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Speed Art Museum opens new exhibition: Ralph Eugene Meatyard's "The Unforeseen Wilderness"
Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1967–1971), Untitled from The Unforeseen Wilderness, 1967–1971. Gelatin silver print. Partial gift of the Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Eleanor Miller, Stephen Reily and Emily Bingham, Victoire and Owsley Brown III, Eliza Brown, Anne Brewer Ogden, and Cornelia Bonnie 2019.6.45.

LOUISVILLE, KY.- The Speed Art Museum announced its newest exhibition, Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s The Unforeseen Wilderness. Opening August 6, 2021, the exhibition highlights a remarkable portfolio of images that celebrate the beauty and mystery of Kentucky’s own Red River Gorge. A resident of Lexington, Kentucky, Meatyard made a living as an optician while exploring his passion for photography with the Lexington Camera Club under the mentorship of photographers such as Cranston Ritchie and Van Deren Coke.

In 1962, the Army Corps of Engineers received approval from Congress to dam the Red River in east-central Kentucky in an effort to control decades-long flooding in the area. In response, the University Press of Kentucky commissioned poet and essayist Wendell Berry to write a book advocating for the preservation of the Gorge in its natural state and engaged Lexington photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard to produce photographs to accompany the text. The publication—and Meatyard’s photographs—played a vital role in the decades-long effort to preserve the Gorge.

“The photographs in this exhibition invite us on an intimate journey through the Red River Gorge,” said Kim Spence, the Speed’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Works on Paper. “Witnessing these artworks, you get the sense that you’re hiking alongside Meatyard, observing nature through his eyes. He encourages us to look more closely, to discover the overlooked, and to experience a quiet respite from our hectic lives that can be found in the Kentucky landscape.”

Unlike the artist’s signature depictions of blurred forms, eerie dolls, and children wearing strange masks, Meatyard’s photographs for The Unforeseen Wilderness capture a mystery borne of the natural landscape, where trees and rocks are engulfed in saturated shadows. He invites us to discover the intimate details of nature that can only be experienced at close range, whether it’s a patch of lichen growing on the side of a tree or the way light plays on the surface of a spider web.

“We hope that The Unforeseen Wilderness will introduce museum-goers to an unexpected aspect of Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s work,” explained Spence. “Photography aficionados may be familiar with the artist’s surrealistic photographs, but the works in this exhibition reflect a quieter, more meditative side of this important artist. Meatyard’s photographs illustrate the power of art to engage the public and inspire people to become advocates for change. The photographs served as a powerful reminder of what was at risk of being lost.”

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