The irony of the Morlan Gallery's new exhibit, Street Tested: Kentucky Graffiti Artists, is not lost on director Andrea Fisher.
"Street art ran right out the doors of the institutions and into the street and started putting art in places that were unexpected," Fisher says. "The whole idea of street art is de-anesthetizing and de-institutionalizing art.
"They're not using the typical venue or the typical hierarchy of materials — oil, sculpture, bronze, marble. They're using spray paint — the lowest of materials — in often decaying, hidden locations."
But the Morlan's exhibit, which opened last week and will be through Oct. 17, including Gallery Hop on Friday, is bringing that work right back into an institution that has seen its fair share of oils, bronze, marble, watercolors and the like.
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Fisher thinks that's only appropriate, pointing to the statement by the exhibit's curator and one of its artists, well-known and widely seen Lexington street artist Dronex.
"There is something pure and uncut about working on the street — for no money, with the risk of arrest and subsequent consequences," Myke Dronez, CEO of Dronex, Inc., wrote. "Artwork on the street is not meant to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, nor is it meant to be a status symbol amongst a 'collection.' Art in the street lives and dies as we do — the whitewashed walls, peeling paper, and fading lines are all artifacts of a fleeting existence that echoes our inability to withstand the persistence of time."
Fisher says, "I just don't think people can be dismissive of street art. It's too rich, it's too robust, it's been with us too long, and it certainly does have its place within our history."
And, she adds, it is really gaining a foothold in Lexington between high profile local street artists such as Dronex, BRRR, Coupe and Left Handed Wave, the artists featured in Street Tested, and high profile commissions of artists such as Herakut and Eduardo Kobra, who painted the mural of Abraham Lincoln on the back of the Kentucky Theatre last fall.
Two of the prime movers in that work have been the PRHBTN festival, which commissioned Kobra and others and will enter its third year this fall, and Transylvania University-based artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, who brought in Herakut and Andrew Hem, who will create a mural for PRHBTN this year and present a talk at the Carnegie Center Sept. 24. That will be one of five new works created for PRHBTN this year, in addition to the festival weekend at Buster's Billiards and Backroom Oct. 10 to 12.
Fisher says the Street Test exhibit was developed to complement PRHBTN and highlight the local artists, many of whom create combinations of street work and commissioned exterior and interior work.
In addition to the indoor show, the Morlan has created a Lexington mural map available at the gallery to give people a guide to finding street art in its natural setting.
But, though it does go against the street-artist aesthetic of putting art in public places, Fisher says she thinks it is important to bring street artists into the gallery and exhibit them in the same space as artists more traditionally acknowledged by the art world as a whole.
"Almost all of these are art-school-trained artists," Fisher says. "They are professionals and versatile in their use of materials, and their core content is the same."
In one setting, she says, viewers will see the variety of materials such as stickers, wheat paste and spray paint — a special type that does not have the odor traditionally associated with spray paint — and the themes from serious topics to humor and commentary.
"People I talk to are very excited about this," Fisher says. "It's going to be fascinating to see street art in the context of the gallery."