and found sticks
Yet another layer to this exhibition was Lim’s addressing of anti-LGBTQ attitudes in Malaysia. Moments of female intimacy, girls holding hands, and close-ups of women’s bodies persisted through the show. Lim juxtaposed this sensuality with images of violence, notably a row of hands, flayed open and speared with black sticks. These “switches” are representative of caning, a popular punishment for homosexuality in Malaysia. Lim juxtaposes this violence with the ecological violence, the economic destruction of capitalism, and the violent traditional power structures she came up under in her schooling.
In Strange Harvest, Lim presented a body of work that is both soft and violent, dark and tender. Her investment in examining the underlying power structures of oppression within her home country, and that exist globally, is refreshing. Too often in contemporary art, our artists mine this trauma for material, then cast it aside. Lim’s investment in these issues rings genuine and, although she is halfway across the world, Malaysia is her home.
Not quite a group show or even a series of solo shows, works by six artists recently shown at the Lexington Art League were separated out but still strung together by a similar thread. Critic Roland Barthes might have called this connection an umbilical cord, something that does more that just bind things together. Across the galleries the importance of the photographic image resonated through artworks by Lori Larusso, Mark Williams, Christina Conroy, Holly Graham, Josh Dross, and Sarah Madison Brown.
When photographic technology was in its infancy, images were described as being “fixed” to their metal or paper surfaces. Certainly, anyone familiar with the darkroom knows a print needs a chemical fixer to keep it from fading away. Fixing has special connotations to photographs, but it’s a broad definition. Fixing repairs, but it also ties up, sticks on, attaches. In these six exhibitions, there is the strong sense that the objects on display have real weight in the world.
Lori Larusso, “Populist Clowd(er)”, 2019, acrylic on four polymetal panels.
Lori Larusso, “Populist Clowd(er)”, 2019, acrylic on four polymetal panels.
Lori Larusso’s Like sent up the flatness of social media interactions by re-imagining them as large meticulously crafted painted panels. The irony was palpable, even in Larusso’s intentions: can a dearth of images and interactions shared day in and day out be meaningful art? There was a past pop art sensibility to Larusso’s paintings, applied to contemporary forms of expression and communication used by billions. Painted text and images culled from a sea of words and images that swirl through the wastelands of the internet are juxtaposed in ways that focused their aimlessness into sharper points. Why are endless pictures of cats and food so tiresome yet somehow crucial to how we process our emotions? Larusso’s works spoke to this constant flow and what society does to shape it into some kind of shared culture. Experience transformed into something more permanent. Images of cats in sinks, like those represented in Populist Clowd(er) (2019), felt less trivial somehow when carefully rendered and set on white walls.
Of course, art usually deals in monumental feelings.In Mark Williams’ Karst, time is stretched out according to that of geologic forces, but expressed through individual snapshots of experience. These snapshots form the patterned layers that Williams screen prints. The display of Williams’ prints felt both scientific and deeply personal, drawn from the experience of plumbed depths taken in instants. What was gripping about these prints was the way frenetic layers of ink were buoyed by shimmering iridescent paper. A comparison could be drawn between the actions of water and ink that played their parts to create the prints, and the caves from which they were composed. Somewhat ancillary to the prints were several photographs printed on aluminum plates. The reflective surface of Shimmer (2013) lent it a luminous sparkle. Though appearing less abstract than Williams’ screen prints, the cropped rock formations still came across as inarticulate patterns that coalesced the vastness of time into things immediate and emotional.
A similar meeting of science and artistic mythos was Christina Conroy’s Dark Exposure. Like Williams’ Karst, Conroy’s photographs layered together the processes of change to explore the technical strangeness of photographic images. Photographs are often conceits, and these photographs played with peculiar strengths and limitations of the individual image. Here the static image was anything but, and described changes in light and shadow in interesting ways, as in Pathways (2019). Rather than the luminous spheres Conroy created in many of her other photographs, green-lit lines wove through an oddly illuminated wall of trees. The human figures responsible for these moving lights were mostly absent, untraceable in the minutes-long exposure times that reveal Conroy’s method. Time is the photograph’s strength and weaknesses, the human touch able to hide in plain sight in front of and behind the camera.
Holly Graham, “Emily”, 2019, mixed media with digital prints.
Holly Graham, “Makawee (Sioux for “generous, abundant, freely giving”)”, 2019, mixed media with digital prints
Holly Graham’s New Life Doll Project was curiously related to Williams’ or Conroy’s looks into time and change. Process and documentation were at the forefront of Graham’s project reclaiming discarded Barbie dolls. They aren’t simply repaired or cleaned but returned a sense of dignity and identity expanded beyond the status of playthings. The images that accompany the dolls, arranged in similarly scientific grids, show before and after shots of heads and bodies. Hair is pruned and restyled, makeup changed or removed, bodies are covered in new hand-sewn clothes, all documented. The process of reclaiming identities and names, “redeeming” them from abuse or neglect, was fascinating, perhaps because of the clinical regularity of the photographs. Emily (2019) is shown before and after, hair straightened and fixed, a mangled left hand cleanly amputated and plastic wrist smoothed and rounded out. Each doll has a name and identity but also a past and any number of potential futures. Only here, these were fixed together to stress the importance of transition and the messiness of concepts like past, present, and future.
Top: Josh Dross, “Urowndreams”, 2019, archival digital print. Bottom: Josh Dross, “Neighborhood Blues”, 2019, archival digital print.
