Louis Bickett: No room for those who censor art; Museum/hotel will be cultural milestone

June 16, 2014 

  • At issue: June 10 Herald-Leader editorial, "Right move on loan for hotel/museum; It aids in preserving building, adding jobs"

I would like to commend the Herald-Leader for the insightful, intelligent and very correct editorial concerning the Urban County Council vote on the previously promised funding for the 21c Museum Hotel.

Though I know little to nothing about U.S. Housing and Urban Development financing requirements, my expertise is in the realm of contemporary art.

The editorial's "slippery-slope" metaphor concerning any possible censure of the arts by a government body in a community hits the proverbial nail on the head.

What alarms me, however, was the nearly comical and unintelligent opposition to the 21c collection of art as mainly led by councilmen Kevin Stinnett and George Myers.

In the particular case of 21c, they displayed their ignorance with flying colors.

Stinnett, who is running for council-at-large (which of course includes the area of downtown and the University of Kentucky, where the showing of art occurs in this town) proved himself to be ignorant of contemporary-art issues, and one more closely aligned with the mind-set of Cotton Mather than that of a 21st century thinker.

He did an enormous disservice to this community by cherry-picking an example of the 21c holding a Judy Fox installation of work.

Not only is the work not offensive to people of learning, it is not even clear that the representation is about children. Certainly no humans that we know of look like those sculptures. One could even make a case that the work is not even representative of the human condition at all, much less children.

To me, as a published critic, they are more akin to the idea of Baroque putti, or nature spirits, or allegorical forms.

If Stinnett had put his lapsed judgment into the gears of a Google search, he would have found plenty of examples of 21c works dealing with global expansion, catastrophic effects of current and past colonialism and the delicate nature of the environment, just to name a few subjects. Cherry-picking examples of anything will more likely allow one to arrive at an erroneous conclusion.

The Brown/Wilson Collection, which will be shown in the Lexington museum, is an enormous coup. It is an undeniably vast, great and important collection.

It is not hyperbole to state that the Lexington opening will be the most culturally significant event in this town since the construction of Old Morrison and The Pope Villa.

Simply put, those of the Stinnett-Myers ilk who think otherwise simply do not know what they are talking about. Period.

And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I am always amazed when people who know nothing about contemporary art speak with such authority on the subject. People who would not know a Gursky from Gatorade, a Cindy Sherman from Shinola, will wax poetically with great conviction about a subject of which they are completely ignorant.

Perhaps those loud voices that showed up in the council chamber should stick to what they know.

The good preacher who spoke with such animated passion could continue her quest for soul-saving, and Stinnett and Myers could continue their political grandstanding.

Then, the rest of us, who prefer to grow and be enriched by our involvement in the arts, will greatly benefit from the Brown/Wilson Collection of Contemporary Art at 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington.

Louis Zoellar Bickett of Lexington is an artist, writer, critic and archivist.

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