Monday, February 23, 2009

21c in Louisville

Cracking Art, Red Penguin (2005)

This weekend a friend and I went to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit a mutual friend of ours from high school. I'd never been to Louisville before (or Kentucky for that matter) and, to be quite honest, didn't have the best impression of the city going into the weekend. But perhaps the one thing that I love the most is dispelling my preconceived notions (which are probably sometimes more appropriately classified as prejudices) about a place.

If you had asked me prior to my visit what I thought of when I thought of Kentucky, I would've rattled off the Kentucky Derby, bourbon, KFC and -- I'll admit it -- rednecks. And sure, all those elements (yes, even rednecks) exist in the state, but there's a lot more there than I'm sure most of us outsiders give it credit for. Louisville struck me as a smaller version of Austin with its thriving art scene and abundance of college students. And (unlike Austin), Louisville has some amazing historic architecture with neighborhood after neighborhood of beautiful Victorian homes.

But, if I had to select my favorite thing about Louisville -- its "best of the best", so to speak -- I think would have to say it's 21c, a hotel/restaurant/modern art museum.

Abbas Kiarostami, Sleepers (2001)

Per 21c's website, 21c Museum Hotel is "the first of its kind-a 90-room hotel dedicated to world class luxuries, Southern-style hospitality and contemporary art from living artists". Featuring a 9,000 square foot contemporary art museum funded and managed by the International Contemporary Art Foundation in the hotel's lobby, 21c is a "can't miss" for any art lover. The hotel features a permanent collection which includes the Red Penguins that are featured (and constantly rotated) throughout the hotel, Sleepers, a DVD projection on the floor right in front of the reception desk, and -- my personal favorite -- Text Rain, an interactive video projection by the elevators.

Camille Utterback & Romy Achituv, Text Rain (1999)

While Lauren and I stayed at Kristin's house during our visit to Louisville, I certainly wouldn't mind spending the night at 21c. The guest rooms look just as modern and fun as the lobby. I also love how bright these rooms are, it's such a refreshing change from the dark, dark interiors found in many boutique hotels.

After perusing the lobby, we sat down to a wonderful dinner at 21c's restaurant Proof on Main. The modern art theme continues from the lobby into the restaurant and bar, where permanent installations and rotating exhibits by contemporary artists' works are featured prominently throughout around the restaurant. Some of my personal favorites:

Vee Speers, Untitled #16 (from Birthday Party series) (2007)

Bae Bien-U, Sonamu SNM1A-014V (2002)

Larry Shank, Randy, 2005

Johnson Foster, Zebra Trophy (2005)

We ended up eating dinner at a table right under the woven leather zebra pictured above. The menu is predominately Italian, but with a hearty sprinkling of Southern foods (think grits) thrown in for good measure. For dinner I had the yellow fin tuna crudo, a half order of the butternut risotto (which was absolutely delicious!) and we all split the vanilla pudding cake topped with bourbon-soaked cherries (again, amazing). The restaurant also has a great assortment of unique cocktails. But best of all? Because it's located in Kentucky and not New York, Proof is extremely well priced: my share of a three-course meal, a bottle of wine, and round of cocktails came out to only around $55.

After having such a great experience at 21c in Louisville, I was very excited to discover that 21c will be opening up a second 21c in downtown Austin, Texas, which will also feature residential units in addition to the hotel and museum. I think 21c will be a perfect addition to Austin's very hip art scene and can't wait to spend a long weekend there once the project is completed in 2011.


Patch said...

This place looks fabulous. I love the red penguins, remind me of gummi bears. If I ever make it to Louisville I will have to check it out.

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