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The Art of Curating Art

  Art is subjective. Every person who views a piece of artwork will experience different thought and emotions, and everyone will interpret the piece differently. Visiting museums can sometimes be an overwhelming experience for visitors, as the pieces can sometimes make the viewers feel confused, or like they don’t “get” the art. This can be especially stressful for people who do not have extensive experience or knowledge in art. The University of Kentucky Art Museum aims to be a comforting and enjoyable space for museumgoers by providing a quiet, thought-provoking, peaceful area where viewers can experience art that is as diverse as the people viewing it. I asked myself, “How does the museum create a space so accessible and fun for such a diverse array of visitors?” The museum uses architecture, curatorial elements, educational components, and a visitor-focused agenda to make the art in the museum accessible and enjoyable for all viewers (Solberg). 

            I have always enjoyed spending time in art museums. I found the UK Art Museum a particularly relaxing and enjoyable museum, as inside it is cold and generally not crowded. Because I have prior knowledge about art and art history, I find the museum fascinating. However, I wanted to analyze how the museum could still be enjoyable for both people who enjoy art, and for people who find art boring or frustrating. According to Daniel Solberg, the museum’s education coordinator, there are three different types of people who may visit the museum. First, there are people looking for a relaxing, quiet space where they can walk around, clear their heads, and relax. These people usually visit the museum to get their minds off things and allow them to spend some time in a calming environment where they do not have to speak. Second, there are those who truly enjoy art, and are there to observe the art pieces. These people usually have a significant amount of previous art knowledge or experience. Lastly, there are museumgoers who are simply “curious wanderers poking their head in” (Solberg). These visitors are usually people who do not have much prior art knowledge but enjoy trying new things. 

            According to Solberg, there are different elements the museum staff focuses on to appeal to each of these people. For people looking for a contemplative and quiet space, the architecture is most important. Toward those visiting the museum to enjoy the artwork, the curatorial aspect is most aimed. Finally, for the curious people who happen to wander in, the architecture, curation, and visitor agenda working together are all important. 

            When first entering the museum, and instant feeling of serenity overcomes the visitor. The tall ceilings, white, sparsely art-covered walls, low temperature, gift shop, and friendly front desk employee provide the visitor with both comfort and a clear mind. The tall ceilings and open floor plan make for an open space, with few art pieces to be found in a hallway or behind another wall. There are steps and an elevator leading to the second floor, which can partially be seen from the first floor, which makes the space feel even more open. Paintings, prints, and photographs cover the walls and sculptures stand independently, allowing the visitor to look at a piece of art no matter what direction they are facing.


              The museum is extremely quiet, with every step and sound being magnified by the echoey, open first floor. While some visitors may not enjoy the quiet nature of the museum, I find it allows the viewer to remain focused on the art; it allows the visitor to spend time with each piece and contemplate it. This makes walking around the first floor a peaceful experience. The museum is kept cool on the inside, which, according to Solberg, can allow the patron to feel even more comfortable. This use of architecture, temperature control, and layout appeals to the first category of museum goers: people looking to “chill out” (Solberg).

            The museum’s exhibits remain fresh and updated consistently.  According to Solberg, “different agendas change with time and directorship.” Though previous directors have done things differently in the past, the museum’s current director, Stuart Horodner, keeps things interesting and new. The UK Art Museum keeps a rotation of exhibits, alternating between travelling shows, the museum’s permanent collections, and exhibits. It keeps things fresh and up to date, creating culture-relevant exhibits and things the director finds interesting or important. Though things rotate on and off display at the museum, it offers the same thing to guests every time. The same pieces will not always be on display, but the museum will always offer a thoughtful, interesting experience for guests every time they visit. “It’s not the same every time. What we offer as a museum is the same every time, even if it’s not the same works. Otherwise, people keep seeing the same things” (Solberg). This greatly appeals to the second group of people – those who really enjoy looking at art – as well as the third group – the curious wanderers. 

            For example, when the museum premiered the exhibit This is America* in 2020, it displayed various controversial pieces of art as social commentary on the state of America. In a review by for Burnaway Magazine, Natalie Weis states 

            This is America* reflects on a lot of awful things that have happened in our country’s history, some of them very recently. But it also speaks to the artists’ refusal to look away—to their persistent need to not only critically engage with national issues that spark conflict and violence, but also to challenge our assumptions about ideas like identity, justice and freedom. 

This highlights how Horodner has created an environment that is engaging for everyone passing through; while such a controversial topic may not be well-received by all who view it, it shows that the museum is willing to take risks to keep their visitors coming back. Exhibits such as This is America* that provoke the viewers are the types of exhibits that will cause the “curious wanderer” museumgoers to return. While some may believe shocking and controversial exhibits will ward off visitors and stray from the museum’s mission statement, I believe they do exactly the opposite. Visitors that see controversial art will ponder on and think about the art they are seeing, which is exactly what the museum aims to do. 

            These controversial artworks are not only found in political exhibits. The museum’s current exhibit, Coloring, could be considered just as thought-provoking as the political exhibits. Coloring examines how people interact with color and the role color plays in our everyday lives. This exhibit provides the usually white walls of the museum with splashes of color and brightness. I think this is an exhibit that could appeal to any museumgoer, as most people enjoy colorful pieces of art and find it engaging. I enjoyed contemplating how my brain interacts with color while viewing the pieces. This exhibit kept my friends and me engaged from start to finish due to both the order in which the pieces were displayed and the text that accompanies each piece.


