LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 12, 2018) — Two nationally recognized artists, Karyn Olivier and Bethany Collins, will travel to the University of Kentucky this month to present concepts for art to be featured in two vaulted spaces in the vestibule of Memorial Hall. As part of their visits, Olivier and Collins will give a talk on their proposals 3 p.m., March 20 and 29, at Memorial. Both presentations are free and open to the public.
Olivier and Collins’ proposals are the final selections in a process of seeking artworks from artists across the U.S. by the UK Memorial Hall Art Committee, who are looking for site-specific installations that will establish a rich aesthetic and conceptual dialogue with the building itself and the mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon that occupies a large wall in the main lobby. Over the years, the O’Hanlon mural has been one of many topics in several important discussions on inclusion.
O’Hanlon’s mural has stirred a range of responses. On one hand, it is recognized as a unique document of a time in U.S. history when the government engaged artists to create ambitious acts of American storytelling — Public Works of Art Project, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. On the other, some argue that the mural misrepresents and sanitizes the imagery of the time it depicts. In doing so, it failed to declare the immorality of slavery and instead minimized the violence and inhumanity that many experienced through subjugation and slavery.
In commissioning new artworks for Memorial Hall, the committee is re-imagining the challenge taken up by O’Hanlon in 1934: to depict Kentucky’s evolution from a frontier state to a modern Commonwealth. As part of that charge, the artists may interpret the complex realities of Kentucky and the United States today.
The committee is looking for works that:
- engage issues of history, race, identity, culture, and diversity;
- exemplify a strong concept and skillful use of materials; and
- contribute to an inclusive educational environment.
“No single artwork will address all of the ideas and emotions that people have about the mural at Memorial Hall. What we want is a thoughtful new work that can expand the conversation about the legacies of Kentucky and the United States, and for something commissioned in 2018 to address the complexities of identity and place in the past as well as the present,” said Stuart Horodner, co-chair of the committee and director of the UK Art Museum.
Karyn Olivier will present her proposal to the public from 3-4:40 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, in Memorial. Collins’ public presentation of her proposal will be the following week from 3-4:40 p.m. Thursday, March 29, in Memorial. Both talks will be followed by a Q&A.
In addition to their presentations, the artists will meet with the committee, faculty and students, as well as tour Memorial Hall. They will also have lunch with several African-American students who originally met with President Eli Capilouto and university officials in December 2015 to present a list titled “African/African-American Student Concerns on Racial Climate.” Included in the list of 18 concerns was no. 14 “Racist mural in Memorial Hall.”
“This is an important step forward in building and sustaining an inclusive campus community,” said Terry Allen, committee co-chair and associate vice president for Institutional Equity. “The O’Hanlon mural in Memorial Hall has greeted thousands of students and guests visiting the facility for over 80 years. Our goal is to provide a proper context for the artwork, to tell a complete story. We are hopeful for broad campus participation during the visits of these artists, and value the feedback of every individual.”
Individuals wishing to share their ideas on the art presentations are encouraged to email the committee at MemHallArtCom@uky.edu by midnight, March 30.
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