On the Lexington Art League’s second floor, Josh Dross’s I Dreamed in Black in White seemed as straightforward and unadorned as photography could get. The prints themselves were unframed and tacked to the wall, a seemingly haphazard arrangement that ultimately worked to their advantage. Dross’s images speak to transience and uprootedness cast against a timeless rural landscape. Hooked together, many of these images take a hard look at places rarely considered. Several photographs seemed to have been taken from moving vehicles. The blurriness of movement and starkness of their exposures cut against nature’s idyllic imagery. One such photograph, No Sidewalks (2019), is taken in the middle of an empty road that looks backward (or forward) to a concrete overpass overgrown with vegetation. Such a place seems like no place at all, only the transitory nothingness between start and end points. The landscapes are blank and hard to read, or at least they don’t read the way one might want them too.
Sarah Madison Brown, “Show Me the Way to Go Home”, 2020, mixed media, panoramic installation view.
Sarah Madison Brown, “Show Me the Way to Go Home”, 2020, mixed media, panoramic installation view.
Like the strangeness of Dross’s places, Sarah Madison Brown’s installation Show Me the Way to Go Home was even more difficult to describe. This final space was wholly transformed; several steps led up through a half closed door that leaked utterly strange lights and sounds. Brown’s chosen title refers to a song by the same name, famously sung in the 1975 film JAWS seconds before the titular shark attacks the boat and crew hunting it. Snatches of sound taken from the movie as well as other unrecognizable bits and pieces from places in South Carolina and California formed a haunting accompaniment to disorienting projections and a garbled litter of printed images affixed to printed wallpaper. The floor was replaced by loose boards, plaster shards, and concrete dust, and the ceiling by looming plastic sheeting illuminated to show pine needles and tar drips. The room was essentially a ruin of splintered images and cut up noise. It was an antecedent nightmare. Accompanying text stated, “Forgetting that nothing lasts forever / Ruins are our guide through a landscape of time.” This spoke for itself.
If images are only expected to represent the things that were, there’s little to be gained. If anything, each of the artists in this LAL exhibition provided a vision of images and photographs as experiences that just happen to be, or have been, taken and hung on the wall. The present of and future of these works is just as crucial, and it seems they aren’t content with being forever fixed in the same space or on the same walls.
As a tempestuous year comes to its close amidst bluster of impeachment trials and Brexit votes, threats to reproductive rights and struggles for minority rights, the ongoing opioid crisis and the progressing climate crisis, not to mention those stalwart nuisances of racism, classism and sexism, inside the sunlit halls of the Lexington Art League’s (LAL) Loudoun House home, all is calm, all is bright.
“Kentucky Nude,” this year’s iteration of the venerable organization’s once-annual-now-biennial nude show, runs December 6, 2019, to January 5, 2020, and features works by more than 50 Kentucky artists, juried by LAL studio artists Don Ament and Helene Steene. While previous years’ shows have been organized around tighter conceptual themes, such as self-portraiture or the rawness of human desire and physical form, “Kentucky Nude” presents more like a procession of classical figure studies, a mostly two-dimensional gathering of nubile white women reposing on sheets, sofas and other studio furnishings.
Not that there’s anything wrong with pursuing beauty for beauty’s sake. In fact, we should probably do a lot more of it, given the aforementioned political and cultural maelstrom that’s currently thrashing us about. To spend time with beauty and pleasure is, in some sense, to transcend the political, to affirm that there is more to life than the insidious crawl of the 24-hour news cycle, that we as human beings are far more complex and nuanced and expansive than any binary party system or policy debate would have us believe.
The difficulty is that the particular beauty on display in “Kentucky Nude” feels overwhelmingly overfamiliar, a sort of visual schmaltz on par with a dozen red roses, a batch of chocolate chip cookies, a kiss on the cheek from grandma. Perhaps more troubling is the show’s narrow range of flesh tones and dearth of minority perspectives – and of male physiques, much to this reviewer’s disappointment – which, while surely unintentional, comes across as slightly tone-deaf.
Megan Martin, ‘Abuttment Blue’, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 48″ (left) and Sarah Vaughn, ‘Am I OK?’, 2019, oil and spray paint, 48″ x 32″
At least we still have laughter! “A birthday suit,” we call this too too floppy flesh, and some of the best works in the show take a more lighthearted look at a well-worn (so to speak) subject. Sarah Vaughn uses hot pink backlighting to frame her painting of a naked woman arching her back in a dramatic gesture of surrender rendered in melancholy blues. Titled Am I OK?, the red-orange spray-painted sad face looking down on the figure suggests that she is not.
On the neighboring wall, Megan Martin’s Abuttment Blue features ten joyfully colorful imprints where ten correspondingly colorful bums have abutted with her black canvas. It’s less like Yves Klein’s use of naked women as human paintbrushes, more like a happily erotic game of Twister, or the fine art equivalent of Xeroxing your butt as the office holiday party descends into debauchery.
Aaron Lubrick, ‘Dan With His Cat’, 2018, acrylic, 60″ x 72″
Equally delightful is Aaron Lubrick’s Dan With His Cat and its playful nod to the afternoon luncheon: his companions in classical repose, formed in dark tones that quiet their nakedness; Dan’s cat a black silhouette that slinks in between the two; the landscape electric with acid-green grass, a periwinkle sea and a tiny red sailboat like a toy in the distance. Short, crude brushstrokes suggest an immediacy, a desire to capture this happiness lest it prove fleeting. (Milan Kundera, with a slight edit: “To sit with a cat on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”)
Todd Fife, ‘Gabrielle d’Estrees Redux’, 2019, oil, graphite and resin, 19″ x 23″ (foreground) and Todd Fife, ‘The Pity’, 2019, oil, graphite, ink and resin, 14″ x 21″ (background)
Not to be left out of the riffing-on-the-classics party, Todd Fife takes aim with Gabrielle d’Estrees Redux, replacing the two sixteenth-century French noblewomen with a corpulent pair of white-haired female friends, one delicately pinching the sagging nipple of the other as a ribboned speech bubble coaxes a quote from the Marquis de Sade from her puckered red lips: On n’est jamais aussi dangereux quand on n’a pas honte que quand on est devenu trop vieux pour rougir. (One is never as dangerous when one is not ashamed as when one has become too old to blush.) The mind reels in speculative delight trying to imagine the act lewd enough to elicit a blush from the salacious Marquis.
