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.
“Out of the Mouths of Artists” is a new bi-monthly series on the Bad at Sports blog. The series presents a space for guest artist bloggers– of varying career statuses– to write, to reflect, to pontificate on their current situations, failures and/or successes, and ideas on what it means to be an artist. “Out of the Mouths of Artists” also gives readers a glimpse into artists’ portfolios and studios.Â
Relocating a Center
By Nicole Mauser
Just last week, a question was posed to me: â€œWhere is the epicenter of Chicagoâ€™s art scene?â€ This was part of a casual elevator conversation with someone who had just moved from the East Coast to Chicago. I was struck by this question because it made me pause and consider where I geographically invest my time and conversations about art and research. Having relocated back to Chicago from Kansas City, MO, for a second time this past summer, I found myself picking up where I left off.Â In some respects, I am engaged in existing dialogues and structures, while in other professional respects I have set out to tackle completely unknown territories and new challenges.
With the question, I realized how fascinating it is to be an observer on the periphery (even if only temporarily) and see what galleries have disappeared, endured, and emerged, while exploring a â€˜newâ€™ to me Chicago in terms of private collections and historic venues such as The Arts Club or Union League.
I had no short answer for the East Coaster-cum-Chicagoan: 119 Peoria has been all but dismantled (will Three Walls stay or go?); however, there is still a bastion of galleries in the West Loop on Washington. Mana Contemporary is becoming a household by name teaming up with various institutions. Each university with a MFA program from the universitiesâ€”Northwestern, UIC and U of Câ€”to the art schoolsâ€”Columbia College and SAICâ€”has is its own mini-epicenter with concentric circles emanating outward into the art scene. A handful (a few handfuls, really) of Chicago artists are being highlighted in the upcoming Whitney Biennial by Michelle Grabner and Anthony Elms. The MCA has gone through upheaval. Art Expo is back. Ultimately, there is no dominant discourse. In dynamic and thriving arts ecologies, there is a multitude of rich conversations happening. These conversations are being instigated by the artists themselves and to varying degrees by the institutions.
One thing I do know: my life now in Chicago is an inversion of the one I led in KCMO.
After an initial brief stint as an art handler in Chicago, I learned a difficult lesson that not all businesses touting the arts support artists; some exploit employees who make the ultimate sacrifice to pay their bills: no longer making their work. Currently, I juggle a full-time administrative job at one local art school while teaching painting as an adjunct at another local university. And I recently struck up a relationship with Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, to exhibit a few pieces of my work. While all of these roles help me pay the rent and gain professional experience, they combine to make ends difficult to support a studio practice.
This is the predicament that many conversations with artist friends revolve around: balancing studio/research time with demands of a job to afford overhead. Whereas in KCMO, many artists cobble together part-time teaching, waiting tables, and selling work to afford three times the living spaceÂ andÂ a studio. In that smaller metropolis, it is a choice to leverage income to focus on the studio practice. It is an option to survive on much less. Therefore, it has become an environment that lends itself to risk taking and igniting experimental collaborations. I found that I was able to do many things, and still work to afford an artistâ€™s necessities. With a number of others, I founded and rigorously participated in two artist enterprises: PLUG Projects and Kansas Cityâ€™s Plein Air Coterie (KCPAC), both of which are going still going strong. The collaborative work I did (from 2011 to 2012) with the always professional co-founders and artists at PLUG was rewarding, and I am grateful to my conspirators there for their mutual desire to shape unique exhibitions and ancillary programming, all from the perspective of the artist as curator. Also, this time at PLUG helped me hone my ability to simultaneously hold down a full time staff job at SAIC and an adjunct teaching appointment at UIC. I believe my experience as part of KCPAC, in which I was working from observation in the elements, helped to erode any assumptions about the relationship between abstraction and perception.
Recently, in Chicago, a few artists and I rekindled a critique group consisting of grad school colleagues (and friends!) for studio visits. Inscribing this regular practice into our studio research is gaining terrific momentum. I truly value these relationships and the quality of our conversations. I am continually blown away by the multitude of in-depth cross-conversations, generosity, and ferocity of investment in each otherâ€™s development. In this context, which is a kind of epicenter for me, criticality is not a rebuff but a way of asking better questions. I find that I am now breaking rules that I once set for myself in the past. I am working to explore abstraction through a host of reference materials, including still lifes, photos, Xeroxed images, and art historical references, in order to push against my own non-objective proclivities.
