15 novembre 2006
NY Arts Magazine
November/December
Kate Hickey
New York
Bunking up with Art
The 21C Museum, Louisville, Kentucky
“Look Now” was a spectacular show comprised of photography, installations, painting and video art. The images were often disturbing as the examples of Gottfried Helnwein’s haunting painting of a child in military dress and Tony Oursler’s disembodied, frog-like talking heads, which amused, admonished and interrogated their audience went fully to show. The exhibit attempted to “confront us with the realities that lie behind and between our fantasies of who we are and of the world in which we live,” and this was certainly chillingly and mesmerizingly achieved.
Untitled (Modern Sleep)
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2005, 199 x 132 cm / 78 x 51''
There’s something exciting, refreshing and exhilarating about visiting a truly cutting-edge exhibition of contemporary art. But, how long do you really spend at the exhibition? One hour, maybe two? At 21C Museum Hotel, you can actually reside among some of the most interesting art pieces of our time.
The establishment, which opened early this year, was developed by a husband and wife team, Steve Wilson and Lee Brown. This couple are the proud owners of an extraordinary collection of art, 80 pieces of which are on permanent display in the space.
The museum’s primary aim is to celebrate the artists of the 21st Century with just one rule; all of the artists displayed must be living. While many galleries have extra facets to their business to afford them the liberty of showing quality art, Steve and Lee have taken it one step further. By creating this fabulous museum, hotel and restaurant, they have made their venture self-sufficient, with each arm of the business feeding into the other to financially support one another.
Located on Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky, the very construction of 21C is a piece of art. Completely gutting four warehouses and a bank, Deborah Berke & Partners Architects LLP Architects, from New York, designed the amazing space which retains the historical integrity of the stunning building. In essence, what they did was build a building inside the huge structure which allowed them to design and manipulate their own light and room size. The result is an airy, bright and modern building with all of the features of a fantastic old Southern block.
The museum itself is located off the main lobby of the hotel but the art and antics are not confined to this area. It is behind the counter, in the restaurant, in the bedrooms, the elevator, the corridors and even the bathrooms. It is as if the building is possessed by clever and wonderful art. Some of my favourite pieces were those scattered around the building.
In Proof, a five star restaurant with a fabulous bar, there are four alabaster goats, each almost five feet in height, which appear to be hung by rope from the wall where the open kitchen is on view. The most interesting and funny piece, however, is the installation in the bathrooms off the lobby. The artist is a plastic surgeon by profession and an artist in his free time. In his work, he specialises in dealing with blind patients. During his years working with them he began to get annoyed at how fully sighted people seem to feel it is okay to stare at the blind because they cannot see them. In this installation all eyes are on you. The artist filmed blind people’s unseeing eyes and placed them in tiny TV screens in the mirrored wall. In the ladies’ room, they are located in the mirror, which makes reapplying your makeup a whole new experience. In the men’s, they glare down from right above the urinal. Wilson claims it teaches a lesson in vanity.
Also in the main lobby is a crystal chandelier which sings opera arias. As the chandelier reaches a crescendo, it begins to rattle and shake. Similarly, in the elevator and along the corridors are installations using videos and lights. One transfers your image on to a wall where your silhouette becomes a streaming image of binary language, in true Matrix fashion. Another records your image as you walk toward the screen and immediately distorts it so that you feel like you’re trying to walk up a corridor that is getting smaller and smaller.
Once you enter the bedrooms, which are exquisitely decorated, the exhibition does not stop. Above the bed are notice boards upon which prints of the featured art from the transient and permanent collection are mounted. These you can purchase as you check out of the hotel. Yet, another technologically insane feature of the trip is that each room has its own i-Pod that the staff fill, upon your request, full of your favourite music before you arrive. This is truly a hotel of the 21st century.
The museum itself is a delight. This 9,000 square foot space, excluding the video lounge, aims to “mount dynamic group shows and solo exhibitions reflecting the global nature of art today.” And, simply taking into account its first two exhibitions, I would estimate that it will succeed as “the only museum of its kind in America.”
“Look Now” was a spectacular show comprised of photography, installations, painting and video art. The images were often disturbing as the examples of Gottfried Helnwein’s haunting painting of a child in military dress and Tony Oursler’s disembodied, frog-like talking heads, which amused, admonished and interrogated their audience went fully to show. The exhibit attempted to “confront us with the realities that lie behind and between our fantasies of who we are and of the world in which we live,” and this was certainly chillingly and mesmerizingly achieved.
“Hybridity: The Evolution of Species and Spaces in 21st-Century Art” also attempted to study our identity in both the aesthetic and the genetic sense. This mixed-media group show was breathtaking. The museum aims to spread a message of accessibility of art, in the hope that more people will enjoy contemporary creativity. Through these two shows alone, they most certainly reached out to grab, as well as house, their particular audience.
In a building alive with art works that creep up on you, jump out at you and spy on you, even the most cynical art viewer has to be refreshed. It goes to prove that there is still originality and innovation left in the art world and especially amidst art lovers like Steven and Lee.





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