Maria Risner, ‘Melancholy Form’, 2017, mixed media, 18″ x 48″ (left), Rosemary Harney, ‘Pretty in Pearls’, 2019, mixed media, 27″ x 11″ (center) Sid Webb, ‘The Word Only He Can Say Publicly’, 2018, mixed media, 48″ x 24″ (right)
Sid Webb takes on the comedy-turned-horror-story that is the American presidency in the mixed media work The Word Only He Can Say Publicly, in which a starlet of the silent movie era gazes up helplessly as an orange-y, toupéed man in a black suit grabs at the word in question. It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in the op-ed section, both because of its accuracy but also because it doesn’t seem to offer any new ideas to the current conversation. Curiously, the work is placed alongside two sculpted pieces – Maria Risner’s Melancholy Form and Rosemary Harney’s Pretty in Pearls – that, while respectfully depicted, nevertheless treat the naked female as mere object, leaving the viewer with the uneasy feeling that the sexist past is now more present than ever – or worse, that it’s become normalized.
Daja, ‘No’, 2019, mixed media, 36″ x 24″
Perhaps the more compelling response to the #metoo movement is Daja’s No. Her naked white subject walks away from us into a cerulean and sky blue color field, turning her head and shoulders to look at someone off to our right. Daja’s flat treatment of the figure creates a sense of affectlessness, as if distancing itself from the victim. The woman’s stare is equal parts pleading and withering – an emotional response that feels suitably discordant for a movement that empowered female victims at the same time it left a sense of despondence in its wake as we realized just how pervasive – and accepted – sexual violence had become.
David Harover, ‘Alla Prima Nude #1’, 2018, oil paint, 12″ x 9″
Still, the show offers moments of honesty and gentleness, such as the two oil paintings by David Harover, their smallness (each less than 12 inches square) inviting a quiet intimacy. Harover seems to reveal his figures more than paint them, as if his brushstrokes were simply sweeping away the soft brown and goldenrod pigments that had settled on top of them. His Alla Prima Nude #1 is an ample woman, modestly concealing herself with her arm as she turns her torso away from us, her expression one of detached contentment. Of all the works in the show, it perhaps most fully embodies the idea of nakedness, that raw and primal state in which we are stripped bare of armor and artifice. Harover’s subject is neither ugly nor erotic, only human – vulnerable, tender, adored. In a word, beautiful.
Lexington’s annual October outdoor mural festival has an accompanying indoor gallery show at the Art League’s Loudoun House. Over 130 Kentucky artists show their work, hung salon style throughout the house. A fun, opening party kicks off the exhibition.
Lexington artists will open their studios to the public. Many of the artists will be offering studio sales of their work. Visitors can watch many of the artists at work and will have an opportunity to discuss that work. A unique opportunity to see the visual arts community in their natural habitat and to appreciate the diversity of work being produced in Lexington.
A graphic novel depicting the history of the Holocaust in Poland, the text of Lost Souls was written by Maciej Świerkocki, and was illustrated by Mariusz Sołtysik. Polish society has been struggling with the history of the Holocaust and the roles played by many Poles in its perpetration. Illustrator Soltysik is presenting his work based on the project in the lobby of the library and will also be signing copies of the graphic novel.
Art Sanctuary is a community-oriented arts collective that supports local visual, literary, and performing arts in Louisville. This exhibition features photographs, many never published, of Muhammad Ali taken by photographers of the Louisville Courier-Journal. The exhibition is part of the Louisville Photo Biennial.
The Loudoun House hosts one group and two solo exhibitions in this iteration of the Lexington Art League’s new programming and scheduling cycle. Reflecting the Art League’s refocusing of its mission as a community art center, all three shows exhibit the work of artists living and working in Kentucky, most in the Bluegrass region. The group exhibition, Bluegrass Transplants, curated by Joanna Skiles Couch and Samantha Jean Moore, features the work of artists who have moved to Kentucky. Dixon presents work based on iconic local buildings, and Rogers’ meditative photographic work partly intends to induce calming and reflective effects on the viewer.
Manifest is a multi-pronged community-oriented organization that presents exhibitions in its gallery, supports artists through residency programs, produces visual arts publications, and offers art education at its Drawing Center. Paintings by 26 artists selected through a blind jury process are presented in this year’s biennial survey, which kicks off Manifest’s exhibition cycle.
Dganit Zauberman, Eventide, oil on board, 10″ x 10″, 2019
Louisville artist Skylar Smith, featured in one of our recent studio visit pieces, is spearheading a project focusing on Voting Rights, to be highlighted in a contemporary art exhibition in 2020. Ballot Box is supported by a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. An open call for artistic submissions has been issued and closes on October 28, 2019. The exhibition at Louisville’s Metro Hall will open in March of 2020.
