Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said cityâ€™s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. This week, we take you to Kansas City, the state-stradding city that produced the likes of Robert Altman, Amelia Earhart, Robert Morris, and Charlie Parker, to name a few.Â
Six Shows and a Paradox
Guest post by Will Meier
Januaryâ€™s freezing wind blew into Kansas City more than a handful of interesting art shows, most of which fit into a conversation concerning the correlation between pictures of things and picturesque things. Six of these recent exhibitions feature crossbred sensibilities of both flat and dimensional work, seemingly split halfway along either side of a conceptual MÃ¶bius strip.
At City Ice Arts hang several of Miles Neidingerâ€™s drawings and mixed-media assemblages. The showâ€™s center of gravity is The Anatomy of the Palace of Wisdom, a creature-like storm of various vibrant plastic line-segments. Spanning the 20 or so feet from the ceiling to its sedan-sized footprint, the piece is definitely a sculpture in its verticality and volume. But Neidinger says he wishes we would consider beauty, rather than architecture; with that logic,Â Anatomy could also be thought of more like a canvas laid on its back, with frantic, sparkly brushstrokes swooping up into the room like an animatedÂ de Kooning.
Up-and-coming ceramicists with work in OBJET, a â€œpop-up boutiqueâ€ at Charlotte Street Foundation’sÂ Paragraph Gallery + Project Space (part of the organization’s Urban Culture Residency Program), extrude along three axes not just composite gestures but actual, concrete things. Assembled by Dean Roper (curator of Weed-Craft), OBJET is e-relevant, with a second-life on tumblr launched promotionally before the showâ€™s opening and outlasting it as a form of documentation. This in particular raises the big question (especially applicable to the physically remote â€œsilicon prairieâ€ of Kansas City): What is the value of the-real-deal next to its likeness? Around the room, a squiggly Kid-Pix-plus-crystals aesthetic comes to life, displayed on minimal, geometric structures reminiscent of web-design. But internet architecture aside, these artists are paying homage to the way printing (in both dimensions) has revolutionized the craft industry. Take any of Joey Watsonâ€™s funky, futuristic Dope on a Rope necklaced rapid-prototypes, or shirts by Jennifer Wilkinson, featuring previously made and found objects flattened into digital images on fabric, which is then tailored and wrapped around the body like an IRL displacement map.
In the larger of Haw Contemporaryâ€™s galleries, Del Harrow from Colorado also shows a spread of digital-come-ceramic work in Breath. There is a CAD-plotted drawing that flattens the many evolutions of a CNC-lathed vase. But at the back of the room sprawls the showstopper: an assembly of many organic and geometric forms that Harrow calls a â€œstill-life.â€ Motifs from some of the scenic arrangementâ€™s discrete objects are echoed in the structural â€œmorphologyâ€ and surface treatment of others, like in one brilliant detailâ€”a tiny slice of leafy shadow cast in gold paint, barely visible on the side of a giant Lemonhead. This sort of inter-object contingency forms a scenic, pictorial stew of three-dimensional abstract harmony.
As seems customary, Haw Contemporary features two concurrent shows. The doorway between them begins our MÃ¶bius twist into imagistic territory. Corey Antisâ€™ The Head on the Door presents mostly small paintings of wonky, boxy forms. Antis, who believes perception is â€œmeasured between the solidity of material and its image,â€ plays a game with â€œtwofoldness,â€Â where a painting is both a material plane and a representational portal. But his works are glitchy portals, residing in paradoxes of contradictory spatial cues. Take one of Antisâ€™ â€œproposals forâ€¦perception,â€ like Untitled (Demo), where the void of the panelâ€™s white ground corrugates the sunnily stripy pattern of something seemingly solid. In the end, of course itâ€™s an image of that wedge-ish thing, whatever it is…sort of.
Inferable by the title of the ongoing SPECTRA film seriesâ€™ exhibition, Sculpties, guest-curated by artist David Rhoads, the five videos in the H&R Block Artspace gallery show us scenes of objects and phenomena, aimed at an experience â€œcloser to sculpture than film.â€ Here, rather than as a narrative vehicle, time functions as motion in space. Rhoads shows all the work at once in a considered layout, instead of in typical â€˜screeningâ€™ format. Two painterly collaborative videos by Robert Heishman and Megan Schvaneveldt, who live and work inÂ Chicago, are shown back-to-back on large flatscreens. The artists puppeteer colorful, textural materials and symbolic objects within a shallow depth-of-field,Â compressing props, natural forces like wind and gravity, and their own personas into dynamic images. During Sculptiesâ€™ one-night opening, it was easy to forget that, despite being the two-dimensional medium that most closely mimics all the phenomena of the real world, video is still really, really flat.