Through it all, though, I find myself returning to ponder the eternal question, what is the healthiest scenario to support my work? It is the gallery system? Is it the academic system? None of these scenarios are necessarily the sustainable answer. Constantly having open conversations negotiating alternative models and redefining healthy arts ecology seems the best start for me.
In summary, it appears that the current epicenter in Chicago, and in all cities, is a moving targetâ€”for me and for others. This scenario seems to simultaneously present plural opportunities and elusive support mechanisms for oneâ€™s longevity in the arts. And yet, it feels like a great time to be an artist in Chicago.
I hope someone asks me where â€œthe epicenterâ€ is again in five years.
Nicole Mauser (b. 1983, Indianapolis) currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. She obtained a MFA from The University of Chicago (2010) and a BFA from Ringling College of Art & Design (2006). Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally.Â Mauser was a 2011 recipient of a Post-MFA Teaching Felllowship atÂ The University of Chicago and a recipient of a Student Fine Art Fund Grant for travel and research in Berlin from TheÂ University of Chicago. Exhibitions includeÂ Ft. Gondo Compound for the Arts (St. Louis),Â Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), The Dolphin Gallery (Kansas City), H&R Block Artspace (Kansas City), DOVA Temporary Gallery (Chicago), Gladstone Community Center (Gladstone, MO), Center for Art+Culture (Aix-en-Provence) and AR Gallery (Milan). Collections include The Alexander (Indianapolis) and The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS). Mauserâ€™s writings have been published inÂ 8 Â½ x 11Â andÂ Art Practical. Mauser is also a co-founder of the artist run gallery,Â PLUG ProjectsÂ and co-founder of the Kansas City Plein Air Coterie (KCPAC).
See more of Nicole’s work at www.nicolemauser.com.
After losing his job and apartment on the same day a couple of years ago, Los Angeles-based street artist Gune Monster says he contemplated a suicide. Instead, he picked up a marker and begin drawing the toothy, ghoulish figures that would eventually become the hallmark of his Â alter ego.
First, he drew about 50 stickers a day. The number quickly climbed to upwards of 350 hand drawn, colored and cut stickers , many of which would eventually make their way onto the poles, benches and other public spaces scattered around Los Angeles. Larger murals would eventually follow as the street artistâ€™s ambitions grew.
â€œMurals change peopleâ€™s livesâ€ he says. â€œThey change your opinion of the wall. It changes it from being some ratty wall thatâ€™s got some tag or some weird penis thatâ€™s got some hair to an amazing, beautiful mural thatâ€™s got a hummingbird flying through the sky with birds and mountains.â€
Gune Monster also feels that creating murals offers developing graffiti artists an opportunity to mature by forcing them to openly confront the public with their work in a more much more personal and direct way.
â€œYouâ€™ve no longer going out at nightâ€ he says. â€œYouâ€™re no longer hiding in a gallery. Youâ€™re no longer putting up stickers. You are now in daylight, in the public, being judged by everybody that sees you. And thatâ€™s when youâ€™re at that point where youâ€™re confident enough to spread your art.â€
Gune Monster returned to his hometown of Kansas City this past June to live mural at the City Ice Arts Building — a converted warehouse in the cityâ€™s arts district that houses a collective of local artists and artisans. Though he wasn’t able to paint at the Kansrocksas Music Festival (the event was cancelled), his new clothing line and projects in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Las Vegas continue to keep this elusive artist fully occupied.
Check out his website for more great images of his work.
Words by Carolyn Okomo, a Kansas City, MO-based writer.Â
Images by Dave Dumay of City Ice Arts and Carolyn Okomo.
