The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
As Lexington photographer Guy Mendes remembers him, Jonathan Williams was an artist with a “gift for engaging people in conversations and in interests. He wasn’t just someone who was passing through. He was genuinely interested in all manner of folks.”
Mendes, who often had the North Carolina-based artist stay at his home when Williams visited Lexington, sees similarities between Williams and Phillip March Jones, the founder of Institute 193, the modest but influential gallery on Limestone in downtown Lexington.
“Phillip reminds me of a young Jonathan Williams, with a big appetite for all different kinds of art, and people, and an interest in bringing them to light,” Mendes says.
Jones’ gallery is bringing light to Williams’ work with A Palpable Elysium, an exhibit of portraits of authors including Ezra Pound and Henry Miller, and numerous notable Kentuckians, including Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton, and writer Wendell Berry. The exhibit opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday (May 24, 2012).
The exhibit is drawn from the 2002 book of the same name, although Jones says the prints displayed are not original prints from Williams.
“We didn’t have access to the original photographs, which belong to Yale (University),” Jones says. “We didn’t ask because we don’t have climate control that fits their standards. So we basically did large-scale prints of some of the pieces, and then a slide show in the back. And the slide show sort of mimics the way Williams originally displayed the work.”
A slide show was how Mendes first encountered Williams, when Williams would set up a projector, show the images and expound upon the many people he met and knew, some famous and some not, but all interesting.
The Asheville, N.C., native studied at Black Mountain College there after stops at Princeton and Chicago’s Institute of Design. At Black Mountain, he founded the Jargon Society, a press that eventually published the words and images of many unknown and outsider artists and authors, some of whom became very well known, including Buckminster Fuller and Howard Finster. The imprint’s best-known and only really profitable book was Ernest Mickler’s White Trash Cooking, published in 1986 with recipes such as cooter pie and okra omelets.
Jargon’s signature was beautifully designed books. The New York Times’ obituary of Williams, who died in 2008, noted that artist Robert Rauschenberg was once engaged by Jargon to illustrate its publication of Joel Oppenheimer’s poem The Dancer.
Jargon’s latest publication is Jones’ Points of Departure, a book of Polaroid photographs of roadside memorials.
Williams is survived by his longtime partner, Thomas Meyer, who wrote the foreword to Jones’ book and worked with Institute 193 on the exhibit.
Williams was an artist in his own right, but one of his most valuable traits was as a catalyst for relationships, Mendes and Jones say.
“He was the straw that stirred the drink,” Mendes says. “He would come to town and introduce Guy Davenport to Gene Meatyard, and they became fast friends for years. He’d introduce the Berrys to Meatyard, or take them all to see Tom Merton.”
Davenport, who wrote the foreword to Williams’ book, was a Lexington writer and artist who died in 2005. Lexington optician Ralph Eugene Meatyard, who died in 1972, was an experimental photographer known for his work with masks.
Mendes had the dual experience of being Williams’ subject and photographing him.
“Jonathan was really excellent at getting people to relax and give of themselves,” says Mendes, whose picture is in the Palpable Elysium book. “He made portrait-making an occasion. It was a fun thing to do: Let’s make some portraits, stand over here, hold this, do that.
“But while it was a fun thing to do, there was also lovely composition, and he had a way to find the right gesture and elicit from them a memorable image.”
The Palpable Elysium book, Mendes says, is a great record of history and a visually compelling book.
The exhibit, Jones says, “dovetails nicely with what we do here at Institute 193, because we deal with publications and bringing to light emerging talents — artists, writers and musicians. That’s very much what the Jargon Society under Williams was.”
Mendes says, “A lot of artists work in a cave and don’t venture out that often and rarely champion another artists. But with Jonathan, part of his reason for living was to bring other artists to light who were obscure or, as he used to say, people that will never be in People magazine.”