Last but certainly not least,Â Scott Dicksonâ€™s solo-show, We Are Not This Body, at PLUG Projects,Â is full of fantasy, providing portholes not just to non-spaces or our own reality, but to another surreally fictional world entirely. Using the transformative medium of collage to transplant peculiar forms from one image into the stage of another, his precise compositions read mostly as landscapes. Yet they are also LEGO-like, monumental science-fictions about humanityâ€™s screen-bound destiny.
As elucidated by the work in these six shows taken in totality, images of objects and imagistic objects, despite their surface distinctions, are just two sides of the same cyclical conversation. Take the staged picture of Wilkinson in one of her shirts: a ceramic nodule, photographed, printed, sewn, worn, seen anew as an image in your web browser. Screens and substrates (think Antisâ€™ surfaces) are tangible things even though we now primarily â€˜touchâ€™ them with our eyes (as we do with anything in the third dimension, including Neidingerâ€™s plastic abstract-expressionist tornado). It is our inclination to wish that images of our fantasies were real and that whatâ€™s real would fit the images of our fantasies. Itâ€™s a paradox. One that is gaining increasing relevance in proportion to the amount of our daily experience made up of pixels. And as the boundary between what is real and what is like-real continues to dissolve, one thing is certainâ€”the most engaging way to explore these sorts of ideas is through the fluid forum of art.
Will Meier is an artist and writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. After completing his BFA in Painting and Creative Writing at the Kansas City Art Institute, he was awarded an inaugural studio writing residency through Charlotte Street Foundationâ€™s Urban Culture Project. His writing has been published in various Kansas City print publications and can be seen on his blog: willmeiertext.tumblr.com
Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said city’s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. This week, we take you to Kansas City, the state-stradding city that produced the likes of Robert Altman, Amelia Earhart, Robert Morris, and Charlie Parker, to name a few.Â
Every Cityâ€™s Second City
Guest Post by Garry Noland
When I was asked by Bad at Sports to write this article, the request focused on what it has been like to be an artist in Kansas City for â€œhowever many years it has been.â€
Iâ€™ve been making things since I was a boy but started thinking about the context of my work in 1980.Â I knew going in that artists didnâ€™t make any money. Thatâ€™s why I thought art history would be a good career move in 1976; it seemed like doing research on Frederick Law Olmsted, for example, would be an easier job. Â Iâ€™ve had factory work slagging welds and jackhammering frozen coal piles.Â That didnâ€™t work out either.Â Along with a series of day jobs Iâ€™ve thrown together a studio career thatâ€™s gone from the kitchen table to a 3,000 sq. ft. studio and back again. I feel successful if I donâ€™t factor in money. Iâ€™m grateful for the support of my family and artist colleagues here and around the country.
In 1977 I was a student assistant for Hollister Sturges, who was in Chicago curating for a show at the University of Missouri â€“ Kansas City (UMKC).Â The show, titled Chicago Abstractionists: Romanticized Structures, allowed me into the studios of John Henry, Paul Slepak, Dan Ramirez, Miyoko Ito and others. Ted Argeropolos had passed by then, but his work was unforgettable. We had dinner at Vera Klementâ€™s place and a few too many drinks at a Greek restaurant with Jane Allan, founder of New Art Examiner and Derek Guthrie, a painter and NAEâ€™s publisher.
Flash forward to 1993.Â I hailed a taxi at Midway.Â I was in town for a show at Deson-Saunders Gallery. Mark Saunders had seen my work at the NIU Chicago Gallery and then included a few of my pieces in a group show. I was amazed by the activity in the Chicago galleries and knew there was nothing back home like this.
The driver asked me where I was from. â€œKansas City,â€ I said. Eyes up in the rearview driver says, â€œyou know they call KC â€˜Little Chicagoâ€™.â€ Â It had something to do with the mob, he said, and if it got too hot in Chicago, â€œthe boys hightailed it to KC.â€Â Nice to know.Â It doesnâ€™t happen that way, probably, anymore.
So this was the SECOND City? Â Driving back to KC with a load of paintings and sculpture I wonderedâ€¦.if Chicagoâ€™s the Second City, how good was the First City? And like Dorothyâ€™s Emerald City, what happened when the curtain was pulled aside? Where did KC rank in all this?
The truth is every cityâ€™s the second city. Being an artist carries with it a cruel joke. We pursue beauty, achieve it sometimes, but nothingâ€™s ever enough. At least it shouldnâ€™t be; itâ€™s how we move forward. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence or in another gallery.
Thereâ€™s a lot more activity in KC these days compared to 1977, or even 1993.Â About the only chance for a Kansas City artist in 1977 to gain a little traction was to be chosen for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Artâ€™s â€œThirty Miles of Artâ€ or to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) or UMKC. â€œThirty Miles of Artâ€ (for which my work was rejected twice) was a local, less vigorous version of the Museum of Contemporary Artâ€™s â€œChicago Worksâ€ series.Â Another alternative was to get involved with the Kansas City Artistâ€™s Coalition (KCAC), an artist-run space that formed coincidentally with Chicagoâ€™s N.A.M.E. and ARC.