Lexington has its annual Woodland Arts Fair. Now the city is getting a second celebration of art with a particular focus on the locally produced variety. Tom Martin, host of Eastern Standard on WEKU, talked about the new event scheduled for April 27 at LAL’s Castlewood Park with Adrienne Dixon, Events and Membership Director at the Lexington Art League.
Nudity and nakedness are complicated and often overlapping concepts in the history of art; while historically, nudity has been associated with heroism, virility, divinity, and confidence, and nakedness considered a state of vulnerability, shame, and lasciviousness, contemporary artists have continually blurred the boundaries between these two concepts, leading to new understandings of the bare human form.
In the Lexington Art League’s exhibition, The Nude: Brutal Beauty, now on view at Loudon House, the connotations of both nudity and nakedness—as well as their points of intersection—are on full display, creating a show that questions the historical provenance of nudity in art, as well as our own understanding of nakedness today. Furthermore, building on the dialectic between nudity and nakedness, the works in this exhibition challenge us to consider other diametrically positioned notions, specifically the distinctions of past/present, West/East, human/animal, internal/external, or dead/alive. The result of the exhibition, which spans two floors and contains work by over 20 artists from around the world, is a thorough survey of many of the complex issues that arise when considering the stripped down human form.
One of the prevalent issues the exhibition examines is how our contemporary understanding of nudity is not only informed by but also challenges that of previous moments. Two artists in particular, James Volkert and Kiana Honarmand, appropriate canonical, art historical portrayals of nudity in order to make comments on the state of the body in art and society more broadly in our current time. For instance, in his piece la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet, Volkert has appropriated two (in)famous images by 19th century French realist Gustave Courbet, Sleep and L’Origine du Monde, both of which brought scandal upon Parisian society for their frank depiction of women’s sexuality and the sexualized female body. Volkert has placed the works on rotating slats, the handles of which employ another historical nude—the Venus de Milo—and which can be turned to create one of 2048 possible combinations, pointing to the shifting and ever changing conceptions of nudity and nakedness from antiquity to the Victorian era to the present day, a notion further underscored by Volkert’s inclusion of Courbet’s own words: “La beaute, come la verite, depend de l’epoque ou l’on vit” (“Beauty, like truth is relative to the time one lives”).
James Volkert, “la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet”
Like Volkert, Honarmand also considers the implications of historical nudes on the present moment, but her appropriation of imagery—largely history paintings from the Italian and Northern Renaissance—involves a more direct intervention on the form in an effort to make an explicit comment on contemporary politics, specifically covering over the naked bodies with lines of Farsi poetry, blocks of color and pattern, and, occasionally, sculptural elements, all of which are derived from traditional Iranian art. The resulting covering of these bodies with this kind of imagery is a direct comment on the programs of censorship and modesty in Honarmand’s native Iran. This gesture also calls into question the role of nudity in both Western and Middle Eastern art and society, both historically and in the present.
Kiana Honarmand, “The Birth of Cupid 2”
In addition to attending to temporal and geographic dualities with regard to the nude, the exhibition also sheds light on how nakedness is a defining line between humans, the only species to clothe our bodies, and all other animals. For instance, Canadian artist Jessica Sallay-Carrington’s ceramic pieces, Self-Love, Preening, and her serial works Bits and Pieces 1 & 2, involve a hybridization of animal heads—often derived from more than one species, like the rabbit face and ears, lamb’s neck and goat horns in Bits and Pieces 1 & 2—that rest upon a naked human body. Similarly, in his photolithographs, Bathers and Nora, Lexington-based artist Todd Herzberg also juxtaposes bird heads on human bodies, but in these cases, Herzberg makes clear that the hybridity is merely masquerade, as we can see the eyes of each of the humans peering out through a slit in the bird’s neck. In both artists’ works, however, Herzberg and Sallay-Carrington call attention to the limits of associating human nakedness with animal nudity.
Jessica Sallay-Carrington, “Preening”
Todd Herzberg, “Bathers”
At the same time, other artists explore the very human nature of nakedness, looking at nudity and exposure as a fundamental aspect of our shared experience as a species and as a community. In his photographs The Head and The Body I, Jim Allen juxtaposes anatomical imagery—a diagram of the intracranial structures and of the muscles of the torso, respectively—onto the body of an older man. The result is an exposure not just of the nude body, but of the naked structures that lie beneath it, revealing the viscera that is common to all humans. This gesture thus uncovers that nakedness does not stop at the surface level, highlighting the vulnerability that is implicit in both exposing our bodies internally and externally.
Finally, while Allen’s work calls into question the duality between the internal and external forms of the human anatomy, Vinhay Keo’s work Surge from his series Sanctuary/Purgatory considers the dichotomy between the living body and that of the dead. In this image, Keo, whose body has been painted white, appears splayed out in a white cave partially buried within a mound of shredded paper; his head, arms, and one leg emerge from the pile, giving the appearance of a dismembered corpse in the process of decay. The whiteness of his skin evokes the image of bodies covered in lime that have been found in mass graves at the site of numerous atrocities, further underscoring the idea that this body is, in fact, deceased. Yet the position of the body, the tilt of his head and the haphazard placement of the arms, might also suggest that he is not quite dead, but rather has endured “la petite-mort”—a French euphemism for orgasm—and has fallen back into the embrace of the pile as a result of this ecstasy. This ambiguity thus reveals how nakedness has a connotation of both life and death, especially in considering the body during moments of temporary or complete surrender.
