A look at the new Proof on Main dining room | Courtesy of 21c
A look at the new Proof on Main dining room | Courtesy of 21c

21c Museum Hotel is celebrating 10 years this year, and what better way to showcase a decade of bringing modern art to Louisville than to let world-renowned artists completely transform the bar and dining areas of Proof on Main? The Los Angeles-based artists go by the name of Fallen Fruit, and they’ve created an immersive exhibit that tells the stories of Louisville’s past, present and future.

It’s truly an exhibit you must see for yourself. The once-subdued bar is now awash in vivid colors of red and blue, and historic pictures of people, places and things reveal and revel in stories of our city’s past. When Fallen Fruit embarks on a new project, they sink themselves into a place and come out with their own impression of it.

“Fallen Fruit’s immersion into the people and places that have shaped this community reveals a multitude of stories and connections in a visually dazzling and profoundly genuine expression of place making,” says 21c chief curator Alice Gray Stites in a press release. “21c is proud to have commissioned an ambitious project that is truly locally engaged and globally connected.”

A collage by Fallen Fruit | Courtesy of 21c
A collage by Fallen Fruit | Courtesy of 21c

Upon first glance, the artwork seems lively and playful. But, as Stites explains, the images and collages represent a much deeper theme.

“The installation addresses a universal aspect of the human condition, hunger — to be fed, to be seen, to belong, to be loved,” she explains. “The persistence of these desires fosters the continuity of ritual: The practices of everyday life don’t really change — we eat, drink, we talk, we congregate and celebrate in ways that would be recognizable to our forbears at least a century ago — these acts retain meaning and promise.”

Stites tells Insider she first met Fallen Fruit members David Burns and Austin Young at an artists retreat last year in New York. She was with 21c founders Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, and Wilson suggested the artists transform the restaurant and bar.

“Everyone involved agreed that Steve’s idea to offer the restaurant space to Fallen Fruit was both fitting for the kind of art they produce and an incredible way to honor the 10th anniversary of 21c and Proof on Main in Louisville,” she says.

Burns and Young started their research on Louisville in January, poring through both physical and online archives. They ended up using objects and images from the Carnegie Center for Art and History; the Indiana Room at the New Albany Public Library; University of Louisville; the Filson Historical Society; and additional materials were made available by the Library of Congress and by individual members of the community, including Brown, Wilson, Emily Bingham, David Williams and others.

Portraits of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson are part of the exhibit. | Photo by Sara Havens
Portraits of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson are part of the exhibit. | Photo by Sara Havens

“It is the combination of being specific and thorough that we have learned makes for the best palette for images and objects,” the artists tell Insider. “While we are looking and reading and learning, the project gains its clarity and weight.”

The content they chose spans several generations — from the mid-1800s to present day — and many of the pieces were once a part of people’s homes. Personal photos or objects that may have meant one thing to somebody now take on a different context when arranged in the space.

“We are excited about the personal objects from Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson we installed as a portrait of them in the Private Dining Room,” say Burns and Young. “Also, the incredible images from Emily Bingham, Bill Carner, John Lair and David Williams’ archives of gay sub-culture in Louisville from the 1930s through 1990s. Some of the found objects in the West Dining Room are also special to us as artists — these we discovered in thrift stores and discarded along sidewalks, and many of them are culturally challenging and historically important.”

Random or relevant? | Courtesy of 21c
Random or relevant? | Courtesy of 21c

The selection of each photograph, wall treatment and object is deliberate, and even if something looks out of place, it was carefully chosen to create contrast and spark conversation.

“The artwork intimately explores the boundary of what is ‘public’ and what is ‘private,'” they explain. “There are moments in life we share communally, often regionally and sometimes generationally, that are meant to be celebrated, shared and remembered. These moments may be discovered in the mundane or hidden away in archives for future generations.”

And that’s where Fallen Fruit comes in.

“We are interested in the idea of the public, citizenship and community, and how everyday people are poets and scribes and artists and documentarians as much as they are strangers, neighbors and friends. As artists, we realize it is not one particular story that tells the truth about a place. Instead, we believe community is formed by many different people’s stories, and collectively, these stories about place and people form the cultural bonds we celebrate and honor through local traditions and more.”

A look at the bar area of Proof on Main | Courtesy of 21c
A look at the bar area of Proof on Main | Courtesy of 21c

“Fallen Fruit: The Practices of Everyday Life” opens May 19, with the artists scheduled to talk along with Stites from 6-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Because the exhibit was so immersive and required a tremendous amount of work, it will be up for two years.

Also opening Thursday at the museum is “21c at 10: A Global Gathering,” which celebrates a decade of art collection and features pieces from many of the exhibits that have been held throughout that time.

21c is located at 700 W. Main St.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."