Guest Post by Jamilee Polson Lacy
Iâ€™m wrapping up my stint as Inaugural Curator-In-Residence for the Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City. My final project, rises Zora, a multi-venue visual and performing arts exhibition, explores Kansas City as an urban labyrinth. While the labyrinth as a thematic premise initially seems a little hippy-dippy, itâ€™s one that actually encompasses and incorporates so much historically, philosophically, artistically, and more. Theories of the labyrinthâ€”and there are many which span the ages of Greek and Roman mythology to early Christianity, Karl Marx to Umberto Eco, Cervantes to Borges and Calvinoâ€”demonstrate the thing as both concept and literal form that ultimately represents time. The labyrinth is an infinite series of choices to be made through time and space, and we get to decide whether to be conscious of those choices or not. I think the city, which quite obviously mimics a literal labyrinth, presents a plethora of choicesâ€”some exciting and dangerous, some banal and commonplaceâ€”so itâ€™s nearly impossible not to think of it as a conceptual labyrinth as well.
Kansas City has an interesting history that accommodates a show like rises Zora. It, like most cities inland west of the Eastern seaboard, was designed on a grid, which, according to its first known utilizer and urban planner Hippodamus of Miletus, is societyâ€™s attempt at ordering the labyrinth. So, in the simplest sense, Kansas City features lots of beautiful right angles that repeat from the street level Jeffersonian grid into the design of enormous buildings and neighborhood squares. But what is more interesting, are the random parts of the cityâ€”those which donâ€™t conform to this guiding grid, this attempt to order the city and its users’ navigation and time within it. Places where the highways meet and tangle up or where the parks and the rivers and the construction disrupt the perfect patterns are great of examples of how the labyrinth canâ€™t be controlled by a grid or a society. And in every case, there are multiple labyrinths that overlap and collide as neighborhoods, cultures, and ways of existing in the universe all configure as complex webs of timeâ€™s effect on everything. These systemsâ€™ inability to control the labyrinthâ€™s physical manifestation correlate to humanityâ€™s ultimate powerlessness to control or change the actual course of time. Only time changes us; we can never change it.
This idea of time as a series of labyrinthsâ€”also mazes, matrices, and networks, which are all versions of the labyrinth conceptâ€”emerges again and again in contemporary art. Artists, like Theseus navigating his way through Daedalusâ€™s labyrinth to its center in his efforts to conquer the Knossos minotaur, traverse complex, even confusing problems of time and space to reach some sort of goal. At that point, the artist must pass through one labyrinth to another. In other words, the artist comes to a rite of passage. Â Italo Calvino, my favorite labyrinth expert, metaphorically discusses this rite of passage in every novel. In Invisible Cities, from which the rises Zora project title is taken, we see Marco Polo artfully describe and navigate the mysteriously international labyrinth that is Venice to the great Kublai Khan. In If on a winterâ€™s night a traveler,Â the reader, which may or may not be you or me, must navigate the labyrinths of literature, language, and lust. And in the under-appreciated Mr. Palomar, we experience alongside a man, Mr. Palomar, the many rites of passage that come with middle age and the realization that death is a real thing just like every other life event/labyrinthine transition.
The rite of passage has a long history in tandem with the labyrinth. Though we think of the labyrinth as inherently Greek in its roots (which isnâ€™t incorrect as the first reference to the labyrinth is the oral tradition that tells of Daedalusâ€™s architectures), it too is found throughout time and across geographies as part of pagan and tribal culture. Indeed, labyrinths as mystical symbols and ritualistic structures marked communal and individual life transitions including harvest, friendship, protection, love fertility, adulthood, death, and the list goes on and on. In Central and South America the Aztecs and smaller lesser-known tribes constructed the most elaborate hedges and mountain wall labyrinths, while in Scandinavia the Middle Age citizens built Troy towns to protect their maidens. In many cultures there is the walk about, for which the labyrinth is materialized as a vast geographical expanse of the unknown, within which one must learn to make choices outside their cultural context. I mention the walk about specifically because in two weeks a few of Charlotte Streetâ€™s Urban Culture Project (UCP) Studio Residency participants will open a thoughtful group show at their designated gallery space called WALKABOUT. Â The UCP Studio Residency program is unique in that it provides an important opportunity for Kansas Cityâ€™s young and emerging artists to have the space in the form of a free downtown KCMO studio and exhibition venue to develop their work and the professional practice. The program operates on an academic yearly cycle, and is therefore winding down for this yearâ€™s residents. Featuring five artists who will leave the residency transformed in one way or another, this WALKABOUT exhibition strikes me as the perfect metaphor for the rite of passage they will soon experience.
