LEXINGTON, Ky.—“I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Morlan Gallery’s exhibition opening Oct. 25, reveals Lexington’s historically rich, vibrant and fairly secretive gay culture. Referencing the well-known Velvet Underground song, “I’ll Be Your Mirror” depicts the story of the town’s drag queens, sexual outlaws and gender-bending guerilla artists from the turn of the twentieth century right up to present day through the work of contemporary visual artists.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror” was curated by Lexington-based artist Robert Morgan, who as a child of the 1960s met people who had identified as gay in the early part of the twentieth century. “I was mesmerized by the tales from their lives and was given loving advice and guidance as I began my life’s adventure as a gay kid from Kentucky on his way into a new century,” explained Morgan.
The exhibition explores the flamboyant local lore of days gone by, including ghost stories from the Thomas January House on Lexington’s West Second Street; cross-dressing civil war hero Sue Mundy who, at John Hunt Morgan’s death, took over Morgan’s Raiders and became a legend; and images of the colorful and much loved Sweet Evening Breeze, Lexington’s 1950s version of RuPaul.
In “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Morgan creates a nexus between the historical gay Old South of the twentieth century and the political activism of the twenty-first century. The show celebrates the rebirth of the gay community with young visual artists who have a new way of seeing, as well as artists in their 60s who experienced the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, the excesses of the 1980s and the devastation of AIDS in the 1990s.
Many of the exhibition’s historic photographs come from Morgan’s private collection. He started accumulating ephemera, photographs and stories when he was a teenager.
“I was always a collecting type, but I did it for my own amusement. We never seem to know we are making history when we are living it,” says Morgan, who took cues from mentors who expressed the importance of valuing items from gay culture.
An accomplished artist himself, Morgan creates sculptures from lost and discarded items, reassembling them into shiny new sculptures in sumptuous hues. In this new exhibition, “Morgan brings to light the lost years of Lexington’s gay community, imbuing the people, stories and artifacts with dignity,” says Morlan Gallery Director Andrea Fisher.
The Morlan Gallery is hosting two lectures related to the exhibition. The lectures and the exhibition are free and open to the public.
On Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m., Jackson E. Schad will discuss his experience of being “born a new person in a new state” and how Kentucky has influenced and supported his gender assignment. His talk, “Jackson E. Schad: Transkentuckian,” will be in the Coleman Recital Hall in Transylvania’s Mitchell Fine Arts Center.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 12:30 p.m., Morgan will discuss the process of curating and assembling the exhibition, as well as his joy in sharing the fascinating history of Lexington’s LGBTQ* community in “The Curator's Perspective.” Morgan will speak in the Morlan Gallery in Transylvania’s Mitchell Fine Arts Center.
Institute 193, a Lexington gallery that champions Southern contemporary artists with exhibitions, performances and publication opportunities, is creating a catalog for “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” The book and the exhibition were funded by a grant from Just Fund KY, a human rights organization based in the Commonwealth. The book will be available at Institute 193, SQecial Media and the Morlan Gallery at a price that promises the images will be widely distributed.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror” opens Friday, Oct. 25, and runs through Monday, Nov. 25. There is a reception for the artists on Friday, Oct. 25, from 5–8 p.m. and a Lexington Gallery Hop reception on Friday, Nov. 15, from 5–8 p.m.
The Morlan Gallery is located on the main level of the Mitchell Fine Arts Center on Transylvania University’s historic campus. Gallery hours are weekdays 12–5 p.m. and by special appointment. Contact gallery director Andrea Fisher at 859-233-8142 for special arrangements. Information on this exhibition and the 2013-14 schedule can be found at www.transy.edu/morlan.