“Lina Tharsing’s imagination is matched only by her technical skill,” Chase Martin of Institute 193 writes on the feature page about Tharsing. “Her work is driven by a profound sense of curiosity and a fascination with science, technology, and the natural world. Museum dioramas and found photographs are a few of the many inspirations she renders into line, color, and form.”
Institute 193 founder Phillip March Jones, who Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen wrote about last week, checks in at No. 68, and Lennon Michalski was No. 89.
The artists were nominated by gallery owners, curators, critics and artists. In an interesting twist, Michalski was nominated by Tharsing’s mother, Ann Tower, owner of the Ann Tower gallery on Main Street.
The issue, called “The Visual South” issue, is supposed to be on newsstands until June.
Dec27Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Arts administration, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Christmas music, Classical Music, Country music, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Horsemania, Kentucky Theatre, Laura Bell Bundy, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Secretariat, Singletary Center for the Arts, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Allison Kaiser, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Balagula Theatre, Blake Shelton, Debra Hoskins, Eric Seale, Gustavo Dudamel, Haiti, Institute 193, John Lithgow, La Bohème, Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Art League, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Ouanamithe, Phillip March Jones, ProjectSEE Theartre, Rolling Stones, Scott Terrell, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Stephanie Pevec, Steven A. Hoffman, The Chieftains, Thoroughbred Community Theatre, Tony Bennett, Trombone Shorty, U2, UK Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Lexington’s 2010 year in arts could not have been weirder if you took the city and plopped it in the middle of Florida. Between some major changes at area arts institutions and the unprecedented wave of local and national arts activity prompted by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, it was a year unlike any we have had or will probably see again.
■ While we did not get U2 or the Rolling Stones as WEG organizers had originally hoped, the games did fill up theaters, and in many cases, theater seats during the two weeks and three weekends of the games. Topping the bill was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Norton Center for the Arts. It was a booking that was deemed impossible by New York agents and drew national attention, all made possible by the persistence of for Norton Center assistant managing director Debra Hoskins who smoothed the road with bourbon and chocolate.
The event itself was an unforgettable evening for the audience and a great experience for area musicians and others who got to interact with one of the world’s great orchestras and shining stars.
Other great performances brought in by the Games were an evening with Marvin Hamlisch and the UK Symphony Orchestra, which had a great fortnight playing for the opening ceremonies and a production of La Boheme as well; Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and Laura Bell Bundy at the Spotlight Lexington Festival downtown and performances by Tony Bennett, John Lithgow and the Chieftains.
There is talk of extending both the Spotlight and Alltech Fortnight festivals, which presented the bulk of the entertainment, into the future. But we probably won’t see this level of activity again unless the games come back.
The Games also brought a number of high profile art exhibits to the area including a retrospective of the horse in American art at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the Gift from the Desert look at Arabian horses at the International Museum of the Horse.
■ Scott Terrell was hired as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director in 2009, but this is the year we really started to see his vision for the orchestra unfold, and its reverberations in the community. Unveiling the orchestra’s 2010-11 season, he showed he was willing to break traditions and initiate new collaborations. He presented Messiah is a smaller format than years past and brought groups including local school and college choirs into the Philharmonic fold for performances that broke the orchestral concert mold. He also instituted a new style of concert preview with the Kicked Back Classics event at the Downtown Arts Center in November.
The moves have not come without some friction, which change often produces. There was unhappiness over the Lexington Singers not being part of the Messiah this year, as Terrell wanted to go with a smaller chorus and the Singers did not want to downsize. Enter the Lexington Chamber Chorale as a new collaborator and the Singers presenting their own Messiah in a holiday arts season whose calendar was largely rewritten this year. Precipitated by the changes, the Singers are asserting themselves more as an entity in their own right, un-tethered to the Philharmonic calendar.
How all of this will settle remains to be seen. But it is clear this will be a new Philharmonic under Terrell’s baton.
The orchestra also got a new executive director as Allison Kaiser came over from the same post at the Lexington Art League and Stephanie Pevec took over that post.
