There isn’t enough said about the art in the Midwest. Beyond the glittering East Coast, the star-studded West Coast, and the sizzling South Beach, there is hardly room for people to consider the in-between. But in the middle of our country lives a population rife with talents and stories to tell. Kentucky, our country’s northernmost southern state, offers culture and art that’s unique to its locale and impossible to replicate. Even though it’s a deep red state (its senators are Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, for reference), the Louisville city center feels like any other art-centric city. From this Chicagoan’s perspective, it’s an oasis of culture and art that is replete with public art along with kitschy shops and pricey coffee shops. There are plenty of murals commemorating Louisville celebrities that people easily recognize as well as a number of abstract sculptural installations. Tucked neatly in the burgeoning art district, just around the corner from the Muhammed Ali Center, is the KMAC, a contemporary art museum. On a humid night on the last weekend of August, KMAC hosted its opening for their 2022 KMAC Triennial: Divided We Fall.
As the name suggests, the last KMAC Triennial was in 2019, in a pre-pandemic world almost unrecognizable today. Immense credit is due to the curators of the show. So much happened in three years, more than anyone could have ever predicted. With the COVID-19 pandemic, political and social unrest, and climate change, time felt unwieldy and everything was almost surreal. The works in the show reflect that reality; all of the eleven artists in the group expounded upon those themes. Painters, photographers, sculptors – the group of artists put together in the exhibition illustrate the broadness of the American story over the past three years. The curator at KMAC managed to acknowledge that discombobulated feeling while maintaining an organized narrative.
The Triennial vernissage doubled as a community event and an art opening. The atmosphere was welcoming and familiar. Folk of varying stripes enjoyed the three-floored exhibition while a jazz quartet enlivened the event. The following afternoon the art center hosted a fun and well-attended session of Lightning Round Artist Talks. Each artist had five minutes and a handful of PowerPoint slides to speak about their art and their practice. It turns out that five minutes go incredibly fast – it was a musical chairs program that was full of laughs and genuine connections. The ten artists present for the talk ran the gamut of artistic styles. From painters and photographers to woodworkers and textile artists, each creative provided a unique perspective on their practice and their contribution to the show. I was greeted and offered a refreshment the moment I arrived; that’s real Southern hospitality. The Q&A portion at the end became more of a congenial conversation between artists and the audience. But what was most charming was that every single artist present used about 30 seconds of their precious five minutes to acknowledge and praise the team at KMAC. Happy artists make for a great exhibition.
The Triennial introduced me to a number of talented artists. I was absolutely taken by Jon Cherry’s photojournalism capturing pivotal moments in Kentucky over the last few years. Ceirra Evans’ paintings conveyed the mundanity and intimacy of rural life in Eastern Kentucky – but also the tension, drama, and exploitation. Tammy Burke’s body bags that evolved from homemade face masks fill the exhibition space, representing the unimaginable death toll from COVID-19. By expertly compiling these accomplished artists KMAC shows that it is the centerpiece of an evolving art scene in Louisville, Kentucky, that is not to be overlooked.
The 2022 KMAC Triennial: Divided We Fall will be on exhibit through November 6, 2022.
Top image: J. Daniel Graham, I would sing two songs if I had one voice. (2022). Buckeye, walnut, cherry, sassafras, cedar, poplar, locus, maple, sycamore, leather, steel, 168” x 144” x 132”. Courtesy of the artist.
UnderMain: On the Road sends writers out of Kentucky to explore the visual arts in cities of the Midwest and near South. This program is generously supported by the Great Meadows Foundation.