Adrian Esparza, The New Leaves, 2016, Serape, thread, nails, vintage postcard, 10′ x 24′
By Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
If the surest measure of any renovation is that your first reaction is: “It doesn’t seem like the same space,” then the recently unveiled Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC) renovation would seem to measure up. The clean open lobby, actually the first gallery space, makes the previous narrow entry point and curvilinear passageway seem nearly claustrophobic in comparison. Beyond the first gallery there is a good size but not at all imposing greeting counter staffed by smiling faces, and then beyond that one can see an open area for creative activities. The fact that from your first step inside the space you can see all the way back to north-facing windows is characteristic of the change and the overall aesthetic – very little gets in your way.
A new stairway on the right is made entirely of wood and leads to the main gallery space on the second floor. As you go upstairs the changes resulting from the renovation are somewhat less dramatic, and the exhibition space here is less open, but it provides a break up of space that invites a more intimate exchange with the art on display, and includes an isolated dark space for viewing video material.
This small screening room does require some transition time to be able to move into it. My eyes took a little time to adjust to the darkness, which was crucial or else I would have bumped into the two chairs provided for viewing.
The top floor, which houses the education classrooms and the last, and smallest, exhibition space, has perhaps changed the least, arguably because it didn’t need to. The lengthy workspace offers natural lighting and room for a variety of different mediums. The biggest change brought by the renovation is that it essentially reclaims the generous space afforded to a retail operation that had operated for many years on the street level. Retail merchandise is still available, but with displays integrated into the first floor design.
The museum, celebrating its 35th anniversary, partnered with Christoff: Finio Architecture and Bosse Mattingly Constructors to remodel its historic Main Street space to accommodate additional public space, streamlined exhibition areas and increased capacity for education programming. Last year the museum saw 40,000 visitors and an additional 60,000 participants in educational programming. With the new redesign, KMAC hopes to double the number of visitors in its first year after renovation, a task made even easier by free admission sponsored by Delta Dental. The subsidized initiative covers only the first 12 months, but museum administration is hopeful that they can secure continued support beyond that timeframe.
For the first exhibit in the revitalized space, Joey Yates, KMAC Associate Curator and Aldy Milliken, KMAC Executive Director and Chief Curator put together Material Issue, an exhibit featuring the work of 13 artists, most of whom are currently working in the United States: Emma Amos, David Adamo, Lisa Alvarado, Cory Arcangel, Radcliffe Bailey, Sarah Briland, Susan Collis, Tacita Dean, Ben Durham, Adrian Esparza, Mike Goodlett, Jessica Jackson Hutchins and Toyin Ojih Odutola. It is an expansive and far-ranging group of work that is given ample space to breathe in the newly configured space. A few pieces about which I would make some observations:
Adrian Ezparza’s “The New Leaves” dominates the first floor gallery, perfectly emphasizing the scale of the new lobby gallery, while also encapsulating the theme as expressed in the catalog: “Material Issue features artists who have developed a personal and highly critical dialogue with their chosen materials.” Ezparza unraveled a Mexican serape, and example of which hangs as part of the installation, to create the unique geometric design, deconstructing an element from its previous hand crafted origin to repurpose it in a fashion that is resonant of the source.
Toyon Ojih Odutola, a Nigerian artist, lives and works in New York City, and is here represented by graphite on paper drawings that are a fascinating exploration of identity. Using a fascinating and intricate drawing technique, Odutola executes a sly transference of iconographic personality by altering the supple texture of skin in a series of celebrity portraits. The identity is obscured by representing the underlying musculature of the face with distinctive mark making, although the artist chooses source material that, by and large, is recognizable by the shape of the head alone.
The fact that KMAC is neighbor to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory makes David Adamo’s “Four”, especially provocative. A quartet of wooden baseball bats rest delicately against the wall, surrounded by the shavings the bats have given up by being whittled down in rough fashion. The violation is most extreme at the center point, mostly leaving the knob-end and the full, broad end of the bats intact. The resulting imbalance robs the form of its power, a tidy metaphor for the emasculation of male power that manages to avoid the usual clichés we encounter with this theme.
The renovation is not quite complete, with oversize clamps and plastic safety netting still visible on the day I visited that actually felt complimentary to the new aesthetic. All institutions need a refit need a refit from time to time, and what KMAC has done seems to make sense for the new direction set by KMAC Executive Director Aldy Milliken since arriving in 2010.
July 1 – September 25 2016
Tuesday – Saturday 10am-6pm
Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft
715 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.