Op-Ed

Kentucky voices: 21c is a museum with a hotel inside

Louis Zoellar Bickett II is a Lexington artist who is a three-time Al Smith Fellowship recipient and a YADDO Fellow.
Louis Zoellar Bickett II is a Lexington artist who is a three-time Al Smith Fellowship recipient and a YADDO Fellow.

Mayor Jim Gray's announcement on Tuesday morning that Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown have purchased and will renovate the old First National Bank Building on Main Street for 21c Museum Hotel Lexington is a watershed cultural moment in Lexington's history, the importance of which cannot be underestimated.

Speaking about 21c's economic impact on this community is beyond my capacity — but as an artist and a contemporary art researcher I can say without reserve 21c Museum Hotel Lexington will be the most important cultural event we have experienced.

Wilson and Brown are internationally respected contemporary art collectors whose collection is vast and encyclopedic. Their 21c Museum Hotel Louisville is the art scene there, and the same will transpire here. Their business model for what a hotel can be is the essence of creativity. The award winning 21c Museum Hotel Louisville is something the rest of the world is trying to catch up with. It is simply out-of-this world unique.

Though it has many things going for it (a wonderful restaurant and bar, flawless service, a great architectural design, etc.) it is the contemporary art displayed throughout the hotel and restaurant and the curated art shows in the museum that define 21c Museum Hotel Louisville as not just another well designed and operated hotel.

It is a museum with a hotel in it. If I had to pick one example of their exhibition excellence it would be Wilson's and Brown's early collecting and unwavering support of the now international art sensation Anthony Goicolea.

His work is both provocative and moving. 21c's support of Goicolea from a time when he was just emerging onto the New York art scene until years later when he is well established internationally shows not only a devotion on the part of Wilson and Brown but proof that they know what they are doing when it comes to contemporary art issues.

I think that the quintessence of the 21c experience is best summed up by George Haviland Argo III, an architect with a personal and intimate knowledge of the workings of 21c Museum Hotel:

"What I am now learning is so special about 21c is that it creates a completely new mode for people to experience art. For a short time, a guest gets to 'live' with the art. For those that live in a town fortunate enough to have a 21c, it provides a new, exciting touchstone to which they can return over and over, for free, 24/7, to experience (really amazing) contemporary art. 21c is devoid of the common museum trappings, including the stuffiness, the pretension, and replaces it with community programming, and food, a sense of discovery and relaxed whimsy."

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