Another exhibition in town, Barry Andersonâ€™s The Janus Restraint: The Ascension at The Studios, Inc. directly considers rites of passage as Anderson himself as an artist, a father, and a citizen of the great big universe experiences them. The Studios, Inc. is another residency program in town that provides free space to artists. Unlike the UCP Studio Residency, this one is for mid-career artists who have developed studio practices in Kansas City over a considerable period of time. Artists are given a huge space for three years, with the possibility of renewing for a second three-year term. The space and the artists tenure at The Studios, Inc. is subsidized both by The Studios, Inc. board/organization and a local patron, who both in exchange for their generosity receive an artwork from the artist for their respective organizational and personal collections. Perhaps the most exciting organization in town because it nearly bursts with possibility to be something more, The Studios, Inc. operates on the most interesting model and really does support some of the cityâ€™s most interesting artists with space. Unfortunately though, the organization lacks vision in that their collection is rarely shown and, other than providing free workspace and an exhibition (in an on-site gallery space that could be really remarkable if its exhibitions were professionally curated and also sprinkled with some out-of-town flavor to contextualize/expand the production of Studios, Inc./Kansas City artists), they do little to promote their residents on a national or international scale. Andersonâ€™s exhibition, though it consists of entirely new work, feels like a retrospective precisely because it seems like it should be so pivotal to the artistâ€™s career. In some capacity, each artworkâ€”photography, video, sculpture, and installationâ€”takes on Andersonâ€™s personal, professional, and existential transitions. The show even has an urgency as it practically screams, â€œWhat am I going to do next?!â€ A serious question considering that this glorious exhibition isnâ€™t likely to be reviewed outside of Kansas City. There is no national/international coverage here, no critics with freelance relationships with Artforum, Art in America, Frieze, or the likes, and it seems to me like no one in town is working to do anything about this serious problem. (I actually hope that when I leave KC, Iâ€™ll be able to create a rite of passage for another to provide KC-specific commentary on Bad at Sports.) After this year in Kansas City, I can very confidently say that amazingly prolific artists like Barry Anderson are plentiful here, but who will ever know, and more importantly, who will ever care if no one writes about them for the rest of the world to see? Though Andersonâ€™s solo show beautifully mines a variety of rites of passage on many fronts, there seems to be none in sight for him in this respect.
There do finally seem to be pathways opened up for new blood at Kansas Cityâ€™s art museums, which, though I hate to say it, present some of the most inconsequential contemporary art programming in the country (with the exception of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, an incredibly smart contemporary art museum and private collection that lives miles away outside Kansas City in Johnson County, and KU’s Spencer Museum, which lives 30 minutes far away in Lawrence, is pretty good, too). The Nelson-Atkins Museum is the biggest game in town. Much of the communityâ€™s patronage goes into this institution, though it reflects very little interest in that same community that supports it. There is no regular local contemporary art feature or commission, and there are very few quality or comprehensive contemporary art exhibitions to expose the cityâ€™s prestigious art schoolâ€”theÂ Kansas City Art Instituteâ€”population. The Nelson-Atkins has appointed a new Curatorial Director, Antonia Bostrom, who I hope comes to the museum with at least a little interest, respect, and enthusiasm for art being made today. Also, the Kemper Museum, a private collection and exhibition program of contemporary art run by one of the cityâ€™s wealthiest families, finally hired a curator after last yearâ€™s layoff scandal calmed down. Given the banal sensibilities and rigor-lacking qualities of the exhibitions chosen and organized by the museumâ€™s current senior-level administration, I doubt (but really hope) that this curator, Erin Dziedzic, will bring with her the clout needed to integrate local and cutting edge art and issues into the programming plans and change the museum. But, Iâ€™m holding my breath that this rite of passage will include local artists because Iâ€™m an optimist!
Maybe itâ€™s because Iâ€™ve reached my own transition point in that Iâ€™m finishing my own residency and leaving this cityâ€”and thus passing through a formative stage of my lifeâ€”in mere weeks, but I feel like there are identifiable rites of passages happening all over Kansas City right now. In recent months, three of the cityâ€™s arguably biggest contemporary art players have announced that they will transition out of their longtime roles in the contemporary art world.
