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Ozkaya’s ‘David’ Arrives at 21C

Just in time to welcome Derby guests, 21C Museum Hotel’s over-sized version of Michelangelo’s David was installed on the corner of Main and Seventh streets today. He rolled in on the back of a truck and stood up onto his 8-foot pedestal with the help of a crane. He stands three stories tall, and his gold paint gleams in the bright May sun.

“David (inspired by Michelangelo)” is the work of Turkish conceptual artist Serkan Ozkaya. It joins 21C’s collection and will be on long-term display outside of the downtown museum.

21C curator Alice Gray Stites says Ozkaya’s statue is more than a giant eye-catching replica of a masterpiece. It’s a source of public engagement with the ideas behind the art.

“He’s raising questions about how do we define value, economic value and artistic value, what is an authentic art experience, what is our relationship to our own cultural legacy, what is it going forward, and what is iconography?” says Stites.

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National Book Award Winner Reads at 21C

Nikky Finney - photo by Rachel Eliza GriffithsLexington poet Nikky Finney has been on the road, visiting 20 cities in three months. It’s her second tour for “Head Off & Split,” her fourth collection of poems that won the National Book Award last fall.

Finney will read in Louisville tonight at 21C Museum Hotel.

Throughout her tour, Finney says she’s heard from people who saw her powerful acceptance speech during the November awards broadcast and went wild.

“It was so personal and so many people really took it in, in such a public-personal way, and really claimed it, and maybe it’s because we all have stepped across and stepped onto the shoulders of others who have helped us get to where we’ve gotten,” Finney says.

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21C Museum Hotel Plans Expanding to Arkansas

A hotel brand that started in Louisville is growing — with a new hotel planned in Arkansas.

Since 21C Museum Hotel opened in 2006 on Louisville’s Main Street, company founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson have decided to expand to other cities. Two hotels are being developed in Austin, Texas, and Cincinnati, Ohio. And Tuesday the founders announced plans to open a 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas, sometime in 2012.

Although the brand is expanding, Wilson says he sees the Louisville hotel playing a crucial role for all of them.

“The art exhibits that we mount in Louisville will be able to travel to the other sites,” Wilson says, “so Louisville will become a testing ground, a learning facility.”

Wilson says he wants for Louisville’s 21C Museum Hotel to work with all 21C Museum Hotels.

“21C Louisville will, I think, will become a training ground or where we’ll begin to learn who on our staff has leadership qualities,” he says.

The Arkansas hotel is also being funded through heirs of Sam Walton, who founded Wal-Mart. It will be within walking distance of Wal-Mart headquarters and a Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, now under construction.

Wilson says the Bentonville’s plans to open the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the next few years will create economic growth in the city and an opportunity for businesses related to tourism.  That was the idea he and Brown had before they opened Louisville’s 21C Museum Hotel with the belief that art could spur economic activity.

Steve Wilson.

“The Crystal Bridges Museum will trigger economic development, new jobs, new taxes, new restaurants, new hotels,” Wilson says. “It’s going to be a major boon for the state of Arkansas.”

The $150 million Crystal Bridges Museum is financed in large part by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Wilson says the budget for of Bentonville’s planned 130-room 21C Museum Hotel is $28 million.

PHOTO: Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown. Courtesy 21C Museum Hotel.

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Fake Cash as Art and Source for Helping New Orleans

A national artist is heading a project to legitimize counterfeit one hundred dollar bills made by schoolchildren. It’s an effort to get money to clean up lead-contaminated soil in New Orleans. This week, the artist was in Louisville to collect bills made by Kentucky students. This is a story from WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer.

“Please take your seats,” art teacher Kristine Larson tells one of her fifth grade classes.

Last August, she had all the fourth and fifth graders she teaches at Whitney Young Elementary School in Louisville’s West End make currency. Each decorated a template of a one hundred dollar bill, including Dakota Roberts.

“I got to show my artistic ability on a $100 bill,” he says. “And I tried to draw what a real $100 bill would look like. But I don’t really see $100 bills everyday, so I just tried my best.”

