I can’t wait to pass through Louisville next month on my cross-country drive to LA. From the archives, here are some of the reasons why I like the place so much…

(Hint: it has a lot to do with the hotel.)

January 2007

I pulled up to my hotel in Louisville and proceeded to circle the block, twice, unconvinced that the foreboding stone building with three-foot-high red plastic penguins lining the roof was anything but a toy factory, given the world’s largest baseball bat resting against the Louisville Slugger factory on the next block. But no. 21c Museum Hotel is just that — every piece of furniture, from light fixtures to coffee tables, is installation art. When you walk in, you’re met with a video of two people sleeping being projected on the concrete floor, life size. It’s disarming because, given the subjects’ state, they almost never move. You think you’re looking at a projected still image. One sleeper flipped over while I was checking in, and I jumped! The elevator was even better. In the image below, you can see that there’s a camera in the middle of the wall facing me, recording, and that the image of me is getting projected on the same wall. Then, “behind” the projection of the people, emitted from the same projector, are letters that descend from the top of the projection to the bottom. By moving around in front of the camera, your projected self affects the letters’ movements. Look at the person’s arm and the projection of it– the letters are collecting on the projection of the arm like fallen leaves. It’s in the top 5% of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how this works. And all while waiting for the elevator!

I ate dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Proof on Main, as it was just featured in Food + Wine magazine for its wine list, and even brussel sprouts were exciting. Waiting for the elevator, I began to chat up an employee and a man in a suit. I was just gushing–per usual–and the employee looked thoroughly amused. When I got off the elevator with the older gentleman, he asked about my job, and I told him about our program, and how lucky I am to travel like this. “Oh,” he said. “I have a lot of family that went to Virginia! Great school.” I thanked him and asked what brought him to Louisville. He grinned. “I own this hotel.”

Before I left, I drove by Churchill Downs, bought a souvenir from the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and watched glassblowers at the Louisville Glassworks. If you’ve been noticing a trend across America of animal sculptures painted by local artists, Louisville’s got horses covered.


July 2007

I flew in to Nashville and immediately set off for Louisville by car. It was late when I pulled in to the 21C Museum Hotel, and I was beside myself. Some of the installation pieces are permanently displayed but art in the lobby and restaurant had been replaced. One exhibit was a film of a ritual of adolescent schoolboys baptizing each other–they went from their prep school attire to undershirts and boxers, I do remember that –- and I believe there was blood involved. Stills from the film were blown up and displayed in the restaurant. The other exhibit was simply a collection of modified stuffed deer. One head was wearing black vinyl and zippers, a nod to bondage and perhaps bestiality, and a full doe body was covered in red lacquer, resting on a deer fur blanket. Again, beside myself. If you’re going to kill a deer, you might as well eat it AND make art from it.

Sexy deer

Sexier deer

Art from the film, displayed in Proof on Main

I got some work out of the way and dressed for dinner– Proof on Main, naturally. My server warmed up to me, and by the time I’d ordered my appetizer, he was all but sitting opposite me at my table, telling me about the gay scene and what he goes for in men (polished, a bit kinky). I have no idea how I get into these conversations, but I am so glad for this trait. For my appetizer, he talked me into boiled octopus. It was more along the lines of Tuscan than Kentuckian, and I recall fennel, sea salt, and lemon being in the picture. It was very, very good.

After a productive morning of meetings, I decided to reroute my trip back to Nashville to do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Honestly, I just wanted to go to Maker’s Mark. That was it. I do not even care for bourbon, but I needed a more exciting route than the one I’d taken there. It was a gray day, and slow going. I happened across Jim Beam and stopped to see the compound of old and new structures. A family with teenagers was taking a cigarette break out front– yes, the teenagers too. I skipped the tour and cringed my way through a couple of tastings, then set off again for Maker’s Mark. At the time, I was using directions I’d printed off from the website. At the time of writing this, directions and an address are not on the website at all! To make a long story short, it was a long drive with an important road absent from the directions entirely. When I finally arrived in a vicious rainstorm, I did a double-take at the sign: “You’ve just found the home of Maker’s Mark.” Then, when I told the manager that the directions were wrong, he just shrugged and said something along the lines of, “But you found it!” If it’s a trick, it is a very frustrating and clever one. I dipped my own bottle of Maker’s in the red wax. Before I left, I asked the man for directions back to Nashville. He handed me a slip of typed directions.

This time, a major highway was missing.

“You just found the home of Maker’s Mark”

May 2008

The Louisville Eccentric Observer ran a cover story that hit free newsstands when I arrived about the city’s identity. It opens:

The hokey, mule-brained yarns about Louisville’s identity are rarely in short supply.
We’re a big city with a small-town feel.
We’re Southern but we’d rather not talk about the sordid history of that because, you know, we were neutral in the Civil War, right? Right?
We’re a polite Midwestern city, but who wants to be Midwestern? Seriously.
A few lines further in the list, “We’re Possibility City. Uh-huh.”

That is, if you’re open to it.

When I arrived at 8 on Thursday night, I literally squealed when I saw the city skyline, turning a bend on 64 west, and I was surprised that this was my involuntary reaction. It could be the relief of being in city 6 of 6, but I think it had to do with 21C. I’ve written about the city once, twice, and both times I stayed at 21C Museum Hotel and ate at Proof on Main. The hotel is an exhibition space for contemporary installation art, sculpture, video, and photography, and I’ve always been intrigued by the red penguin faux-tattoos in various places on staff members’ bodies, wrists and necks in particular, that could only be inspired by red plastic penguin statues that line the building exterior and guard corners within. This was already my favorite hotel in the world for a thousand reasons. It’s so me.

“She smokes?” I commented to the concierge when I checked in. A real-time video installation of a sleeping couple is projected on the floor in real-size in front of the concierge, and I think it’s several hours before the loop resets–after all, they are sleeping. The woman in the video was lighting a cigarette when I arrived, and I think it’s interesting that I felt like I’ve known the couple for a year and was surprised I didn’t know she smoked.

Bouncing off the walls

More photos…

Zen walls in the 21C

Installation art piece

Neon forest mural, in blacklight

Even the TV offered art as programming. The bigscreen (suspended from the ceiling in front of exposed red brick walls) turns on to this experimental video, which runs in a loop

A view of the room, and me in my powersuit in it

The elevator installation art piece

Thomas Jefferson looking across the river

That horse is completely sequined

Fourth Street Live, a commercial district

World’s biggest bat at the Slugger factory