Old Louisville’s Sheherazade Gallery: Always open, or always closed?

Sheherazade is located at 1401 S. Third St. in Old Louisville. | Courtesy of Sheherazade

On Saturday, Sheherazade will challenge the conventional definition of “gallery” when it hosts an opening for its new exhibition, “Sweet Dreams.” It’s an exciting event because Sheherazade is either never open, or always open, depending on how you choose to define both the term and the space.

Imagine you are walking down a little residential street in Old Louisville. There is a neighborhood bar on the corner, a little convenience store where people stop in to buy a six-pack or a gallon of milk, and just down the street is Central Park.

You look over, and sitting amid the historic Victorian homes is a tiny art gallery with one see-through wall. The space is small, just big enough to squeeze in a midsize sedan, and you can enjoy whatever is inside without ever entering the gallery. It’s a beautiful thing to see as you enjoy Louisville at street level.

Julie Leidner | Photo by Kelly Dillman

This gallery is the recently opened Sheherazade, and on Saturday, March 10, you can actually step inside the normally looks-only space when curator Julie Leidner hosts the artist, musician and performance artist Yoko Molotov.

Leidner spoke with Insider about Sheherazade, the space’s history as a gallery, and what you can expect Saturday.

The gallery is a converted garage, and the see-through wall is the garage door, making it easy to open for loading art in or out. The space has been used as a gallery in the past, Leidner told Insider.

“Before it was Sheherazade, it used to be an art gallery run by the artist Shohei Katayama, and he was a friend of mine,” she said.

It was Katayama who did the rehabilitation work on the former garage, before leaving town.

“He moved away to go to grad school in Pittsburgh, and we were talking about his move, and a light bulb went off in my mind — ‘Well, maybe I’ll just pounce on this space that he’s leaving,’ ” said Leidner.

At first, she just used the converted space as her personal art studio. After about two years, she started to consider its other possibilities.

“I realized how I could exist there and inhabit it as an artist and a curator. And that’s when Sheherazade was born,” she said.

The name Sheherazade is important to Leidner. Readers familiar with fairy tales might recall that Sheherazade was the narrator of the “1001 Arabian Nights,” a figure who staved off death each night by telling a story with such a great cliffhanger that she was allowed to live one more day to finish the story.

“I’ve known about her my entire life,” explained Leidner. “I had this Fisher-Price plastic cassette tape that told the story of Sheherazade, although it was a very G-rated version of it. In the real story, she was a harem girl for a tyrannical king who would kill each woman after he had slept with her, because he only wanted a virgin each night.”

Fairy tales have a special place in Leidner’s heart — her dad is a fairy tale scholar. As a kid, she even went to Germany to help her dad hunt down old versions of stories. That love and fascination translated into the name for Leidner’s gallery.

Artist Yoko Molotov | Courtesy of Yoko Molotov

“I felt this character, as a storyteller, this female, really powerful and creative storyteller, was someone I wanted to name my space after,” she said.

Leidner decided to offer the space to other artists, because she sees it filling a niche in the Louisville art scene that is mostly empty.

“I felt there really weren’t that many places to show art in that way in Louisville … I was really just feeling the need to have a space an artist could enter and inhabit and turn into a public platform for their ideas. And I wanted to start with local artists,” said Leidner.  

By design, Sheherazade is seldom “open” in the traditional sense. You can see its entirety through the translucent garage door. As a result, there are no gallery hours. You can easily enjoy the art at 3:30 in the afternoon on a walk with your kids, or at 3:30 in the morning stumbling out of the nearby Mag Bar.

But on Saturday, Molotov’s exhibit “Sweet Dreams” will have more traditional gallery opening and include performance and art. 

“Yoko is a visual artist and a musician, and this exhibit will include a kind of musical performance at 8 p.m. One of the reasons I was so interested in having Yoko exhibit in Sheherazade is I see her as someone who bridges the gap between art and music in a really interesting way,” said Leidner.

A piece from Yoko Molotov’s “Sweet Dreams” exhibit

Molotov performs with several bands, uses an alias to perform gorilla shows in unexpected places, and generally pushes the boundaries between music, performance art and fine art.

For Saturday’s opening and performance, Molotov will be working with artist Joe Frey.

“He has built a machine that takes sound and turns it into a drawing,” explained Leidner. “The machine is going to be there, and if all goes well, there will be a demonstration from this automatic drawing machine using sounds that Yoko is going to be making.”

Sheherazade is located at 1401 S. Third St. The gallery is always on display, and Saturday’s free event runs from 7-10 p.m.