Entering the museum, all that visitors initially see are chairs and photographs.
But a closer look reveals the craftsmanship and ingenuity that went into each chair, and the discerning eye and impeccable timing that created each composition in the photographs.
The chairs and photographs are parts of three exhibits that opened at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in May and will be on display through July 26: Chester Cornett: Beyond the Narrow Sky; Vivian Maier: On the Street; and Other Streets: Photographs from the Collection.
With these openings, visitors can now enjoy all exhibits at the museum for free. The switch to free admission is increasing among museums, museum director Stuart Horodner says.
"We really just wanted the museum to be free for anyone who is interested," he says.
The primary exhibit in this new era is Chester Cornett: Beyond the Narrow Sky, which features chairs of all shapes and sizes.
Each hand-crafted chair is unique. A person can rest their arms on smiling snakes or relax in a rocker made of hickory bark woven like a basket.
Cornett, an Appalachian craftsman, blurs the line between function and sculpture, creating chairs that appear to be made less for sitting (and museum visitors are not allowed to sit on them), and more for the appreciation of detail, craftsmanship and inventiveness. Every element of the chair was considered, Horodner says.
"What is interesting about Cornett is he takes this very traditional form of making a rocking chair and pushes it to the point where he is really re-inventing the chair and pushing it towards a sculptural form," Horodner says.
The Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University developed the exhibition, Horodner says, gathering the chairs from their respective owners.
"Once the chairs go back to the owners, the exhibition becomes impossible to ever see again," he said.
The second exhibit, Vivian Maier: On the Street, displays recently discovered photographs.
From the 1950s to '70s, while working as a nanny, Maier roamed New York and Chicago with a camera in her hand and young children beside her capturing images of everyday life: a man taking a rest in his car, a little girl crossing her arms, a toddler pressing his face against a window.
In addition to wandering the streets of wealthy neighborhoods and drifting through slums and stockyards, Maier created self-portraits in reflections.
But Maier never saw many of her photographs. John Maloof, a former real estate agent in Chicago, found more than 100,000 negatives in a storage locker at a 2007 auction of abandoned property.
Nobody understood Maier's passion and seriousness for her work during her life, Horodner says. "This was kind of a hidden, unsung, unknown photographer whose works are interesting."
Eventually, Maloof directed a documentary about Maier after piecing together the artist's secretive life. The Art Museum plans to show the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, this month.
More than 30 of Maier's photographs are on display at the museum.
"The show has this quality of looking at the world and being attracted to patterns and certain rhythms of people's bodies," Horodner says.
Similar to the style of Vivian Maier, the photographs of Van Deren Coke, Bruce Davidson, Robert C. May, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Garry Winogrand contextualize the range and impact of street photography in Other Streets: Photographs from the Collection.
This exhibit contains images taken in Lexington as well as New York and Chicago. Some photographs on display are a part of larger projects such as Winogrand's project Women are Beautiful and Coke and Meatyard's on the predominantly black neighborhood of Georgetown Street.
With the exhibits, Horodner celebrates his first anniversary as director of the art museum next week and plans to continue the progress the museum has made.
"We want to make the museum more and more accessible," Horodner says. "I'm hoping to show more programs, shows and lectures. I want those to be as vibrant and engaging as those can be and I want to remove all obstacles from people coming to see them."