Vinay Keo, “Self-Purgation”
Many other complicated distinctions arise throughout the work within the exhibition, especially when considering the sheer volume of art that it contains. As a survey of the nude in contemporary art, and one that aimed to allow the artists to “present depictions and investigations of their own perspective on the human figure in all its rawness and wonder,” it has certainly succeeded to capture a breadth of different interpretations thereof. The exhibition therefore builds on the long tradition of nudity and nakedness within art history and does so in a way that shows that there are still further avenues to explore even within the most conventional areas of artistic portrayal.
President Trump’s proposed Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint eliminates funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Both entities – created by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 – are being lumped into a category of programs ‘that just don’t work’, according to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
“A lot of those programs that we target, they sound great, don’t they? They always do. They don’t work. A lot of them simply don’t work. I can’t justify them to the folks who are paying the taxes. I can’t go to the autoworker in Ohio and say ‘please give me some of your money so that I can do this program over here, someplace else, that really isn’t helping anybody.” – Mick Mulvaney.
Also included in the list of programs that ‘just don’t work’ are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
For the moment, let’s focus on the NEA. According to Americans for the Arts, the NEA’s annual appropriation supports a $730 billion dollar arts and culture industry, 4.8 million jobs and a $26 billion trade surplus for the nation. For Kentucky, the elimination of funding for this entity would result in a cut to programs supported by the Kentucky Arts Council – which, according to Nan Plummer, President and CEO of LexArts, would mean “a dramatic overall decrease in funding for the arts in Lexington, Kentucky.”
The Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) receives state partnership funding from the NEA (the only agency that so authorized). The KAC grants a combination of state monies and these NEA funds in the form of unrestricted operating grant to support to fifteen Fayette County organizations:
Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Society
Central Music Academy
Explorium of Lexington
Kentucky Ballet Theatre
Lexington Art League
Lexington Ballet Company
Lexington Chamber Chorale
Lexington Children’s Theatre
and the Living Arts & Science Center.
Plummer further notes that while “these are not necessarily large percentages of these organizations’ budgets, a typical KAP grant of about $20,000 represents half a salary, which may represent an entire position. No people, no programs.”
Plummer acknowledges that we have been fortunate here in Lexington to have received a number of direct grants from the NEA. “In the last few years LexArts has been the successful applicant for funding for public sculpture and creative place-making like NoLI CDC LuigART Makers Spaces.” Other area organizations receiving NEA funds directly in recent years include Central Music Academy and Lexington Children’s Theatre.
The influence of art and the humanities is seen, heard and felt throughout the economy. An example is the Lexington marketing and branding company, Bullhorn Creative. Brad Flowers is its co-founder (along with Griffin Van Meter) and oversees day-to-day operations. He spoke with UnderMain’s Tom Martin:
Jane Chu is the 11th appointed Chair of the NEA nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2014. She states, “We are disappointed because we see our funding actively makes a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.”
Apparently, a number in Congress feel the same. As noted in ArtForum, a bipartisan group of 24 Senators submitted a letter to the President calling for continued support of both the NEA and the NEH.
“Access to the arts for all Americans is a core principle of the Endowment. The majority of NEA grants go to small and medium-sized organizations, and a significant percentage of grants fund programs in high-poverty communities. Furthermore, both agencies extend their influence through states’ arts agencies and humanities councils, ensuring that programs reach even the smallest communities in remote rural areas.” -from the letter written by twenty-four bipartisan United States senators
The NEA and NEH cannot advocate for themselves as independent agencies of the federal government. We must do it for them. Arts professionals around the world are uniting in protest to Trump’s Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint. Americans for the Arts has issued a ‘Save the NEA’ Action Alert, encouraging each of us to contact members of Congress and reminds us that it takes only a few minutes of our time to do so.
President and CEO Robert L. Lynch states, “President Trump does not yet realize the vast contribution the NEA makes to our nation’s economy and communities, as well as to his own agenda to create jobs ‘made and hired’ in America. We know that the work on the FY2018 budget will continue until at least October 2017. Along the way, there are many points in the process where Americans for the Arts, with arts advocates and partners from across the country, will be united in communicating with Congress and the American people to make sure they know the impact of the arts in their states and districts and in our nation.”
The American Association of Museum Directors (245 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) has also put out a statement in support of cultural organizations for whom these funds are vital.
“The arts are a shared expression of the human spirit and a hallmark of our humanity. Art touches people throughout their lives—from toddlers first learning about the world, to those with Alzheimer’s disease reconnecting with someone they love. Museums offer art programs to help teachers and homeschoolers prepare lessons, to train medical students to be better doctors, to ease the suffering of veterans with PTSD, and to share with people across the country the best of creative achievement.” – AAMD.
UnderMain is interested in your thoughts and comments, particularly if you are an arts professional working in Kentucky. Here are just a few additions; we will update as they arrive.
“Trump’s plan to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, directly reflects his careless treatment of our country and all that we hold dear. The Arts provide an important space where diversity, inclusion, creativity, innovation, and risk-taking are celebrated and encouraged. Art is a reflection of our country and all of its people in the purest form. To cut funding for the Arts, is a statement on what this administration values, as they try to eliminate the very source of brilliance that has defined civilization since its very beginning.” – Stephanie Harris, Director (Lexington Art League)
“For half a century the American government has been using the NEA to fund and promote our best artists, writers, musicians, dancers, performers, filmmakers, educators, and an ever-widening class of creative thinkers. It is an honor to receive support from the NEA, which has helped to foster generations of artists who admire the US government for contributions toward strengthening American culture. The agency is a vital tool for maintaining positive relations with our most imaginative citizens. It would be a massive loss to our cultural legacy to see it lay dormant” – Joey Yates, Curator – KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft)
Naked existence again.
Night encourages aggression.
Nothing engages anthem.