Dakota drew his self portrait and his dog for the Fundred Dollar Bill Project. It includes students nationwide who are making these fundreds for a $300 million exchange with Congress to fund a related-effort called Operation Paydirt. That’s the amount scientists say is needed to clean up vast amounts of lead-tainted soil in New Orleans. Larson reminds the students about the project.

“You remembered one of the problems — lead damage?” Larson asks them.  “Not only is that bad for their soil to grow things, but remember it said that there were some behavior problems and then there could be birth defects.”

Studies find lead, when ingested by children, can cause serious physical and neurological damage, manifesting itself in learning disabilities and violent behavior. High levels are often found in cities where lead was in paint on older houses or leaded gas seeped into soil.

Larson learned of this project from a teachers’ magazine and found lesson plans online covering math, civics, geography and more. But she says the project offers a larger lesson.

“I think our kids really got the idea that this was something on their level that they could actually be a part of collectively across the whole country,” she says. “And I just applaud Mel Chin for this idea. It’s just absolutely ingenious.”

Mel Chin is the conceptual artist who dreamed up this way to help New Orleans after his visit there following Hurricane Katrina. He says New Orleans stunned him.

“As a creative, you come in and perhaps you think you can do something, and I pride myself in that,” he says.  “But I felt the magnitude was so intense that something big had to happen.”

Then he thought about his talks with residents and scientists about lead contamination. The solution?

“You need money. Don’t have money?” he says. “Let’s make money. OK. You need science. OK. Let’s bring the science in. Let’s do this. Alright?”

The project includes leading scientists. And besides calling upon his own creativity, it’s a new chapter in the field of conceptual art, which isn’t about creating objects but communicating ideas. Notable conceptual art has focused on money. Marcel Duchamp made fake checks and other financial documents, and Andy Warhol’s work featured bills and dollar signs. But University of Chicago economist David Galenson, who studies the nature of creativity, says Chin’s idea breaks new ground.

“The distinctive thing here is that Mel Chin is putting this to social uses,” he says,  “rather than simply just trying to enhance his own reputation.”

Chin brushes off suggestions that this is his project. He says the artists here are the nation’s children helping kids in New Orleans.

Now, his main endeavor is collecting their fundreds. And that brings him to the 21C Museum Hotel where art teachers and students meet him and the project’s armored truck to hand over nearly 2,000 fundreds. Chin addresses the crowd.

“And we do not think it is audacious to believe that human expression is valuable,” he tells them. “We don’t think it’s extravagant that the creativity of others need to be protects and preserved.”

Chin says the project has about 10 percent of the 3 million fundreds needed, so, he’s working to reach more teachers to find more children to participate while trying convince members of Congress to support the project. From Louisville, the truck rolls on to Bowling Green, Nashville, Asheville and then Baltimore where Chin will speak at the National Art Educators Association’s national convention (pdf).

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Arts and Humanities Environment Local News

Students Make Counterfeit Notes to Help New Orleans

A truck will pull into to Louisville tomorrow to collect hundreds of fake currency notes for a project to restore lead-contaminated soil in New Orleans. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer details.

It’s called Operation Paydirt and includes a effort called The Fundred Dollar Bill Project, which is collecting imitation one hundred dollar bills illustrated by students nationwide. The idea have at least three million children make one note — the project calls them a fundred — to exchange to present these to Congress in exchange for the $300 million scientists estimate is needed to clean up lead-tainted soil in New Orleans. Hundreds of Jefferson County students have made these bills.

Artist Mel Chin is behind the effort that is now collecting bills from cities across the country.

“As far as the physical dynamics of the actual fundreds when we have these together,” he says, “they’ll probably be about seven to eight thousand pounds of drawings stacked in a single block that will be about five-feet high and five-feet wide and ten-feet long.”

Chin launched the project after Hurricane Katrina as a way to use the creativity of children to make a difference. He says he thinks Congress will respond.

