The 21c Museum hotel at 10, ?‘how we live and die, work, play and dream’

Sep 21, 2016 at 12:01 pm
The 21c Museum hotel at 10, ?‘how we live and die, work, play and dream’

More often than not, time speeds by. You run into an acquaintance who says his child is a freshman in college (you swore she couldn’t be more than 10, 12 max). Occasionally, it’s in the other direction, with our brains tricking us into thinking something has been part of our lives, well, forever.

I feel like that about 21c Museum Hotel. How is it that it’s only been in existence for 10 years? To drive the point home, the museum is currently celebrating with “21c at 10: A Global Gathering.”

21c opened in 2006 as something unique, a hotel displaying its permanent collection of museum-quality contemporary art. It was cofounded by Louisville art collectors and philanthropists Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, with the art curated by museum director Alice Gray Stites.

21c has had close to 100 exhibitions in its 10 years. But since it’s a working hotel, too, it also has been showing guests to their rooms (with original works of art in them) and serving extraordinary food in the attached restaurant Proof on Main. And it’s not only Louisville now: There are six 21c Museum Hotels across America, with an additional one under construction, plus two more in the planning stages.

“21c at 10: A Global Gathering” is an apt description of the current exhibition. One of the things I like about 21c is the vast array of contemporary artists it collects. Some of them I have heard of, but most I have not.

“[The show] celebrates the evolution of the collection since 2006,” said Stites. “Artists from every continent are represented in the collection, including internationally-known artists … as well as those now emerging onto the art-world stage … [It] reflects the growing breadth, scope and focus of 21c’s collection, which explores how we live and die, work, play and dream in the 21st century.”

Examples of this global reach included in the exhibition are Kehinde Wiley, Anastasia Schipani, Quayola and Anne Peabody.

Wiley is one of the art stars of the moment. An exceptional master of technique, Wiley has carved out a niche for himself with his reinterpretation of Old Master paintings with African-American men and women. 21c’s oil painting, “The Prophet and the King II” from 2006, is a perfect example of his style, with its highly-decorative background, large size and urban clothing.

“Matador Lady Killer” can break your heart. It’s Schipani’s beautiful tribute, as well as a massive art-therapy project, to a tragically-deceased love. She worked on it from 2007-2014, continually adding fringe, tassels and stitches. The title refers to the Spanish word for bullfighter, but matador is also slang for “lady killer.”

The Italian artist Quayola works in video and print to create a fictional, yet hyperrealistic, world. “Pleasant Places #S006.004,” photographed in 2015 in France, has a wonderful foreground and background division that seems to expand the landscape.

Peabody’s “Wheel of Fortune,” from 2010, commissioned by the museum, is as Louisville as you can get. The site-specific mixed media installation was inspired by the tornado that touched down here in 1974. The various wood objects, turkey basters, flashlights and other items form a funnel cloud that hangs over the lower atrium gallery.

Proof on Main has been transformed by a site-specific art installation called “The Practices of Everyday Life” (through 2018). The dining room and bar highlight Louisville and Kentucky.

The artists David Burns and Austin Young, aka Fallen Fruit, did their research. “We learned that one thing Louisvillians have in common is that they are neither Southern nor Northern, not from the West Coast or the East Coast,” said Burns. “They are kind, welcoming people from an important region of Kentucky that has a long history in the United States, and a pride in heritage and love of family that is both steadfast and true.” •