Nipple event announced.
Nausea exhibition anticipated.
Never endure absence.
New entertainment atrophies.
No excrement available.
Nudge abstract eating.
Nitwit executive asphyxiated.
Now eagerly applaud.
– Stuart Horodner, Director, University of Kentucky Art Museum
Following installation of the highly controversial mural by MTO on Manchester Street in 2014, UnderMain interviewed John and Jessica Winter in hopes of illuminating the vision of the co-founders of the mural’s sponsors, the public art project, PRHBTN.
The Winters’ projects kicked up quite a stir in Lexington. Some were annoyed, even offended, while others were pleased, even thrilled by the appearances of eye-catching murals in conspicuous locations all around downtown Lexington.
Regardless of opinions positive, negative or indifferent, the Winters continue to move forward with the project.
This week – September 15th to be exact – brings to a close another Kickstarter campaign announcing a Sixth Annual PRHBTN Street Festival (October 8th through the 15th). Featured artists include:
One of the biggest criticisms of any arts organization that imports national and international artists to the Lexington community is that local talent is frequently overlooked in the process.
John and Jessica addressed this concern in our interview (see Q&A below) and have recently pursued a formal partnership with the Lexington Art League with the aim of sustaining meaningful ties to local artistic talent.
The missions of LAL & PRHBTN could not be more aligned for this partnership: that art should be accessible to all members of the community. With this belief at the core of the partnership they are joining forces to strengthen the local aspect of this wildly popular annual festival.
“The Lexington Art League was the most likely partner for this effort, as they not only support local artists through their ongoing programs and exhibitions, they also support an international artists residency program that has resulted in several site specific art projects throughout the city and in the Loudoun House Galleries,” said Jessica Winter.
“Since its inception, we have been so impressed with the work of John & Jessica and their ability to present phenomenal works created by artists locally, regional and internationally which has enlivened our visual landscape,” said Stephanie Harris, Executive Director, Lexington Art League. “That is why we were delighted when PRHBTN reached out to us to present their annual commission-free exhibition in support of local artists.”
The inaugural year of their partnership will feature a commission-free exhibition at the Loudoun House Galleries that will be open to the public October 13th & 14th.
On October 13th at 7 pm, there will be a special panel discussion featuring local artists who are participating in the festival & exhibition, as well as guest artists including PRHBTN featured artist Patch Whiskey. Both events will be free and open to the public.
During the latter part of the festival – October 15-18 – Patch Whiskey will be installing a new mural on the community center adjacent to the Loudoun House in Castlewood Park. This site has been selected as a space for a new mural each year coinciding with the festival. LFUCG Parks and Recreation is serving as an additional partner for that mural location.
PRHBTN & LAL are co-sponsoring as this year’s special guest artist, Faith 47, an internationally-acclaimed visual artist from South Africa who has been applauded for her ability to resonate with people around the world. Her work will be installed within an interior space in the community and throughout her process she will create a documentary video that will be shown during the public exhibition at LAL.
The site for the mural is yet to be disclosed. Faith 47’s residency is being generously supported by LexArts, LAVA Systems and Block + Lot, as well as private donations.
Below is UnderMain’s Q&A with John and Jessica, published November 12, 2014. So much has changed since then, but we applaud PRHBTN for nurturing a vibrant and collaborative spirit behind street art in Lexington, KY.
UM: Why did you establish PRHBTN and what is its mission?
We started PRHBTN in 2011 because we wanted to encourage the growth of the street art in Lexington and do our part to bring art out of the galleries and onto the streets where everyone can enjoy it as part of the fabric of our city. The mission is to connect local and regional artists with internationally known artists in a two-part format: International muralists who travel to Lexington and install murals and a commission-free gallery show that showcases local and regional artists exclusively. During the muralists’ time in Lexington we host events and gatherings during which they can get to know our local artists, with the hopes that through these events connections will be formed between local and international artists. In addition, we facilitate murals and other paid projects for our local and regional artists throughout the year – we have helped coordinate more than a dozen murals and other projects in and around Lexington for our local artists. The official description is PRHBTN is:
PRHBTN is an annual celebration of street art that endeavors to bring together art lovers of all kinds—-from the loyal museum supporter to the skateboarder with a freshly stenciled deck. Although street art is often times criminalized, marginalized, and generally under-appreciated, PRHBTN believes great artwork has the ability to transcend labels. With this conviction, in 2011 PRHBTN began to invite well-known international artists to create new mural works on vacant downtown walls in Lexington, Kentucky. So far, PRHBTN has been proud to welcome critically acclaimed artists from the United States (LA and NYC), England, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, and France.
PRHBTN funds these public murals through the generous support of the community, including those of private donors and local businesses, and with the support of LexArts and other community organizations such as the NoLi CDC. As part of the street art celebration, PRHBTN holds a commission-free art show and concert at Buster’s Billiards & Backroom to help connect artists with patrons every fall.
UM: What are your ideas about public art in general and what purpose it serves?
We believe that public art enriches a community by exposing residents and visitors to other viewpoints on the world. Art is at its best when it makes a viewer think – to move their focus from the daily grind and on to more abstract topics, to interpreting a visual piece presented to her on the street. Many people don’t visit art galleries. Art on the streets brings this experience into people’s everyday lives. Street Art in particular tends to present voices that speak to political and social issues and provide perspectives that are often underrepresented in the mainstream media and dialogue.
Providing an opportunity for these viewpoints to be represented and discussed adds a layer to public discourse within a community that is invaluable. Further, bringing artists in from other parts of the country or the world expands the dialogue even further – this art provides us with a window on the world and fresh perspectives. Public art also discourages the defacement of community spaces and adds value to properties.