“It might even be spring of next year before we can have the exchange agreed upon,” he says. “It’s not about surprising people who are representing the people of America. It’s about working with the representatives of the constituents who have drawn these bills.”

Chin mounted the project with scientists a post-hurricane visit when he learned of the vast amount of lead there. he and team members, including scientist, wanted to significantly address lead-contamination there in a new way that can be replicated in other cities.

“We want to make the health of individuals all across America that might be compromised by lead in soil also to be part of that,” he says. “And that takes patience, much more than the immediate gratification effect of sometimes, just ‘there’s the artwork; give us the money.’”

Chin will be in Louisville Tuesday to speak at 21C Museum Hotel, after which a large truck will collect the bills to take to Washington.

Art teachers from Ballard High and Whitney Young Elementary schools worked with their students to make fundreds last year. This semeseter, the Louisville Visual Art Association has been working with teachers and students at about a dozen schools to make the conterfiet bills.

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The Rise of T-Shirt Culture Inspires Local Artist

The end of the 20th Century saw the rise of the T-shirt — and adorning such attire with arresting images and messages. In the past decade, with increasing access to technologies, more people are making T-shirts with distinctively crafted messages. And they’ve made not only onlookers, but artists and even warring factions take note. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

It was in the African country of Liberia in 2001 where a group of women began a non-violent movement for peace. Here a bloody war had caused death or injury to hundreds of thousands of people, and the fighting included scores of child soldiers. Two years later, the women pressured warring factions to attend peace talks. Uninvited, they went, too, wearing T-shirts identifying their objective: “We want peace. No more war.”

The talks ended with promises of peace, and the women helped forge history. In a recent documentary, one described her experience upon returning home: “The people said to me, ‘how did you manage?’ I said, ‘With this T-shirt I’m very powerful.'”

Even in this country, T-shirts have proven to be powerful — and controversial — vehicles of speech. In recent years, messages on some have prompted First Amendment lawsuits. Those messages have ranged from those disparaging former President George W. Bush to one with the words “Islam is of the Devil.”

T-Shirts are ubiquitous and many are tailored to or by one individual, thanks to some of the modern technologies that Pricilla Summers uses.

“Pull the screen down and use the squeegee to pull the ink through the screen and it goes on to the shirt,” she says as she’s showing me her T-shirt-making process.

As owner of Kopilot press, a custom screen-printing business that takes orders as small as ten shirts, she doesn’t see a lot of contentious messages, but mostly customized ones for a school, family or group of friends.

And it’s the full range of messages emblazoned on T-shirts around the world that inspired Louisville artist Leslie Lyons to create an exhibit of photographs with people wearing distinctive T-shirts.

“I have always loved T-Shirt culture,” she says.

Lyons went behind the camera to make Talking Back: An Exhibition of T-shirt Messages and the Bodies Who Wear Them. It had its first showing in New York City in October. It’s now part of a larger exhibit about identity at the 21C Museum Hotel, where director William Morrow made the decision to include the photos.

“The person wearing the T-shirt has control of the immediacy of the message,” Morrow says, “and Leslie captures that beautifully.”

To find her subjects, Lyons put up flyers and printed notices in local press about photo shoots in New York City, New Orleans, Austin, Los Angeles and Louisville. People often came in droves wearing their shirts, and she photographed hundreds of people. She says she had to work quickly to get the right shot of the person and his or her message.

“It had to be immediate,” she says. “You know, what they’re coming with on the message of their shirt kind of gets you into them immediately. Tell me about this message? Tell me what this means to you? And so you can get to something pretty intimate pretty quickly just by asking them why they came with that message.”

The exhibit features a diverse range of people. In one photo, a woman with long, blond hair sports the phrase “Fame is not sexually transmitted.” There’s also an Iranian-American student from Princeton University wearing a shirt that says “Weapon of Mass Destruction” in Arabic. And on another wall, an Iranian-American woman with “Iran” across her chest and the words “I come in peace,” written below in Arabic.

