Museum Row will add to its growing collection of galleries when Moremen Gallery opens its doors at 710 W. Main St. on Saturday. It’s located on the second floor of one of those beautiful cast-iron-fronted buildings that make the West Main district of downtown so distinctive.
The gallery is a refined vision from Susan Moremen, formerly of Moremen Moloney Contemporary.
In September 2016, Moremen and interior designer Susan Moloney Byrd decided to partner up and follow a longtime shared interest in art. Located in a house Moloney owned in Butchertown, Moremen Moloney was just a two-minute walk away from the Butcher Block, a row of eight historic houses that were renovated and turned into hip businesses and restaurants like Hi-Five Doughnuts and Pho Ba Lu.
Moremen invited Insider to see the new space on West Main in advance of its opening, and she spoke with us about looking back and forward in her journey in the art world.
“We did it a bit on a whim,” recalled Moremen.
Moremen Moloney featured mostly Louisville-based artists who were active on the national scene, artists like Carlos Gamez de Francisco, Miguel Angel Salvo, Michael Madzo, Emily Momohara and Ron Porter.
After two years, Moloney Byrd was ready to return her focus to interior design, but Moremen decided she wanted to go all in as a gallery owner and curator. It was a perfect time for a location change as well, as Moloney Byrd was selling the house in Butchertown.
While the new owners invited Moremen to stay, that space wasn’t necessarily the perfect fit.
“The big problem there was no foot traffic,” she said. “I think it has a big upside because there’s so much going on in Butchertown.”
Combined with the fact that there were some peculiarities with zoning that limited signage and the building needed a new roof, which would leave the gallery out of operation for nine months, Moremen decided to relocate.
Enter noted art lovers and former 21c Museum Hotel founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson.
“I talked with a couple of people, and Steve Wilson was one of them,” explained Moremen. “We were just kicking around ideas … and he said he and Laura Lee (Brown) were talking and said, ‘Why doesn’t she take the space on the second floor?’ ”
The space on the second floor is in a building Brown and Wilson own and the location of their offices. The second floor of 710 W. Main St. is a temporary home for Moremen Gallery, which will move to another suite in the same building in early 2019, when 21c moves its offices onto the second floor.
The layout of the gallery reflects its former and future use, but it works surprisingly well for a gallery. As one moves down the hallways, also adorned with art, the individual offices give pieces of art their own space in which to breathe.
It’s easy to see why Moremen jumped at the opportunity to set up shop on the second floor, and the appeal of the address isn’t difficult to decode either.
In her two years on the business end of loving art, Moremen has learned a lot.
“I am not schooled in this. I was in marketing and strategic planning. I just liked art and I thought it would be fun,” she said. “So I had to start paying attention and using my eye. I still like the stuff I like, but I realized, when you have a gallery, you have to sell art. When you’re collecting for a museum or a personal collection, you can’t find things that just you like. And it’s taken me a lot of going to see artists and making mistakes.”
According to Moremen, some people who are very serious about contemporary art trends are just fine with the off-putting experiments of the avant-garde, but many people aren’t looking for something abrasive.
“People who just want contemporary art? They’d like to live with it … you’re happy to look at it every day,” she said.
But she believes art still needs to be engaging.
“It can provoke conversation, dialogue,” Moremen explained. “I think if you have people in your house and you have art that people want to talk about, it changes the conversation in a room. They don’t talk about each other and where they went to high school.”
Despite saying that she had to somewhat divorce her personal taste from what she thinks can actually sell to art lovers, she still has a very clear affection for Matthew Metzger, the first artist being shown at Moremen Gallery.
We spent almost an hour wandering through the gallery, taking in each of the paintings. In front of one large canvas, Moremen relayed her approach to looking at an art exhibition, particularly paintings.
“First, you stand back from all of the (paintings) and say, ‘Where’s my eye keep going?’ Even if you’re in a room full of Renaissance paintings, your eye goes to something,” she said. “Then walk up and look at the detail. See what didn’t you see before. The lace on a dress? The shadow on a face?”
The next step, added Moremen, is to really spend some time with the really fine details.
“Then look at one area. Look at the brush strokes. How the paint was put on the canvas, the texture. Then, stand back from it, and you start to see it differently — much more alive, more detail than you saw before.”
Metzger’s paintings provide an excellent opportunity to apply this advice. His process includes making his own paint, mixing in limestone, marble, slate, iron, titanium, clays and minerals with oil and egg.
His colors are uniquely his own even before he uses them to produce landscapes that are layered so deeply with a mix of dark colors that it can take several moments to even identify if it’s land, sky or sea. Just looking at them, the dark palette he uses begins to engulf the viewer, and the colors change from black to blue or gray.
In addition to his paintings, Metzger works in sculptures that, at first glance, share only the dark palette. But Metzger wants the sculptures to be seen as figures placed inside the landscapes of his paintings. The combination of the two is quite stunning.
Moremen Gallery opens its doors to the public on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 6-8 p.m. with “New Paintings and Sculptures by Matthew Metzger.” The exhibit continues through Oct. 12. Regular hours are 1-4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, or by appointment.