When Lexington Art League exhibition and programs director Becky Alley agreed to teach a University of Kentucky graduate seminar on the curatorial process, she had no idea the result would be Tales They Told Us, a narrative-themed exhibition exploring myths, legends, epics and moral tales.
"The Loudoun House was an inspiration to us because it is architecturally something out of a fairy tale," said Andrea Clark, a student from Alley's class, Art History 504. "The tower looks like something Rapunzel's hair could spill out of. When you close the giant front doors, you feel like you're closing the gates at Winterfell. The gargoyles on the staircase summon thoughts of Hogwarts. The house is a playground for imagination, and we decided to create a story-themed exhibition to celebrate it."
The exhibit, which opens with a free reception Friday, includes two-dimensional works, sculpture, video and site-specific installations from more than 30 artists representing 15 states and Germany.
"The course was designed to be a practical experience for the students," Alley says. "I had no idea what the class would come up with, and the result is even better than I imagined."
The work of artist Beauvais Lyons, for instance, tackles one of the oldest and most controversial narratives in history: who we are and how we got here. With elaborately rendered lithographs that look like they sprang from Darwin's sketchbooks and sculptures that are convincing riffs of artifacts, Lyons' project is a mock documentation of an invented system of creation science presented by the equally fictitious Association for Creative Zoology.
Lyons is the director of the Hokes Archives at the University of Tennessee, and he is an expert at convincing, thought-provoking pranks. His installation even includes a Bible with bookmarked passages supporting his pseudo-science of documenting creatures like the "groundhog-fish" and "gorilla-hen."
Lyons' work looks like an exhibit at a 19th-century science fair, but Cincinnati artist Alice Pixley Young's video installations and sculptures take the viewer into the mysterious realm of fairy tales and mythology.
"In my recent work, I use instruments of looking, such as peepholes and hand mirrors, partnered with video projections and sound to explore ideas of how we see and remember as well as to create a feeling of interactivity and theater," Young writes in her artist statement. "I use the forest and the domestic space as characters in my narratives; they become a presence both soothing and alarming, nostalgic and cryptic within the uneasy, staged realities they exist in."
Alley says, "Cumulatively, the show serves to remind us all just how much stories shape our world."
Another of Alley's students, Mayuresh Moghe, explains how his peers participated in every step of planning and curating the exhibit, from selecting the theme to making the call to artists to determining how to display the works.
"Becky actually made us do models of the Loudoun House in posterboards, and she had made images of the artworks to scale so that we could figure out what would the exhibition look like when displayed," Moghe says. "For me, that was the favorite part in the class."
His least favorite part was rejecting artists whose work, while strong, did not fit the theme of the show.
"I thought that was a little painful," Moghe says, "especially because, as an artist who sends work to be entered in shows, I know the hurt that rejection causes you.
"But Becky said that she even keeps a record of the rejected work, so if something came up later which was suitable for that work, she does contact those artists. So that was a little heartwarming.
"I also realized how difficult a curator's job can be."
IF YOU GO
'Tales They Told Us'
What: Story-themed exhibit curated by 13 students in a class at the Lexington Art League
When: Exhibit is March 22-May 12. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 1-4 p.m. Sat., Sun.
Where: LAL @ Loudoun House gallery, 209 Castlewood Dr.
Learn more: (859) 254-7024, Lexingtonartleague.org
Opening party. 6-9 p.m. March 22. Free, but $5 donation suggested. Live music by Reva Williams, food trucks Athenian Grill and Cluckin' Burger, and beer by West Sixth Brewing.
"Johnny Appleseed: As American as Apple Pie." All-apple family-style dinner at 6 p.m. April 6; apple tree grafting workshop noon-2 p.m. April 7. Free, but RSVP requested. Katie Hargrave and Amber Ginsburg use the legend of Johnny Appleseed to prompt discussions about food, the culture that surrounds it, and the roles it occupies in our memories.
Artist talk. 1 p.m. April 13. Free. Alice Pixley Young, a Cincinnati artist whose installation is included in Tales They Told Us, discusses the importance of mirrors and peepholes in her work and the role of video in her art making.
Story Soiree. 6-9 p.m. April 26. Free, but $5 donation suggested. Mick Jeffries will collect stories about Café LMNOP, an '80s club that was a zeitgeist of music and arts culture. Music by Soul Funkin' Dangerous, food trucks and beer from West Sixth Brewing.
Art Book Making 101. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 4. $45, $40 for LAL members. Artist Pat Gerhard leads participants in creating a book that tells a story through imagery, texture, color and architecture more than through words.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.