Monday, November 16, 2009

The decline of Derby art

Churchill Downs has unveiled the 2010 Kentucky Derby artwork, and we are, ... ahem, underwhelmed. Derby art has experienced a recognizable decline since the glory years of the Brereton Jones administration, when it went back to the mid-1800s and snagged a real artist by the name of Edward Troye, a Swiss emigre who painted many of the great thoroughbreds of the era.

After the classic art favored by the Jones administration, Derby art sunk into a Thomas Kinkade-like kitsch for several years, and then, during the Fletcher administration, it sunk to art deco. Now, 2010's Derby art has shifted again to include French artist Linda LeKimff, whose paintings are one part Matisse, one part Jean de Brunhoff (illustrator of Babar the Elephant), and one part Peter Max.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. She's not that bad.

I don't know if Governors have anything to do with these decisions or whether Churchill Downs makes them. But it's not real clear why LeKimff is particularly fitted for the Derby job. Paris is great and all, but what's the connection with Kentucky? Troye lived here for 35 years and his paintings actually captured the atmosphere of the Bluegrass and its horse culture.

But perhaps we should be more appreciative of Ms. LeKimff: This may be the last Derby art that has something to do with horses. It may very well be that, after 2010, Derby art will begin focusing on a new symbol: slot machines.

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