UM: How many murals has PRHBTN been responsible for, to date?
2013- Kobra Lincoln Mural, Phlegm Mural on Pepper Distillery and Spyglass on the Water tower in the Distillery District, Gaia mural on West Sixth building, and Odeith mural on Bazaar building on N. Limestone.
2014- How & Nosm mural on Lex Park garage, ROA mural on N. Limestone, MTO mural on Manchester, and Andrew Hem mural on Short ST. There are also an assorted number of smaller pieces by ROA and How & Nosm throughout the Distillery complex on Manchester Street.
Eduardo Kobra – Lincoln Located on the back wall of the Kentucky Theater. Visible from Vine St. Photo Credit: Zannah Reed
Q: Do you believe there is a civic responsibility that goes along with placing works of art on public buildings?
Of course. PRHBTN does not, however, involve itself with the artistic process or with decisions made as to the content of the art project it sponsors. We follow the required procedures for approval, which vary depending on the nature of the wall involved – public process for public buildings and spaces, private boards of directors approval for corporately owned buildings, and direct conversations with building owners and artists for privately owned walls. We invite the artists based on their bodies of work, try to connect them with walls that they like, and then remove ourselves from the conversation. We are facilitators. That being said, we don’t believe that there is really any art being done on a large scale by internationally recognized artists that would be detrimental to the well-being of a city. All art speaks and whether or not the message is appreciated, it is still valuable. We believe that art is subjective and that there will always be those who subjectively do not like any given piece of art.
UM: What are the facts, as opposed to the hype, that you would like our community to know about the MTO mural on Manchester Street?
We should note that MTO has composed the story regarding the character depicted in the Manchester St. mural, which as we have previously indicated is a fictional/mythical creature, with an entire back-story. This back-story, written as an additional artistic piece inside the Pepper Distillery, brings to light the subject of a film, titled “My Name is MO” – which MTO completed last week. This film enables the viewer to grasp the entire project, it offers a completely different perspective on the mural. We hope that people will withhold judgment until they can see the project in its entirety.
PRHBTN’s official stance on the gang sign accusations:
We would like to note that the gang sign accusations have in fact been raised previously in connection with MTO’s work in Sarasota, Florida, where he was invited to take part in the world-famous Sarasota sidewalk chalk festival, which now has a wall/mural component. The piece he painted there likewise had absolutely nothing to do with gang activity, but it did cause a public controversy and the owner of the building did elect to paint over the mural, despite fairly widespread support for it in the immediate community. The concerns being raised here are in fact eerily similar to those raised in Sarasota, which were dismissed as lacking in basis by the police department there and also by independent research- there is simply no connection between the hand symbols MTO uses and any gang. MTO was nevertheless invited back to Sarasota following this episode, and painted three additional murals in response, which have been well received. MTO made a documentary about this experience, which We highly recommend you watch if you are interested in becoming educated on the matter. If you watch the entire thing we believe you will come away with a new respect for MTO and the way he sees and explains his art. Particularly toward the end of the piece he gives an eloquent, detailed description of the motivations behind his work, hand symbols, etc.
UM: Are there specific criteria for selecting artists?
We select the artists we invite based on our subjective opinions about their works – we invite artists whose works we either like or respect in one way or another. Each year we attempt to be diverse in the styles represented. We pay travel, lodging, food, and supplies. We give the artists freedom with respect to design, and they come because of the opportunity for this freedom and because they like the grass roots nature of our efforts. Final design is a decision between building owner and artist, and all murals receive final approval prior to installation.
UM: Can you fill us in on the total number of artists you have engaged, both international and local?
We have worked with 10 international and national artists and roughly three dozen local and regional artists.
UM: What issues might arise from artists not being paid for these projects?
The artists that have been a part of PRHBTN in the past have been overwhelmingly pleased to be able to have full artistic freedom over what they create and even what wall they paint on. For other festivals this is not always the case as the artists are paid a commission or honorarium for their appearance. We think that PRHBTN artists are able to feel more comfortable and create works that come from a place of passion without the complications that money may present. In fact, many of the artists have expressed the opinion that they have enjoyed painting here in Lexington more so than in other, bigger cities.
UM: What is your personal vision for the mural projects?
We don’t necessarily have a particular vision aside from the idea of continuing to bringing amazing artists to Lexington, for them to create art on our walls, and to continue to facilitate the growth of street art in our community by making worldwide connections between Lexington artists and the muralists we bring. Also through the gallery show we hope to continue to expose Lexington to our local talent.
Heads up, Lexington! Just when the winter’s cold and grey was starting to get your seasonal affective disorder riled up, along comes a blast of heat and light, courtesy of the Lexington Art League’s new exhibit ARTIST:BODY.
Drawn from artists and private collections in the region by guest curator Julien Robson, the show is a selection of self-portraits, most of them nudes. No, this is not a replacement for the long-running LAL annual exhibit, The Nude, which was put out to pasture a couple of years back for a well-deserved rest. ARTIST:BODY is something else again, and definitely not-your-grandmothers’-Nude Show.
LAL’s Education and Contextual Learning Director, Kara Hansel, preparing Chris Radtke’s ‘Curl’
Kiki Smith, Butterfly, Bat, Turtle, Iris Prints with Collage
Leslie Lyons, Night, Archival Color Giclee Print
Louis Bickett, What I Read, Inkjet Print
Mare Vaccaro, Dreaming, Digital Cibachrome Print
Shinique Smith, Soul Elsewhere, Artist’s Clothing, Fiber-fill and Rope
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Self-Portrait Suspended IV, Chromogenic Print and Cindy Sherman, Untitled, Chromogenic Print
Photos courtesy Guy Mendes
Board member Haviland Argo felt compelled to make two things clear: “There are representations of nudity in this show.” And, “There are NO representations of sex in this show.” He added: “It is not a show of titillating images and objects. It is a thoughtful explication of the artist’s complicated relationship to the body.”