1)Â Â John Oâ€™Brien, owner and director of the Dolphin Gallery, one of the cityâ€™s few commercial galleries, has decided to get out of the business. This is a huge blow to many artists who already feel the suffocating grip of an almost non-existent art market in Kansas City. But poetically and poignantly, O’Brien’s daughter Caitlin mounted the last show at her dad’s gallery, showing that a family tradition for contemporary art will likely bare fruit in Kansas City some day. One hopes that Oâ€™Brienâ€™s labyrinth which holds numerous Kansas City artists of all stripes could spill into the realm of Bill Brady KC, a gallery run by the New Yorker, but given Bradyâ€™s lack of interest in the local folks, I donâ€™t see that passageway being paved anytime ever. I do hope, however, to see a young townie open her gallery doors with a roster that promotes a collection of Kansas Cityâ€™s emerging and longstanding artists alongside the international talent with which they are equal stock.
2) Â Margaret Silva, the Hallmark heiress, has announced that she will close the cityâ€™s most nationally relevant venue, Grand Arts, a kunsthaus-type space that she funds mostly on her own dime. To me, this news brings the most despair. In a city that is home to some incredibly experimental cultural production, there must be a place where artists can see the work of other leading conceptual artistsâ€”their international contemporaries. Grand Arts brings in some of the best artists in the world to present challenging, provocative exhibitions and social practice programs. Unfortunately, the organization is much too quietâ€”they hardly market a thingâ€”and their programming schedule is inconsistent not to mention thin. Iâ€™ve been here nearly 11 months, and though they have a number of part-time and full-time employees, Iâ€™ve seen two shows there (with many months-long gaps in between them).Â But man, when Artistic Director Stacy Switzer finally gets a show up and going, itâ€™s darn good. Iâ€™ll be sad to see this place close its doors in 2015.
3)Â Â And finally, Charlotte Street Founding Director David Hughes, Jr. (full disclosure: Hughes is one of my bosses, for lack of a better term) will step back from the organizational helm over the coming months. Hughes, in collaboration with the organizationâ€™s diverse board and savvy Charlotte Street Co-Director Kate Hackman, has been instrumental to the success of the cityâ€™s most experimental and ambitious artists through the facilitation of Charlotte Streetâ€™s Visual and Performing Art Awards (aka thousands of dollars unrestricted CASH for artist winners), in addition to numerous exhibition and professional development opportunities for artists and others (like me!). Hughes will stay on with Charlotte Street in an advisory role, but he will pass the reins to a new executive director yet-to-be named.
Hopefully, these folks will expand the matrices that currently exist in Kansas City to accommodate new paths for contemporary art. While I know that many in town are worried, and they should be, Iâ€™m sure that the rites of passage between these folks and venues will pass on to someone ready for the challenge. And me, I have accumulated Kansas City artists into my own labyrinth, which I canâ€™t help but take with me everywhere I go. And the new Charlotte Street Curator-In-Resident, whoever s/he may be, will likely do the same because Kansas City artists and their work are magnificent and relevant. After all, the labyrinth is just time. And again, because Iâ€™m an optimist, Iâ€™m sure that time will keep moving along and shifting to open one passageway after another for Kansas City contemporary artists.
Jamilee Polson LacyÂ is an artist, curator and writer based in Chicago. Currently, Lacy is the Inaugural Curator-In-Residence for Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City, where she organizes exhibitions, educational programming and publications for Charlotte Street’s Crossroads District gallery, la Esquina. In Chicago, Lacy additionally operates as the founding director ofÂ Twelve Galleries Project, a transitory, collaborative exhibition experiment. She has engaged in solo and collaborative projects with many creatives and institutions, including A+D Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, The Black Visual Archive, Chicago Artistsâ€™ Coalition & Hatch Projects, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hyde Park Art Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Western Exhibitions and Quite Strong, among others. In addition to numerous catalogue essays, interviews and articles, Lacy has publishedÂ Color: Fully Engaged, a book of interviews and essays, and written series forÂ Flash Art’s UmelecÂ Magazine, Art 21 and now, Bad at Sports. Lacy holds two undergraduate degrees in studio arts and art history and a Masters of Comparative Literature and Arts from Northwestern University.Â