Arts & Culture

UK Art Museum, Theatre Team Up on New Plays Inspired by Ralph Eugene Meatyard

headshot photos of Kara Lee Corthron and Silas House
photo of "Untitled" image of man with reflected glass in front of face by Ralph Eugene Meatyard

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 18, 2018) With a vision and process all his own, Lexington transplant Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972) created enigmatic photographs featuring friends and family members posed in abandoned places, often wearing masks or enacting symbolic gestures.

In celebration of his vision, University of Kentucky Art Museum has mounted an exhibition of not only Meatyard’s work in “Stages for Being,” but also work inspired by Meatyard from fellow artists across various mediums. As part of “Downstage from Meatyard,” the museum is displaying examples of work by visual artists impacted by the noted photographer, as well as newly-commissioned plays, performance art, music and a panel discussion.

Beginning this weekend, the museum in partnership with the UK Department of Theatre and Dance will present three performances of two 20-minute plays by award-winning playwrights Kara Lee Corthron and Silas House.

UK Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner worked with Herman D. Farrell III, associate professor of theatre, to commission the plays. "We thought that by commissioning new works to be performed/presented at the museum, we could expand the ways that a legendary photographer’s work could be understood, appreciated and claimed,” Horodner said. “Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s precise and evocative imagery is open to multiple interpretations and uses. Our colleagues in the Department of Theatre and Dance have really risen to the occasion, and our collaboration is exactly what is most exciting about making this exhibition at our research-driven university.”

Farrell agreed, “I thought that Silas House and Kara Lee Corthron, two wonderful writers who hail from Appalachia and have examined that world in their work might be particularly inspired by Meatyard and in particular this amazing exhibition that Stuart and the UK Art Museum were putting together.”

In “Happy House,” Corthron explores how a house can hold so much — furniture, folks, mysteries, memories, fire and fury — that sometimes it feels like it's about to burst. Other times, it might just — deflate. With this production, audiences are invited to come sit a spell and decide about the feel of this here “Happy House.”

“When I first encountered Meatyard's work, I was struck by its starkness. The images felt alive, but not in a typical way. They felt haunted. The inhabitants of these images lived in shadow, blur or disguise. Removing the distortion and discovering some of the real, vulnerable people, who might be populating these photos was an exciting challenge,” said Corthron, a member of New Dramatists who has premiered work at Kansas City Rep, Know Theatre of Cincinnati and New Georges in New York City.

“Happy House” will feature theatre and English freshman Katy Rucker, of Lexington; theatre sophomore Carson Latham, of Florence, Kentucky; theatre junior Maeada King, of Vine Grove, Kentucky; and Lexington actor Meredith Crutcher.

In House’s “False Face,” a young man traumatized by both explosive and quiet events, tells his story — at least what he wants us to know of it — by exploring the nature of fear and the lack of nuanced thought in contemporary society. 

A fan of Meatyard’s photography, House was excited to take on the commission. “I’ve been fascinated by Meatyard‘s work for a long time but doing this play allowed me to really articulate what is so mesmerizing about his photos. They’re weird and even scary but also display vulnerability and tenderness in a very moving way. I tried to use those four factors as my main inspiration while crafting the play.”

“False Face” features UK Theatre and Dance alumnus Josiah Correll, of Lancaster, Kentucky, alongside King and Rucker.

The cast and crew are excited to bring these new works to the stage. "Ralph Eugene Meatyard's photographs are visceral, haunting, and revealing; these are all key ingredients for exciting drama. This collaboration with the UK Art Museum and team of theatre artists has been exhilarating, and it has been an honor to bring Meatyard's evocative subjects to life,” said Peter Allen Stone, director of both plays and assistant professor of theatre UK.

Helping Stone stage the new works is Professor Nelson Fields, the costume designer, and theatre and arts administration senior John Thomas Priar, of Owensboro, Kentucky, who is serving as the stage manager.

“Happy House” and “False Face” will be presented on an installation crafted by Tony Hardin, chair of the UK Department of Theatre and Dance and associate professor for scenic design. The three performances will take center stage at the museum:

  • 6:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21;
  • 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21; and
  • 2-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.

In addition to the theatrical performances, the museum will also present three other events inspired by Meatyard’s work. In October, a panel discussion titled “Meatyard as Model” will examine the artist’s photography from the perspectives of Tony Hardin, chair of the UK Department of Theatre and Dance; Rebecca Gayle Howell, author and poetry editor of Oxford American; and Daniel Vivian, chair of the UK Department of Historic Preservation.

The panel, moderated by UK Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner, will begin 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, in the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall.

Rae Goodwin, artist and director of UK School of Art and Visual Studies Studio Foundations program, will present “veiled-tender-presence-afar.” Inspired by the proximity and yet seemingly vast distance portrayed between the family members in Meatyard’s photographs, Goodwin will perform for the first time with her partner, Chris Riegert, and his two sons, Evan and Griffin Riegert, on the Hindu holiday, Divali. This slow work remarks upon time, tenderness and emotional remove. The performance art continues Goodwin’s work focused on intimacy and interaction, and the audience will become critical in the experience.

Goodwin will perform 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7.

As the exhibitions draw to a close, UK Art Museum will present a special concert by the Price Hill Duo. Cincinnati-based musician Jordana Greenberg performs original songs (vocals, violin and guitar) including a commissioned composition based on Meatyard’s photographs. She is joined by Laura Jekel, her Price Hill Duo partner, for new arrangements of classical piano works. The two are teaching artists at MYCincinnati, a free youth orchestra program in the Price Hill neighborhood and are principal string players in Queen City Opera.

The Price Hill Duo concert will begin 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8.

All events and exhibitions are free and open to the public.

The UK Art Museum, located in the Singletary Center for the Arts at Rose Street and Euclid Avenue, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free but donations are encouraged. 

The mission of the UK Art Museum, part of the UK College of Fine Arts, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of art to enhance the quality of life for people of Kentucky through collecting, exhibiting, preserving and interpreting outstanding works of visual art from all cultures. Home to a collection of more than 4,800 objects including American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and sculpture, the museum presents both special exhibitions and shows of work from its permanent collection.