            Another way the museum appeals to people from all walks of life is by presenting a vast array of art from a diverse group of artists. Some works displayed in the museum come from well-known artists, while some come from artists less known. Though the museum may be

utilized by people simply looking for something to do or looking for a quiet space, some people may go because they simply enjoy art. For these people, the diverse array of artists is most beneficial. Not only does the museum display art by a wide variety of artists, but it also curates the exhibits that display it in a never-before-seen way. For example, the museum may take “pieces someone could’ve seen next to another piece you haven’t seen” in hopes to create “thematically built conversations” (Solberg). In the art museum right now, there is a small display that presents one artist with extremely bright colors in their artwork and another artist who creates only black and white artwork. By placing these two together, the viewer may think in a new way about the pieces. The artists have never met, but Horodner thought the pieces fit perfectly together to create a visually and thoughtfully interesting exhibit.

            This approach by Horodner has been noticed and praised by both average museumgoers and journalists alike. This can be seen in the article Review: “This is America*” at UK Art Museum by Kevin Nance. Nance states 

            Across the gallery on the facing wall is another striking lineup of works that Horodner has placed together, like the host of a formal dinner with assigned seats at the table, in lively, fruitful, perhaps heated dialogue. To consider John Wesley’s eerily vacant “Portrait of Daniel Boone” (1962) in the same field of vision with Andy Warhol’s “Cowboys and Indians (Sitting Bull)” (1986) is to traverse an art-historical Trail of Tears, the myth of American exceptionalism colliding with the reality (to borrow another Trump phrase, uttered in a different context) of American carnage. 

In Nance’s review, he calls this specific exhibit “an unusually fine art show” (Nance). Because he does reference the unusual combination of specific works being exhibited together, I believe Horodner’s goal of making the exhibits thought-provoking and engaging is achieved through this method of exhibition. 

            The museum not only keeps things fresh and interesting for regular visitors, but also for University of Kentucky students. Solberg, as the museum’s education coordinator, “build(s) supplemental programming to enhance visitor experience in an educational capacity” (Solberg). From hands-on experiences such as museum group tours including educational bits of information to printed materials with interactive games, Solberg creates a space that welcomes learning and promotes students’ enjoyment and learning of the art. The museum is currently in phase one of creating a digital art gallery with officers throughout Kentucky, as they work with interns “researching and developing educational prompts used by people to look into them more deeply and have corresponding ideas” about 20 online art pieces (Solberg). The next phase of this educational goal of the museum will include adding 20 more pieces, and physically installing some of them into the gallery. 


             Because the museum appeals to students, artists, and various other groups of people, I find it to be an accessible community space. The museum is a connecting place for both people in the Lexington community and the University of Kentucky community. Though people visit the museum for a multitude of different reasons, everyone can connect with the art on some level. This connects all people who visit; because people connect with the art, they inherently connect with each other. The museum serves a greater purpose to society than just providing people with a space to view art; it allows patrons of a diverse array of backgrounds to bond over perhaps the only thing they may have in common. Museums are not a space for talking, but that does not make them less of a social space. Even silently, museums allow people to create deep bonds over something they all love: viewing beautiful art. Art is subjective, and everyone will view it differently. However, that provides a beautiful space for a connection to be made between the viewers. The fact that no one person could interpret a piece of art the same way is something the museum embraces and invites. Because of this, community bonds are strengthened, and the museum becomes a perfect example of an unexpected space that connects people and brings everyone together. 

            The museum really achieves its mission of “promot(ing) the understanding and appreciation of art from diverse cultures and historical periods, providing meaningful encounters for audiences of all ages” (UK Art Museum). The once-white, now-colorful walls keep the visitors wanting to wander, no matter the reasons they are visiting the museum. Through both the physical space itself and programs created by coordinators of the museum such as Horodner and Solberg, the museum’s accessibility is cultivated for every person who visits. This space is meaningful to me, and I appreciate how meaningful it can be to all who find themselves there. 

Works Cited

Solberg, Daniel. Personal interview. 19 October 2021.

Nance, Kevin. Review: “This is America*” at UK Art Museum. Undermain Magazine, 23 November 2020.  

Weis, Natalie. “This Is America* at UK Art Museum, Lexington.” Burnaway, 19 January 2021. 

UK Art Museum., Web. 11 November 2021. 

Photograph of the exterior of the UK Art Museum.,

Hale, Whitney. “UK Art Museum is presenting two exhibitions exploring the use of color.”, University of Kentucky, 10 August 2021,

Rideout, Alan. “Installation view of This is America* at UK Art Museum, Lexington, including Alix Pearlstein and Suzanne McClelland’s A DRESS/Address, right.”, 19 January 2021,

the_art_museum-Art Museum entrance Dev image.jpg

The exterior of the University of Kentucky Art Museum


The UK Art Museum's exhibit Coloring, the exhibit I observed. 


Some works from The UK Art Museum's exhibit This is America*.

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