The images to be found in ARTIST:BODY are more of the in-your-face variety, provocative but also poignant, occasionally whimsical, and sometimes funny, even with death looming. Anette Messager gives new meaning to the term Bearded Lady. Shinique Smith turns work clothes into a bound-up version of the Venus of Willendorf. Leslie Lyon’s idyllic three-panel romp ends with an unexpected inversion. Julius Deutschbauer’s beefy real self against an impressive bookshelf is as good as it gets. Annie Sprinkles’ inventive Bosom Ballet is followed up by a more documentary tone in her Beats Cancer Ballet. And Martha Wilson and John Coplans remind us that time takes its toll on us all.
Robson, formerly a curator at Louisville’s Speed Museum, says, “Artists have increasingly employed themselves as both the subject and object of their work. This type of art can be seen as a form of self-portraiture that addresses identity…and how an artist deals with the nature of beauty, desire, sexuality and mortality.”
Louis Zoellar Bickett, What I Read, Inkjet Print
Robson purposely mixed works by international art stars like Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Sam Taylor-Johnson with regional artists to put them in a broader framework. Hence, we are fortunate to have Louis Bickett showing us what he’s reading-in-the-raw, Mare Vaccaro contemplating her lovely self-portrait-within-a-self-portrait, Carrie Burr’s form pressed into a large pile of Forbidden Black Rice, and Chris Radtke’s dual self-image made up of wooden boxes and broken glass.
Also on display, in effect, are the collectors, the largest of which is the 21c Museum Hotel Foundation. To see its contributions to this show gives Lexingtonians some idea of what they’ll find at the new Lexington 21c, which opens with a ribbon cutting on February 29th at 3 pm.
ARTIST:BODY features 27 artists, including Thaniel Ion Lee, Cynthia Norton, Gabriel Martinez, Rene Pena, Hannah Wilke, Xaviera Simmons, Penelope Slinger and Mark Boyle.
There is much for the eye to contemplate, and for the mind to see.
Besides producing high quality exhibits, the LAL has been building wider support for artists in Kentucky, with its Community Supported Arts harvests and sales, (some of which are still available on their website) as well as their periodic auctions for collectors, both of which have benefitted area artists.
“Well whether we’re fancy or not we’ll be dressed fancy,” said Kentucky-based interdisciplinary artist Melissa Vandenberg as she prepared new pieces for the Lexington Art League’s Art Gala, an annual formal fundraiser.
Guests to the Saturday Art Gala can expect to see the historic Loudoun House transformed into a fully interactive symbiosis of art forms, incorporating video installations, soft sculpture and musical compositions by regional, national and international artists. International artist collective Expanded Draught and Vandenberg—both familiar faces at LAL—will be exhibiting fresh work while 21c Museum Hotel artists will be making their debut into the Lexington art community at this event.
These media will converge to create a fully experimental call and response between the individual art forms, ultimately building an augmented environment in which guests are encouraged to actively experience the art instead of simply looking at it on a wall.
The floor of Vandenberg’s studio in Richmond, where she serves as assistant professor of art at EKU, is obscured by an intricate weave of tobacco cloth, while piles of shredded paper sprout from the floors and tables like stalagmites. Pieces from Victory Without Fanfare, a culminating exhibition after Vandenberg’s summer 2014 residency at LAL, hang proudly on the walls.
Vandenberg is preparing a series of soft sculptures that incorporate iconography that have become motifs in her work, but with a new twist. Instead of neatly sewn and precisely quilted artwork, she is experimenting with super slouchy, under-stuffed forms. Vandenberg is purposefully using materials that are not precious, in hopes that the sculptures may ‘self destruct’ as guests and gallery-goers engage with them. Many of these pieces can be picked up, worn, and even thrown across the room. Placed strategically with video installations by 21c Museum Hotel artists Robert Pettena, Robin Rhode and Miguel Angel Rios, these sculptures are part of a conversation meant to evoke emotion in viewers that will move them to leave their mark on the gallery space.
“Working with white and transparent materials was something proposed by LAL,” Vandenberg said. She said the only stipulation given was to things ample but light, so as not to upstage or distract from the other pieces. There is a definite factor of unpredictability when you put three different types of artists in a show together and say, “go,” but this is the type of creative experimentation LAL knows all too well.
The opportunity for artists from different places and backgrounds to converge to form one cohesive body of work is rare. LAL as a major staple in the rising art community of Lexington is something worth promoting and celebrating in our community, and Art Gala allows guests to do just that.
“LAL is not only dedicated to promoting and serving the arts in the community,” Vandenberg said, “they are also dedicated to serving the artists in the community.”
“The Art Gala will be an unforgettable celebration of contemporary art from Lexington and beyond,” LAL Executive Director Stephanie Harris said.
Kicking and throwing sculptures around a gallery is probably not what comes to mind when one thinks of formal fundraisers, but the Lexington Art League’s upcoming Art Gala is certainly not your typical fundraiser.
The Art Gala will take place Saturday, January 17, 2015 from 7pm-11pm at the Loudoun House. Tickets on sale now here.
This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.
As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”
Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.
Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.
And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.
These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.
This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.
The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?
Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?