By Hunter Kissel, Hite/KMAC Curatorial Fellow for Summer 2015
Hunter has completed his first year in graduate school pursing a dual Master in Public Administration/Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville; he is a native Louisvillian.
I received my undergraduate degree from Transylvania University in Studio Art last May and now am pursuing a Master degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville. The shift from amateur art-maker to aspiring exhibition producer has provided its share of challenges, namely in the language and art historical methods I now use. My personal appetite for participation in the broader arts community, however, has remained the same. The school year ended in the early weeks of May, and I began researching summer opportunities. I was soon offered a fellowship at KMAC.
As part of the Fellowship, I was given the chance to use KMAC’s permanent collection to display a selection of works in their Brown Forman Gallery. Director Aldy Milliken and Associate Curator Joey Yates often use the summer months to present works from the collection in a gallery setting, and this was sure to be a great chance to practice some of the curatorial methods I had been learning in school. KMAC begins planning their exhibitions as far as two years out in some cases, so completing the show in little over one month seemed like a tall order.
KMAC’s permanent collection contains works by acclaimed regional and national folk artists. Artists from Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia are heavily represented in the collection, and as a result themes of economic agriculture, religion, American identity, and wildlife are all very present. After browsing the catalogue of KMAC’s permanent collection and inspecting some of these artworks in person, I was able to narrow down my selection for the exhibition to about twenty pieces. I selected many of these Appalachian artists as well as some contemporary local artists working in glass, photography, or patchwork.
The selection process was not an easy one. While many of these artworks deserve to be shown, a number of constraints surfaced and I was unable to include objects I really admire. My conversations with Joey Yates were emphasized with the notion that “less is more.” The idea of a cluttered gallery made us uneasy, and subsequently space had to be compromised in order to include a diversity of artists as well as multiple works by the same artist when their breadth required it. Each object needed “room to breathe” (as the popular saying goes), and my selections were heavily influenced by the gallery space itself.
The final title of the exhibition was simple—Highlights from the Permanent Collection. There was no need to contextualize these works. The collection speaks for itself. The final display includes artists like Earnest Patton, one of the most renowned artists in KMAC’s collection, who carves human figures with precision and clean technique. His depiction of Adam and Eve is as topical as that of his mermaid or woman in a swimsuit. Minnie Adkins’ use of a fox motif translates fluidly from woodcarving to quilt, demonstrating the artist’s ability to execute in a variety of mediums. Carl McKenzie’s figures stand as anomalies, distanced from the comparable work produced by Patton, Denzil Goodpaster, and Junior Lewis. His splotched Lady Liberty and Red Cross Nurse are vibrant takes on popular subjects. Finally, Marvin Finn and his flock of familiar birds are at hand within KMAC’s collection.
The resulting exhibition advocates for the importance of collecting. Under Milliken and Yates, KMAC is transforming from an artist-represented gallery into an archival museum. KMAC’s current collection is a solid foundation for a more expansive holding of artworks. Highlights marks a checkpoint for an evolving institution.
Highlights from the Permanent Collection, curated by Hunter Kissel, will be on display in the Brown Forman Gallery at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft until mid-September. To see more from the exhibition, visit http://www.kmacmuseum.org.