Mo McKnight Howe had some things working in her favor when she took over the Revelry art gallery and boutique on Barret Avenue. All the hard work of starting the business had been done by its founder, Paula Weyler. It had a prime location next to Regalo and Lynn’s Paradise Café. And McKnight Howe’s husband was working in commercial real estate, ensuring their bills could get paid. But then big things started to change.
Weyler decided to move away, meaning McKnight Howe, a recent Hite Art Institute graduate who had been helping with curating while also building her career as a photographer, had to buy her out to continue. Then Lynn’s famously closed without warning.
“When Lynn’s closed, it was a year of … just awfulness,” McKnight Howe says. She tried to stay positive while talking with neighboring businesses about how to survive, but the revival never happened. “The tourists weren’t coming anymore, and that’s what was driving the business,” she says. Tourists had wanted unique local items, a Revelry specialty, but now they weren’t visiting Barret without Lynn’s.
McKnight Howe decided to gamble and relocate to NuLu, where her rent is triple what it had been less than 2 miles away. “I didn’t want to let local artists down. Some of them depend on a paycheck from me.” Since moving, “It’s just been … awesome!” she says. “So amazing. The hardest part of being down here now is keeping up with inventory.”
Her roster is heavy on young, developing artists whose works are more affordable than expected, giving first-time buyers a chance to take home something local and original, as opposed to having to shop for art at Target, McKnight Howe notes. But she has also worked in some well-established names from an older generation, like Julius Friedman and Bob Lockhart, achieving a balance of serious artists coming from very different perspectives.
To celebrate another year – the first successful year – McKnight Howe gambled again and went after a favorite artist (and childhood friend of her older brother), sculptor Matt Weir.
Now 34, Weir has swiftly risen to the top of Louisville’s art world. He had walked back in to his old school at 26 to propose a sculpture for their grounds, and won the chance to make his St. Xavier High tiger, “Panthera tigris,” completed in 2008. He returned to document their founding Xaverian brothers. His most recent major commission, “Earth Measure,” was unveiled at Bernheim Forest last October.
But he’s got some different ideas for his Revelry show, “The New Synthesis.” It’s his smallest solo show in several years, though his Indiana limestone-based creations are still relatively massive.
A themed collection of sculptures and drawings connected by scientific and philosophically based notions about the natural world and its unpredictability, “The New Synthesis” (whose title was taken from E.O. Wilson’s writings on evolution and conservation) includes works made in seemingly contradictory mediums. Carved limestone and 3D prints coexist, the former in two architectural “Saddle Point” creations and the latter, the figurative “FLOP,” being much smaller but no less integral to the story being told by Weir – “abstract yet realistic synchronicity,” he calls it. All of his work is figurative, essentially, he says, because it all comes back to human behavior.
Then there are the clouds, presented on vellum. “I am a member of the International Cloud Spotters Society,” Weir reveals with a nervous laugh, almost but not really embarrassed at the unexpected announcement. The membership was a gift from a fellow artist whom he “introduced to clouds.” “I’m passionate about clouds through scientific perspective,” he clarifies. “Isn’t that funny to say, ‘I’m passionate about clouds’?”
“I think of him as a high-end artist who wouldn’t even consider a boutique-slash-gallery,” McKnight Howe says. “I was so humbled and excited” when Weir accepted her invitation to present his latest works. “He’s so philosophical and cerebral. Everything he makes comes with so much meaning and depth.”
At the end of the reception, the party moves back to Barret Avenue, where it all began, for an after-party at the Monkey Wrench. McKnight Howe, the now-successful entrepreneur, plans to spin some tunes as DJ Mo Money.