Cat Wentworth, the director of Institute 193, sits at a slick white desk opposite a wall of pillow guns. There are at least 50 of them hanging — some covered in leopard spots, some with gold lamé tips and triggers, one covered in horse-printed fabric — muzzles listlessly drooping toward the hardwood floor. These objects are part of the nonprofit gallery’s latest show OK-47 by Natalie Baxter, a Lexington native now living in Brooklyn.
It’s the kind of exhibit that first attracted Wentworth to the museum, when she was a University of Kentucky student, studying architecture.
“But I spent a lot of time in the visual arts building and the Gaines Center [for Humanities],” Wentworth explains. “ I was interested in a lot of things, but it just so happens that what’s written on my diploma is ‘architecture.’”
It was during her undergraduate that Wentworth first learned about Institute 193, named for its address at 193 North Limestone, while visiting shows throughout school. She became acquainted with then-director Chase Martin and “fell in love with the mission of the organization.” Then in January of 2015, after a year of working as a graphic designer and curator, Wentworth was hired as director of the gallery, a position that she says is never boring.
“I wear a lot of hats,” she laughs. “I often joke that being a director means everything from helping curate art to being the janitor.”
Wentworth continues: “You know, one day I could be planning programming for the gallery, and the next I could be found painting the walls, preparing for a new exhibit.”
What she appreciates most is the gallery’s mission.
“We represent artists from the southeastern United States, with a special emphasis on artists from Kentucky,” Wentworth says. “The south is an often overlooked region of the country that unfairly gets biased as a place where people aren’t as thoughtful, or aren’t as creative; so for that reason, Institute 193 was founded as a way to help deserving artists in the South.”
Founded in 2009, Institute 193 embraces the notion that groundbreaking contemporary art can and does emerge outside of large metropolitan centers. The gallery provides its artists —selected not by commercial viability, but by the quality and relevance of their work — with exhibition and publication opportunities. It also endeavors to help these artists gain broader media exposure and foster connections in art markets across the globe.
“We’re located in a unique position as almost the northern tip of the South,” Wentworth says. “I like to think that we can serve as a gateway for local artists to larger markets.”
She says that she and Jones, who is currently living in New York, have a two-way dialogue about what will be exhibited in the 500-square-foot space, though several criteria stay consistent to align with the gallery’s mission: the work must be contemporary and connected to the region. According to Wentworth, the pool of talented local artists is incredibly deep.
“There are so many greats, many of whom have shown at the Institute,” she says. “There’s Mike Goodlett and Robert Beatty — two favorites and good friends, we’ll be taking their work to the New Art Dealers Alliance Fair in May.”
She continues: “Then there’s Louis Bickett, of course, and then there a lot of great women fiber artists who are doing really fantastic work.”
Wentworth also says that she feels the contemporary art scene in Lexington is experiencing some major growth, especially with the introduction of 21c Museum Hotel to the community.
“They are helping to do, in a different way, what Institute 193 is setting out to do,” Wentworth says. “We’re trying to put Lexington on the map as a place for art and a place with a viable art scene.”
If You Go
Current exhibit: OK-47, by Natalie Baxter
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Weds.-Sat; closing reception for OK-47 6-8 p.m. April 16