21C Museum Hotel
700 W. Main Street
By Sharon Scott

Without much warning Louisville has become home to the first and only American museum of 21st Century Art. Still in its gentile infancy, 21C opened to the public in March. It is one part hotel one part museum. Providing excellent options for art, food, and escape-- 21C is injecting high does of cosmopolitan into the aging veins of downtown. The new complex on the corner of 7th and Main is the first in an impressive list of urban renewal projects from Louisville art patrons Laura-Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. Earlier this year Brown and Wilson announced plans to build Museum Plaza, a 61 story skyscraper combining commerce with contemporary art. From realistic portraits to sculptural performances, the new 21C Museum promises something for everyone.

According to William Morrow, Director of the 21C Museum Foundation, the museum will introduce new exhibitions every three months. The current plan is to host thematic exhibitions in the upper gallery and curate work from the Brown/Wilson collection in the lower galleries.

The 21C Museum is open 24 hours and the space is always inviting. The spectrum of art in the two current exhibitions Looking Now and Hybridity is exquisitely balanced. Within these sister exhibitions, many whimsical pieces including ostrich costumes by Guy Ben-Ner and armies of plastic penguins by Cracking Art are on display. The present exhibition also includes somber pieces such as Yinka Shonibare’s Dorian Gray and Slater Bradley’s I Hate Myself and Want to Die. While Anthony Luensman’s Singing and Ringing Chandelier eventually becomes annoying, Jennifer Steinkamp’s DVD projection Dervish 3 and Ned Kahn’s Aeolian Landscape are perfectly inspiring.

Kara Kostiuk is an Art History Graduate Student at University of Louisville who will begin her Doctorate this fall. She was delighted by the current exhibition Hybridity: The Evolution of Species and Spaces in Twenty-First Century Art at the 21C Museum. She said the show exposes “a myriad of myths and ideologies in which we are entrenched--if not overwhelmed. ” Kostiuk said Hybridity “is among the most intelligent, provocative, and stunning exhibitions that I have seen in years.”

In addition to hosting formal exhibitions, the hotel also commissions site-specific work from international artists to fill corridors, bathrooms, and outdoor spaces. Visitors should look for art in every inch of the hotel. Virgil Marti recently transformed one of the basement rooms into a black light lounge in which according to Morrow makes “Gin and Tonics glow in the dark.” New York City Architect Deborah Burke was in charge of renovating five historic buildings to house the complex.

In many unfolding ways, the 21C building is a work of art. Exposed brick, reclaimed wood, and other structural elements of the original buildings are attractively visible throughout 21C. Burke successfully incorporated the historic interest of the buildings with advanced architectural technologies.

Although she works for a hotel, Lilly Park spends the majority of her day in an art museum. According to Park, hospitality takes on a whole new meaning at 21C. “We move the penguins around everyday” she said, “the guests seem to have fun with that.”

Jenita Terzic of 21C guest services agrees that the response to the art within the museum has been overwhelmingly positive. “The interactive pieces are the most popular,” she said “people enjoy participating with the art.” Placing contemporary art in a hotel can be risky. If the work is too controversial it may drive guests away.

If it is too safe it may disappoint the expectations of art enthusiast. Terzic said there have only been a couple of instances in which more conservative patrons felt uncomfortable with the art. “It comes with the territory.” Park conceded, “We are showing things people haven’t been exposed too before.” The boutique hotel contains 90 rooms that are indulgent in every fashion. Modernist couches, silky sheets, and delicious soaps provide top-notch luxury. The architecture of each room is unique as are its furnishings. Besides the usual amenities, 21C rooms include custom filled i-pods, flat screen TV’s, and sterling silver julep cups. Some rooms overlook the downtown streets while others face a quiet atrium that provides soft light to the center of the complex.

The hotel also features an exceptional restaurant called Proof on Main. The featured cuisine is American with Italian highlights. The Bison burger is an affordable menu selection and the Braised Rabbit is a more extravagant choice. The desert tray is absolutely romantic. The bar at Proof is keeping downtown up late with diverse music and swanky patrons of all ages.

For more information visit www.21cmuseumhotel.com