The range of messages here doesn’t surprise Diana Crane, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has written about fashion and T-shirts. She says fashion, but especially T-shirts, says a lot about our modern world.

“We’ve moved into a society where people express their identity through clothing instead of trying to be like everybody else in their own social class,” Crane says. “And so T-Shirts are the way of sort of expressing where we fit in to this whole very complex mosaic, which our culture has become.”

Lyons says she hopes her photos reflect that mosaic and this exhibit helps document our own history.

“A lot of these messages are sort of a zeitgeist of what people are thinking about and what they care about,” she says.

Lyons is looking to take the exhibit to other cities after it closes here in April. And she also plans to keep taking more photos of powerful T-shirts and the bodies who wear them.

Top Photo Credit: Pewee Flomoku

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Actors Theatre Announces 2010 Humana Festival Plays

Actors Theatre of Louisville has announced the lineup for the 2010 Humana Festival of New American Plays. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

HUMANA POSTER 2010 FLATActors Theatre artistic director Marc Masterson says there are a variety of styles among the seven full-length plays. Most are by individual playwrights, including Ground by Lisa Dillman who’s worked at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The list also includes plays by individuals making their Actors Theatre debut — including Deborah Zoe Laufer’s comedy Sirens and Phoenix by Scott Organ.

Others are by ensembles including the Austin-based Rude Mechs, which brings its production The Method Gun to the festival, and some former members of the Tony Award-winning company, Theatre De La Jeune Lune, which closed last year for financial reasons.

Masterson says Actors Theatre likes to nurture the work of ensemble companies.

“The advantages of people who have been working together for 15, 20 years are really significant and tangible,” he says. “You can feel that when you see the work. I think that’s an important part of the conversation of how plays get developed now.”

Masterson says Actors Theatre commissioned the former members of Theatre De La Jeune Lune to write Fissures.

“This group of playwrights started with an idea to create something about memory,” Masterson says. “And then it became a conversation about —  Well, what is memory and how does memory work? Do we fictionalize our own memories? That has led is to what I think is just a fascinating piece about the way we remember.”

Also on schedule is a musical called The Cherry Sisters Revisited by Dan O’Brien. Masterson says when he saw the play in development, he knew the composer who could write music for it.

“This is about the worst act in vaudeville, and it’s a true story,” he says. “So when I thought about what the musical needs were for that — you know, someone who can write music that has a sense of humor — Michael Friedman was top of the list.”

Audiences at Actors Theatre have heard Friedman’s music in The Civilians‘ productions of This Beautiful City and Gone Missing.

The play Heist! by Deborah Stein, who contributed to the last Humana Festival’s comic anthology called BRINK!. The play was conceived by Stein and Sean Daniels, Actors Theatre’s associate artistic director, and performances of it will take place at the 21C Museum Hotel.

The Humana Festival runs from February 21st and through April 18.

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Project Launches Day of the Dead Exhibits

3 tiers of DOTD shrineThis week the University of Louisville is celebrating the Day of the Dead, the Hispanic holiday that combines indigenous and Catholic traditions. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

The university has partnered with cultural groups throughout the metropolitan area to create altars, as many Hispanics do on Nov. 1 to remember deceased loved ones.

The altars range from one for Bob Marley at St. Francis High School to one at Indiana University Southeast for U.S. victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U of L assistant professor of fine art Mary Carothers honor those who have died coming to this country for refuge on an outside wall of the 21C Museum Hotel. Carothers says it was inspired by The Devil’s Highway, a book assigned to U of L many classes this year about 26 men who tried to cross the Mexican and U.S. border in 2001. The 14 who survived are known as the Yuma 14.

“Those are marigolds and the hands are cast from immigrants now living in the United States who have moved here,” she says, “and many of them have some really interesting stories.”

These elements are among thousands of small monarch butterflies made of paper and which the class designed. The butterflies, which are affixed to the wall, have many different designs. The hands on the wall were made with the participation of 14 immigrants living in Louisville and from countries as varied as Germany, Cuba and Afghanistan.