■ This was the year without Actors Guild of Lexington. Long regarded as Lexington’s flagship theater for adult audiences, financial troubles and management departures in 2009 all but shuttered the company this year except for one production, a concert version of The Who’s Tommy at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and the new Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater. That said, theater thrived in the area with first rate productions by the Lexington Children’s Theatre and area college and community groups and emergence of some new organizations such as ProjectSEE Theartre and productions out of the Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway. And there were successes such as Balagula Theatre’s strong showing in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention here in Lexington. Actors Guild has announced a lineup of shows for 2011 under the guidance of new artistic director Eric Seale, but the group will be joining an active theater scene.
Some other big stories of the year that is now almost done were:
■ Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts tapped Steven A. Hoffman as its new director, following the departure of longtime director George Foreman to the University of Georgia. With this month’s departure of assistant managing director Debra Hoskins, there has been a complete turnover in management at the Norton Center. This will be a story to watch in 2011.
■ Alltech launched a project sending University of Kentucky voice students to Ouanamithe, Haiti, to launch a music program and form a children’s choir. The choir came to Central Kentucky and made several appearances during the World Equestrian Games.
■ The Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nation’s largest regional theater convention, came to Lexington for the first time in more than 20 years, and by all accounts, it went wonderfully.
■ Secretariat brought some Hollywood glamour back to the Bluegrass, including a gala premier at the Kentucky Theatre attended by star Diane Lane and many others.
■ Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy launched a country music career with her Mercury Nashville debut Achin’ and Shakin’.
■ Horse Mania returned to the streets of Lexington, 10 years after the original edition in 2000.
■ Michael Tick was named the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts.
■ The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville suffered massive flooding during rainstorms in early May, but recovered and went on to a successful season thanks to an army of volunteers.
■ Phillip March Jones’ Institute 193 emerged as a major force in creating and presenting visual arts in Central Kentucky.
■ Among world premiers in Lexington this year were Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View and Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans, by UK Theatre, Beth Kander’s See Jane Quit by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre, Roger Zare’s Geometries by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Frank X Walker’s I Dedicate This Ride at Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the regional premier of Brian Hampton’s The Jungle Fun Room by Studio Players.
One of the things you look out for in beat reporting is names that keep coming up over and over again, that seem to be on everyone’s lips. One that started popping up this year was Phillip March Jones and his Institute 193, which is just about a year old at its Limestone Street location.
For our story in Sunday’s paper about Jones and the Institute, I sent out an email to a few of the folks who had mentioned them too me asking them to share some thoughts about what Jones’ impact on the local art scene had been. Some of their quotes are in the story, but since they took time to tap out thoughtful responses, I wanted to share their ideas in full, here:
Bruce Burris, co-founder of Latitiude
Basically there are a number of reasons to support this innovative gallery. One, it’s an innovative space. Phil has worked hard to transcend the associations and limitations implied within a traditional gallery/artist/community relationship. Additionally phil provides regional artists a shot at connecting to the larger art world.
Guy Mendes, artist
Phillip Jones’ Institute 193 has inherited the mantle from Galerie Soleil as the edgiest, most provocative art space in town. There is much more to the Institute than its 15 by 30-foot* gallery. The Institute lives large, on the web, and in Phillip’s brain, which seems to put in more hours per day than mine does. In one year’s time Phillip has mounted eight exhibits, published five artist books, put on a handful of musical performances in his one-room schoolhouse. Every time I think he’s going to run out ideas I find out he’s way ahead of me, planning a series of projects which collectively he hopes will lead to LCAM, the Lexington Contemporary Art Museum, his big idea for a downtown destination point similar to 21C in Louisville or the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, his plan is to search out local and regional artists, exhibit and publish their work and the spread the word about it to the wider world. Sometime when I try to catch up to Phillip it turns out he’s in Atlanta or Miami or New York, churning the pot, gathering and gleaning, and promoting the artists he has “institutionalized” on North Limestone.
