Kentucky’s art scene is alive and kicking; with contemporary art galleries in Lexington growing in number and scope, the city is becoming a cultural destination worth a trip. From traditional equestrian photography to experimental installations, from Southern artists to international creatives, we explore the best galleries displaying modern art across Lexington.
Founded by local artist and curator Philip March Jones in 2009, Institute 193 is best described as showcasing the contemporary South. The Institute exhibits media ranging from architectural plans to photography to paintings and other media, both 2D and 3D works. The gallery space is very compact, but the one-room exhibitions have a reputation for packing a conceptual punch. Now run by Chase Martin, the space explores questions of Southern identity, memory and the fluidity of history. Institute 193 represents primarily local and regional artists, including Mare Vaccaro, Lina Tharsing, and Guy Mendes and some of the best emerging talent coming out of the University of Kentucky. The gallery has also served as a performance venue for musician Ben Sollee and artist Sameer Reddy.
Cross Gate Gallery is a much more traditional gallery that specializes in sporting art and has been a staple in Lexington for 40 years. Catering to the local equestrian elite, the gallery specializes in 19th- and 20th-century equine painting, prints and sculpture. Cross Gate also features a limited selection of non-sporting and contemporary works, primarily from British artists. Selected artists include Sir Alfred Munnings, Andre Pater, and Thomas Coates. Housed in a Greek Revival mansion in close proximity to Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate, Cross Gate Gallery is well-established and very much the esteemed older gentleman of the Lexington galleries.
Mary Rezny has been a part of the Lexington photography scene for over 25 years, specializing in object photography for regional and even international museums, but also continuously experimenting with enchanting photograms of flowers and plants. Rezny exhibits primarily local artists, such as Lucinda A. Chapman and Marco Logsdon, and often organizes shows around ‘earthy’ themes with work depicting elements of the natural world. Her artists tend to experiment with photographic and other artistic processes; ‘mixed media’ is a popular descriptor on the wall text. Located in the heart of the burgeoning Distillery District, MS Rezny Studio and Gallery provides a refreshing interpretation of nature among the ageing post-industrial landscape laboring to be reborn.
ArtsPlace is the gallery space of LexArts, the local arts council and an important source of funding for Lexington arts programming. The gallery can be found downtown in a building that was originally constructed as a YMCA in 1904. Behind the Beaux Arts facade, ArtsPlace exhibits primarily Kentucky artists of all mediums, including University of Kentucky professor and fibre artist Arturo Sandoval and internationally renowned Peter Williams, who has painted at the Keeneland and Churchill Downs racetracks for over 30 years. In addition to the ArtsPlace Gallery, LexArts also spearheaded ‘Horse Mania’ to celebrate Lexington’s hosting of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, resulting in 82 unique fibreglass horses, each designed by a local artist, that can still be seen dotting the landscape of the city.
The Lexington Art League is Lexington’s oldest and largest arts organisation, with origins that can be traced back to 1957. However, under the leadership of Executive Director Stephanie Harris, Lexington Art League envisions a world where art, artists and art-making are central to human inspiration, self-realization and meaning. Their mission is to challenge, educate, and engage their community through visual art and the advancement of local artists. They present contemporary visual art exhibitions at the Loudoun House gallery in Castlewood Park as well as site-specific installations throughout the community. Along with their support of artists through programs like the Artist Archive & CSA (Community Supported Art), they are deeply committed to supporting their North Lexington neighbors. LAL’s offers year round, free and inclusive programming opportunities designed to remove barriers of access to visual art for all members of the community.
Based primarily in its main space in nearby Versailles, Kentucky, Heike Pickett Gallery also curates a satellite space in Lexington at the CMW Architects Building. With over 30 years in business, Heike Pickett is another veteran gallery and tends to represent more established artists, including local sculptor Steve Armstrong and Yale School of Art alumnus Thomas Germano. The commercial gallery offers mainly contemporary painting, sculpture and works on paper. Shows are either solo showcases or group selections designed to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. While owners Heike and Irwin Pickett do not limit themselves to genre expertise, the high quality of their collective eye has made the gallery a long-time tastemaker.
The Lyric Theatre is the rising phoenix of the Lexington art world. In the mid-20th century, the Lyric was a thriving hotspot of the local African-American community, with big-name acts such as Count Basie and Ray Charles gracing its stage. The theatre closed in 1963 but in 2010, the new Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center rose from the ashes and is now thriving once again. It is home to the world-famous Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour and also hosts a gallery featuring art from marginalized voices, including art from African, Native American and local Latino artists. Additionally, the gallery also hosts historical exhibitions and work from Kentucky-based artists.
The Morlan Gallery is the exhibition space for Transylvania University, the oldest university in America west of the Allegheny Mountains. Although the University has a rich and storied history, the Morlan Gallery is rooted firmly in contemporary art. Housed in the Mitchell Fine Art Building, the Morlan has showcased local, regional, national and international talent. Transylvania University (known locally as ‘Transy’) regularly hosts visiting artists; past examples include Deana Rennick and Berni Searle. As an educational gallery, the curatorial remit spans many mediums, from installation to video, painting to photography and everything in between. The Morlan Gallery balances local issues with a global scope and is one of the most academic galleries in Lexington.
Tuska Center for Contemporary Art - University of Kentucky
Art Gallery, University
Named after late artist and University of Kentucky professor John Tuska, the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art exhibits nationally recognized artists as well as artists associated with the College of Fine Art. The gallery is a relatively hidden space, just across from the Guingnol Theatre, in the Fine Arts Building on Rose Street, which makes for a quiet, contemplative viewing experience. Artworks range in media from site-specific installations and sculpture to photography, painting and everything in between, with a focus that is usually somewhat experimental in nature. Past exhibitions have included Figuration to Fragmentation: The Human Form in Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture in partnership with Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery and Transfixed: The Artist’s Hand in Photographic Processes, in addition to the annual faculty show and MFA thesis exhibitions.