Carothers says, like traditional altars, they arranged elements of the piece on three levels to represent the earth, the sky and the air in between.

“We have the marigolds on the ground level,” she says. “The hands that are in between and the monarch butterflies symbolizing a metamorphosis to heaven.”

The university has partnered with nine cultural groups throughout the area on this project, including the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Frazier International History Museum, the Louisville Science Center, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and the Muhammad Ali Center.

To listen to Elizabeth Kramer’s interview with Mary Carothers, visit The Edit.

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More Art Collectors With More Access to Art

Passion takes many forms and colleting art is one of them. Throughout history, most collectors have been considerably wealthy. But today, a collector doesn’t have to be Rockefeller. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

In one part of the Speed Art Museum, chief curator Ruth Cloudman shows me some paintings in its permanent collection. They’re by famed Impressionist artists, including Claude Monet and American Mary Cassatt. Cloudman describes how a wealthy Louisvillian, Minnie Marvin Wheeler, very quietly collected these pieces before her death in 1964.

“She would get these things; they would come to the museum for say a month on loan anonymously,” Cloudman says. “And then when she passed away, this bequest came and it was this joyous shock to the community that these treasures had been given to the Speed Museum.”

Since then many local and wealthy collectors have donated works to the museum. But this month, the museum has received 50 pieces from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel of Brooklyn New York — a couple art aficionados have called the world’s most famous living collectors. He’s now 85 and she is 73, but before they retired, they lived off her salary as a reference librarian and used his, from his job with the United States Postal Service, to purchase art. Their collection included minimal and conceptual art that they bought from artists before many attained critical fame.   The Vogels kept thousands of pieces in their rent-controlled apartment. Last year, they announced they would donate 2,500 of their works to museums in 50 states through the National Gallery of Art.

At the time of her death, Louisville’s Minnie Marvin Wheeler was a fairly traditional collector: She was wealthy. But the Vogels’ means and approach to collecting marked a sea change in the profile of a collector. So says Suzanne Weaver, the museum’s curator of contemporary art.

“They spent their whole life going to openings, galleries and artists’ studios,” Weaver says. “They lived and breathed art. And they became friends with the dealers. They became friends with the artists. So, they really knew the work.”

While people of means still collect, many of today’s collectors aren’t rich.

“Today there are more people on all walks of life and at all socio-economic levels collecting, which is really exciting,” says Paige West. She’s a curator and founder of a New York gallery. She also wrote “The Art of Buying Art: An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art.”

West says another phenomenon has fed the upsurge in collecting.

“The access to art has just exploded in a way that’s created all new audiences and collector groups,” she says.

That access is evident in Louisville. The Speed Museum has several collectors groups and the city has dozens of galleries — from those at the 21C Museum Hotel to those featuring glass and craft work. One of the city’s oldest is Zephyr Gallery.

Artist Chris Radtke is a member of this artists’ collective. She says even purchases of a few hundred dollars affect the local visual art scene.

“When somebody does buy a piece of work, you have no idea how that resonates in the art community,” Radtke says. “Because not only does that help the artist; the artists will tell another artist that and it gives everybody huge hope. It’s like a validation that what they’re doing is valuable, is worth it.”

Radtke says the recent economic downturn has slowed sales somewhat, but collectors are still buying. She also tells me of one nontraditional collector — Leslie Millar. She’s 43 and married to an artist.

In the Highlands neighborhood, Millar gives me a tour of their home. Throughout the house are paintings, photographs and prints. There are also ceramics and textile-based art. Most are by local artists, including Steve Irwin and Michael O’Bannon. Millar doesn’t liken herself to the Vogels, but, like the Vogels, she says relationships influence her purchases.

“I think really it often is a personal connection, a human connection with the person who made it and their story,” Millar says.

And even in this economic recession, Millar’s not giving up her penchant for collecting. She says the economy reinforces her commitment to support local artists through her purchases. And she finds much of the art she sees reminds her of human values like compassion. The Vogels just might agree with her.