Folks who have not been to The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky recently will notice a lot of changes if they bounce by Friday evening for Gallery Hop.
Gone is the sneak peek into the main gallery: A wall now saves the reveal for when visitors walk into the museum. The gallery is wide open, without smaller walls across the floor. And there is now a seamless transition to the back gallery, which used to be carpeted.
But probably the biggest change for regular viewers will be content.
There are three new shows for visitors to peruse, and front and center is the latest exhibit in the museum's Robert C. May Photography Endowment Lecture Series.
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Large, haunting portraits of photographer Laurel Nakadate's extended family greet visitors in the exhibit that is one of the museum's signature offerings, though it was previously always shown in a small, upstairs gallery.
"This is an artist who's shown at MoMA (New York's Museum of Modern Art), who's shown at the Hirshhorn, who's shown at the best galleries in the country, and she deserves a giant show," new director Stuart Horodner says. "So this allowed us to show a large selection of her works."
Curator Janie Welker says, "This was a frustration with the May series, that for years we have been bringing in major artists, ... and all I had to work with was that little room."
Now, with a new director, many of the old rules and presumptions have been abandoned as the new season is started. So the May series can hang in the main gallery, a student can curate an exhibit, and the museum is refocusing on its own collection of more than 4,800 pieces upon which to build exhibitions and experiences.
"I'm certainly wearing my newness on my sleeve," says Horodner, who came to the UK museum in June from the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. "If you're going to signal articulate change, strategically minded change, when you're the new person, you shouldn't necessarily wait forever to do it. There's a certain currency in being new and a certain energy in fresh eyes, and I feel that.
"If we're going to position the museum, not as a hidden gem, but as a more proactive player, then it's important to recalibrate some of those little things, because it really matters."
In addition to bringing the May series front and center, Horodner removed that carpet in the back gallery on the first floor that seemed to separate it from the flow of the museum. That gallery boasts the text-based exhibit Take My Word for It. And in a short hallway leading to the museum offices is an exhibit of drawings by Kurt Vonnegut printed by Joe Petro III of Lexington. It complements the text show with works by an artist best know for his literary work.
Those changes signal a big move that Horodner wants to make, bringing out more of the museum's extensive holdings for exhibits to command the galleries and engage the community.
Horodner says that one of his goals is to draw more people into the museum, but he also wants to get out into the community and be a part of it.
"In this town, this museum is a museum with a capital M," Horodner says. "There is no other institution that bears the weight and responsibility of being a lot of things to a lot of people. Yes, it is in part an agent of the university. Yes, it absolutely has to make a major contribution to the community. It doesn't have to wear all that heavily. But because we are the major collecting institution in the community, because the role of preserving all of this work historically is a major function of this museum, so the museum as a concept is important for people to know and be close to.
"We can't show all of the creative things that are going on in the community. We can show some of it, we will show some of it, we'll partner and pair it with other work. We want Janie and I and other people who work here to be advocates for great art in the community whether we show it here or not."