As preparations for this weekend's four-show opening at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky were underway, a visitor said to director Stuart Horodner, "It's like you've turned the museum into a studio."
That was the idea, Horodner says.
The activity went far beyond painting walls, moving furniture and hanging images. Artists were creating work for their shows, which have a grand opening Saturday, with the space in mind.
"There are pieces that will be hung up 20 feet or more and pieces that will be at the baseboards," Horodner says, between consulting with artists and guiding a student tour of the gallery. "It will be quite an intense experience to come into the gallery."
The exhibits generating the most activity are Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh, Russell Maltz, and The Lexington Tattoo Project, featuring images from the project and some of its subsequent events.
For their part of the show, Tattoo creators Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova are creating a stencil on one of the museum's walls to display in conjunction with photos and videos from the event, which unfolded in Lexington in 2013.
While they are working, ceramic artist Leigh and installation artist Maltz have been crafting their visions along with Grabner for the Same Difference exhibit, designed to show various approaches to studio art.
"It's a really different feeling in the museum," says curator Janie Welker. "Having the artists working here creates a real energy in the space."
And there are notable parallels to what the artists are creating and the two exhibits of previously created work that Welker is overseeing.
Drawn from the museum's permanent collection, Edward Troye shows work by one of Lexington's noteworthy artists of the past, as Troye was regarded as the premier equine portraitist of the 18th century.
"The thing is, equine portraits are so specific," Welker says. "They want to show the horse's conformation to the best advantage, so you have a set way they are done," Welker says. "But in that form, you see these subtle differences in the face, the musculature, the landscape."
Welker also sees the surprising in the work of Tanya Habjouqa, a native of Jordan who now works primarily in the Middle East, documenting through photography life, gender and human rights issues. Welker says there are images of Middle Eastern conflicts in the show, but there also are striking moments of life: boys riding a motorcycle, "looking like they are having the times of their lives."
In addition to presenting the work of an important contemporary photographer, Welker says the Habjouqa show allows the museum to connect to students in the college of arts and sciences, who are focusing on the Middle East this year.
Habjouqa will visit campus for a lecture on Feb. 27.
Horodner says that the prep work is being documented in photo and video, "so people will see this is a place where art is shown and made."