Whatâ€™s better now in 2014 stems from one thing:
Millenials are coming to town and sticking around. Â The Charlotte Street Foundationâ€™s (CSF) sustained programming, supporting the work of Kansas City artists, has not gone unnoticed by recent classes of art school and university art department graduates. Â Kansas City is a viable alternative to more expensive locationsâ€”such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to name a fewâ€”in which to set up a studio, develop and show new work.
The result is young people working in the studioâ€”even if itâ€™s a kitchen table, opening exhibition venues, writing poetry and scripts, publishing blogs and creating choreography.
In artspeak, these people are called emerging artists. Truth is, if youâ€™re not emerging, youâ€™re not an artist.Â The inherent problem is: if an artistâ€™s always emerging (code for not producing commodity), how can the collecting class count on a stable, value-enhancing product?Â For the commodity art youâ€™ll have to go to New York and thatâ€™s exactly what the collecting class of places like Kansas City does. That will always be the problem in Kansas City. Artists in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Williamsburg and Red Hook are likely to tell the same story.Â
CSF is not the only institution thatâ€™s supporting and motivating this new, broader generation:
- The H & R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute sponsors a biennial of works on paper called KC Flatfile, a project that archives into several large flat files scores of area artistsâ€™ drawings, collages, prints and more. The Artspace, led by director and chief curator Raechelle Smith, makes a point of involving local and visiting curators to create short-run installations featuring works culled from these flat files. Furthermore, Smith and her Artspace team actively support experimental presentations by local curatorial and studio projects.
- The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College regularly hosts artist talks for the student population. Director Bruce Hartman is a booster of KC artists by making sure that the museumâ€™s collection represents KC diversely. Dylan Mortimer, a local artist, is currently having a solo exhibition at the Nerman.
- The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Artâ€™s newish curator and educator (sheâ€™s been on the job for a little more than a year) Erin Dziedzic is becoming known for making studio visits and is planning a series of group exhibitions focusing on artists in the metropolitan area.
- PLUG Projects is an artist-operated storefront gallery.Â PLUG focuses on exhibitions by local and national artists. Its exhibitions are supplemented by a film series, critique night, and 8 Â½ x 11, a printed venue for art writing in KC.
- UMKCâ€™s Fine Arts Gallery has been remodeled and, under artist Davin Watneâ€™s guidance, is kicking up the energy several notches with multi-disciplinary programming and projects by emerging artists.
- Artist Inc., in conjunction with UMKC, CSF and ArtsKC, a city arts council, provides networking resources and entrepreneurial workshops for artists, writers and actors in an effort to help them build a sustained professional career in KC.
- There are others, too: KCAC, Rockhurst Universityâ€™s Greenlease Gallery, Fishtank Theater, The Living Room, Cupcakes in Regalia, Blue Roomâ€™s Jazz Poetry Series, The Writerâ€™s Place, Garcia Squared and Studios Inc.
How have all these millenials affected me, someone who just turned 60?Â I am amazed at their work ethic and dedication to studio practice.Â It makes me work harder. Conversations about work and ideas are exchanged in organized critiques, and sometimes one on one. Â Theyâ€™ve raised the temperature and sophistication of the dialogue. They seem interested in the older generation and the history of KC, thus the paybacks seem reciprocal.
Thereâ€™s pressure too: to performâ€¦ to attain or retain some semblance of relevance locally and nationally. Â Itâ€™ÂÂÂÂÂs common to hear fellow artists comparing and contrasting colleaguesâ€™ work.Â A context is established and all boats rise. Artists want to do â€œ8 for 8.â€ They want fair value for their work. It sounds middle class and thatâ€™s a good thing.Â We all want to work and we all do work.Â Thereâ€™s ample trade in doing what artists do: (clichÃ© alert) asking and answering questions, questioning the status quo and blurring jobs and job descriptions. Maybe the countryâ€™s new creative class is the countryâ€™s new emergent middle class.
Thatâ€™s my city.Â I know though, in the larger picture, if there are 50 artists here working their asses off, there are 100 in St. Louis, 500 in Chicago, 5000 in New York and who knows how many in Dehli or Shanghai.
Turns out, every cityâ€™s the second city.
GarryÂ Noland graduated from UMKC in 1978 with a BA-History of Art. He contributed regularly toÂ New Art Examiner,Â ForumÂ (the monthly of Kansas City Artists Coalition) andÂ Art Extra, a publication from Wichita, KS. He won a NEA Fellowship in Paintings and Works on Paper in 1994 and was awarded a Studios Inc Artist Residency in 2011. Noland’s work has been exhibited recently at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Indianapolis Art Center, Hardesty Art Center and la Esquina. Upcoming exhibits includeÂ The Center is a Moving TargetÂ at Kemper Crossroads (Kansas City) and exhibitions at Zarrow Gallery (University of Tulsa) and Beverly (St. Louis) with his daughter, Peggy Noland.