Where To Find Contemporary Art In Louisville, Kentucky

Photo of Michelle Combs
29 September 2016

From Museum Row to the East Market Arts District (also referred to as ‘NuLu’), Louisville is a cultural city filled with contemporary art. Galleries and museums showcase the best in local and regional art, as well as nationally and internationally known names. Observe art made in glass studios, sleep in a hotel with avant garde décor, and explore one of the longest running artist cooperatives in the country in Kentucky’s River City. We profile ten of the city’s best contemporary art spaces.

Museum Hotel

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21c Museum Hotel, Louisville
21c Museum Hotel, Louisville | Courtesy 21c Museum Hotel
The 21c Museum Hotel is the epicenter of contemporary art in Louisville. The small regional chain began with its Louisville location, fusing a contemporary art space with a boutique hotel. In reference to its name, the Museum only showcases art of the 21st century. World-class contemporary art from the likes of Kara Walker, Bill Viola, and Yinka Shonibare can be found not only in the exhibition space, but also in the hotel rooms – even the restrooms. However, many of the exhibitions and special events are free and open to the public. Visitors should also dine at 21c’s restaurant, Proof on Main, for a taste of traditional Southern fare with a gourmet twist.

Open Gallery

Art Gallery
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Open Community Arts Center, Louisville
Open Community Arts Center, Louisville | Courtesy Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
One of the more philosophical and avant-garde galleries in Louisville, Open Gallery describes itself as “an entertainment venue/gallery/collective/living space presenting artists of conscience.” The gallery displays a range of media, favoring art that is engaged in activism and conceptual in nature. Run by artist Mark James, the gallery also hosts figure and still life drawing classes and small concerts. Open Gallery is a unique, multi-faceted space that consistently presents thought-provoking work and fun events.

Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft

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KMAC Museum, Louisville
KMAC Museum, Louisville | Courtesy Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
Located in the heart of Museum Row on Main Street, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft was originally established to promote Kentucky-based crafts and folk art, but has evolved over its more than 30-year history to include fine art as well. The Museum hosts regular exhibitions of local artists, ranging from the contemporary sculpture of Walter Early to Louisville’s own Hound Dog Press. These contemporary exhibits span an eclectic range of media, from historic bourbon bottles to painting to fiber arts.

Hite Art Institute: Cressman Center for Visual Arts

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Cressman Center for Visual Arts, East Main Street
Cressman Center for Visual Arts, East Main Street | Courtesy Cressman Center for Visual Arts
Managed by the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute, the Cressman Center for Visual Arts houses three contemporary art galleries and the Institute’s glass and sculpture studios. The galleries feature nationally and internationally-renowned artists, as well as the work of students and alumni of the Hite Art Institute. As the home of the Institute’s glass and sculpture programs, visitors also have the opportunity to observe students and faculty at work in their studios. The Hite Art Institute also curates three galleries in Schneider Hall on the University of Louisville campus.

Speed Art Museum

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Speed Art Museum, Louisville
Speed Art Museum, Louisville | Courtesy Cressman Center for Visual Arts
The Speed Art Museum is a long-established Louisville institution. The Speed’s collection is easily the best in the state of Kentucky, ranging from non-Western, European and American historical art to contemporary art, featuring a particularly strong photography collection with works from Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Lorna Simpson.

The Green Building Gallery

Building, Museum
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The Green Building Gallery, Louisville
The Green Building Gallery, Louisville | Courtesy Green Building Gallery
Bringing nationally and internationally-recognized contemporary art to NuLu, The Green Building Gallery presents high-caliber work to Louisville. Director Daniel Pfalzgraf teamed up with the Speed Art Museum for the inaugural exhibition of Local Speed, putting together a show of locally featured artists to welcome the Speed to East Market. Pfalzgraf exhibits works that are conceptually challenging and very much in touch with major themes and trends in the larger contemporary art world, making The Green Building Gallery a truly outstanding space.

PYRO Gallery

Art Gallery
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PYRO Gallery is situated on East Market Street in the area of Louisville known to locals as NuLu, which has earned its hipster reputation from the significant number of art galleries and trendy eateries that populate this eclectic neighborhood. PYRO Gallery’s represented artists include Mike McCarthy and Kay Grubola, whose work has been featured in an exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Additionally, represented artist Jeffrey Skinner was recently awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. The gallery primarily represents local and regional artists, showcasing a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, and works on paper.

Paul Paletti Gallery

Art Gallery
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Sturm Paletti & Wilson: Paletti Jr Paul R, Louisville
Sturm Paletti & Wilson: Paletti Jr Paul R, Louisville | Courtesy Paul Paletti Gallery
Paul Paletti Gallery should be the first stop for photography lovers in Louisville. Housed inside the law offices of collector and gallerist Paul Paletti and his partners Sturm and Wilson, the gallery showcases both Paletti’s collection and works from nationally known photographers. The space has exhibited the likes of legendary National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, alongside Henry Horenstein and George Hurrell. The gallery also has a sense of humor; visitors to the opening of the Horenstein show were encouraged to wear cowboy and honky tonk attire. Conveniently located in NuLu, be sure not to miss this slightly hidden gem of Louisville’s contemporary art scene.

Zephyr Gallery

Art Gallery
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Zephyr Gallery, Louisville
Zephyr Gallery, Louisville | Courtesy Zephyr Gallery
Zephyr Gallery began as an artist-run cooperative, and like Swanson Contemporary, is a long-established institution in NuLu. With nearly 30 years of operation, Zephyr is the second longest running artist cooperative in the country. The space is an important force in the local community, nurturing local artists and crafting innovative outreach programs such as the Corporate Art Program, which provides art on loans to local businesses. The gallery since launched a Project series consisting of proposal-based exhibitions, and announced partnerships with universities and other cultural institutions.

Swanson Contemporary

Art Gallery
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One of the founding galleries in the East Market Arts District, Swanson Contemporary focuses on exhibiting nationally and regionally-established artists. The gallery exhibits video, installation, photography, conceptual art, painting, performance, and sculpture, including an outdoor sculpture garden. The main gallery space showcases more traditional media, while a space in the basement is reserved for video and installation.

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