Book serves as first volume in ongoing story of Institute 193

rcopley@herald-leader.comMay 22, 2014 

  • 'Institute 193: Volume One'

    What: Book looking at the first three years of the gallery at 193 N. Limestone.

    Release party: 4-6 p.m. May 24. The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St. Morrisbookshop.com.

    Where to buy: Morris Book Shop, Institute 193 (open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.) and Institute193.org.

At a little more than 350 square feet, Institute 193 is one of the smallest arts spaces in Lexington, but founder Phillip March Jones has never seen the size as a disadvantage.

"I always looked at it as an opportunity rather than a limitation, because you get an artist in there, and they don't have to create a bunch of unnecessary work to fill the space," Jones says. "They have to choose, they have to whittle down, they have to edit, and the space is so small that all the work kind of speaks to the rest. It has to be consistent, it has to be tight. I look at it as a positive constraint.

"We're taking the best things that we have and putting them in there. It's our little jewel box on North Limestone."

Since it opened more than four years, the gallery's impact has far outpaced its size.

It has been the catalyst for larger shows in conjunction with venues including Ann Tower Gallery and the now-closed Land of Tomorrow; it has taken shows to New York and Atlanta among other places; and it has published books of local and regional artists that have been sold around the world.

Jones says the books have been a key element in fulfilling the Institute's mission, "to collaborate with artists, writers and musicians to document the cultural landscape of the modern South." Now, there is a book documenting the Institute itself.

Institute 193: Volume One ($45) debuts this weekend with an event Saturday at The Morris Book Shop.

The book looks at 18 exhibits that were displayed at the gallery during its first three years, from Selections From the Archive by Louis Zoellar Bickett in October 2009 to Colleen Toutant: Amended Artifacts in late fall 2012.

Jones says having an overview catalog every three years was the plan all along for the Institute to recognize every artist who has been shown there.

Looking at the Institute's collective output, Jones says, "I think two things really stood out. One is the quality and then the diversity of the artists we've been able to show. And when you put them side by side like that, I think what's nice is they all really kind of hold up, not only as a body of work, but one to the next. I don't think there's an artist that's particularly stronger or weaker than the other. It's very consistent.

"I think that's really Institute 193's strength is the quality and diversity of the work."

Jones also says he sees a consistent tone in the work, even though the works are very different, from photographers including Guy Mendes and Jonathan Williams to sculptors Marvin Francis and Robert Morgan, comic artist J.T. Dockery and painter Lina Tharsing.

"Most of these artists have never been published, and all of them deserve to have been published," Jones says.

He says he was particularly proud of the strong representation of Central Kentucky and Lexington artists at the gallery and in its other endeavors.

"Lexington has a very sophisticated culture of literary, visual arts, and I really didn't think there was any infrastructure to deal with that," Jones says. "I thought what I was able to do was take all this information and repackage it for the world."

The results he has seen include recognition from around the art world in publications such as Oxford American magazine and events such as the Institute's now annual inclusion in New York's Outsider Art Fair. There are precise shining moments for 193, but Jones has another perspective.

"The whole thing is kind of like a blur," he says. "When you look through this book, and you're the person on the ground doing all this, I can't believe we've been around as long as we have. It was really just the sheer force of will, and we looked at it and decided we were going to do this. ... How do we get it all together? I don't really know how.

"We just sort of decided, like we decided we needed this book, and here it is."

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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