Phillip reminds me of my late friend Jonathan Williams–an artist who seeks out other artists. Jonathan was a poet and publisher (of Jargon Books) from North Carolina who made it his lifelong quest to find interesting artists where they were least expected (which is why he came to Lexington to find Gene Meatyard and Guy Davenport back in the ’70s). Phillip carries on this tradition with energy and intelligence. It’s no wonder that in his own work, Phillip paints his brain; it’s always firing on all cylinders.
Bob Morgan, artist
When you look at what a small organization like institute 193 can accomplish with a very small budget and a few volunteers in one year, the amazing shows and the fresh way of communicating and engaging the public, it is truly a blessing to have them in Lexington. We are also left wondering why a community with such success in fundraising for the arts cannot seem to ever put just a few dollars in to the hands of truly creative people or produce creative programing. It just does not add up! The public can see what is happening but the larger arts organizations are once again sadly in the dark.
Robbie Morgan, arts entrepreneur
I agree with Bob on the point that more money should be given to these kinds of spaces, creative people and ideas in Lexington. We have to have him here. We need the Institute. It and other spaces like it, will push us forward, open up lines of dialog that are just below the surface.
He has scratched it open for us and now I want the Institute to pull at the corners and rip it wide open. Phillip, through the Institute and the artists shown, is pushing us to see ourselves and the community and people around us in a new way and often through works ignored, hidden or just emerging. The Institute gives me something I need. Challenge, beauty, anger, color, light, light, light and a feeling of power and insight and fun.
The Institute creates a dignified space for artists often relegated to the back room or the one deemed crafty or outsider or folk. Instead, what we see at the Institute is the powerful, honest work of artists in our region talking directly back to us, commenting on now, commenting on experience. It gives us a space to speak about things we have been quiet about. HIV, racialized experiences, poverty, consumerism, our American/Southern experience and simply what we feel when engaged in art together. The Institute throws us out of our own navels, pushes us to look out, look elsewhere and find something relational in our own experience.
Through the Institute, I have met people with such a rich story to tell about Lexington and why we are where we are now. It isn’t a story we have heard before. But we need to. I feel rooted in a way I would not have. Because of the Institute.
Phillip’s passion. All you have to do is go to his house to see how excited he is about what these artist’s create, what art can be and how it is important to have in Lexington. He races around, pulling things from his shelves, pulling art out of the closet – in many ways – and talking about this work, the first time he saw that work, that artist and it is exhilarating. He brings this same thing to the work he does at the Institute.
It feels like a living, breathing, growing organism instead of a dusty, old, creaking thing with little relevance to now.
Institute 193 is a one-man operation, which means Philip March Jones has to do everything from curating the art space to cleaning it.
And he notices something when he washes the windows: “You can see prints from people’s faces, their noses and hands,” Jones says.
He doesn’t mind cleaning those prints. It means people are interested in seeing what’s going on in his year-old North Limestone space.
“We’re essentially a public space,” Jones says of the Institute, which sits with a large street-facing window on Limestone, between the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza and Third Street. “When we have a show up, we leave the lights on so people can look in and see what’s happening.”
What’s happening at the Institute has come up regularly in conversations with Lexington artists and arts leaders this year, both for what Jones is doing in his nearly 500-square-foot space and what he is doing outside of it.
The current exhibit is a retrospective of the late Lexington artist Charles Williams, which opened Thursday. It is a collaboration between the Institute, which is showing some of the artist’s smaller pieces, and Land of Tomorrow on Third Street, which is showing larger pieces, including sculptures and a 91/2-foot-tall Batman.
The first Change for Art meter will make its debut on Sept. 3 at Applebee’s Park. The project will utilize retired parking meters, donated by the Lexington Parking Authority, as public art projects that will also collect change to help fund artists and art projects. The first meter was designed by Institute 193 owner and artist Phillip March Jones, who will also throw out the first pitch at the Sept. 3 game vs. the Rome Braves. For more information, visit the Change for Art website or its Facebook page.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich