“As a recently arrived staff member of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I am honoured to have been invited to serve as a juror for the Kansas City Artist’s Coalition’s River Market Regional Exhibition (RMRE). Not only had I heard from colleagues of the great work of the KC Artists Coalition, but also from recent international artists-in-residence. The work of the KCAC exposes artists in the city and the region to a stream of international practicing artists, whilst also allowing those artists to experience the cultural vibrancy of an American city outside the main centers of New York or Los Angeles. As any First Friday in Kansas City’s Crossroads demonstrates, there is ample evidence of a thriving and eclectic art scene in this city.
The current exhibition acknowledges and celebrates the work of artists working not only in Kansas City, but in the surrounding six states, thus in the very Heartland of the Midwest. As a European, resident in the US for eighteen years (Detroit, Los Angeles, and now Kansas City), I came to this selection with an open mind and little familiarity with the work of many of these Midwest artists. And I have been impressed by the imagery and technical command of this group of entries. My selection formed naturally around a number of related and complementary themes. Some works resonate with the gentle and haunting landscapes and skies of the Prairies, captured in different seasons and different media. Birds, animals and plants of the region recur as a motif. Even the selection of abstract works seems to harken to natural forms, materials and images. By contrast, a series of works on paper evoking sculptural installations, museum interiors and two large paintings of cultural landmarks in Paris, have added meaning for me through their direct reference to my own research as a sculpture historian and through my familiarity with European cities. Inevitably I have been drawn to those!
When we record the land that surrounds us, whether through painting, graphic means or photography, we often unconsciously record our own nostalgia and longing for a familiar or idealized landscape. This longing shapes our perspective, and in a group of works of the sky (David Titterington), atmospheric effects (Larry Roggenkamp), stormy nights (VK Tucker and Sheron Smith), the sweep of hills and prairie, (Rebecca Riden and Ronald Beeton), abandoned rooms and sites (Ron Anderson), or a solitary seated figure (Judith Burngen), we see the world through a melancholic lens. Indeed, the title of Maryanna Adelman’s watercolor, All Roads Lead Home directly refers to that longing for home.
A group of bird and flower images executed in experimental and historic photographic techniques–infrared (Marydorsey Wanless) and a sunprint (Rebecca Ofiesh) – or in graphite (Maryanna Adelman), and an expressionistic birdbath (Katherine Shadensack), represent poetic depictions of nature, in contrast to the direct, but tender, observation of a black steer (Don Wolfe). Raw nature is also hinted at in a group of abstract works whose titles and techniques refer directly to their inspiration: Amanda Jolley’s homonymous work uses encaustic, dirt, roots and oil. Others refer to natural forms (Sharon Keller) or atmospheres (Drew Simons and John Marak). Through their palette and technique even the abstract mixed-media works are embedded in nature and the built environment. Rachelle Gardner’s textile hanging evokes a burning, sun-soaked horizon, while Joyce Jablonski and Ruth Kolker’s layered images refer to the cacophony of the sights and smells of the city.
A small group of three-dimensional objects seems to have been washed up on a sea shore. A weathered jaw-like form resembles driftwood (Ruth Laughlin); a jagged, bundle of paper and hair evokes skeletal forms (Betsy Knabe Roe), while the decoration of a bangle is made up of the delicate forms of sea shells (Sara LaGrand). A silver-gilt beaker (Genevieve Flynn), whose repoussé body virtually wriggles with marine creatures – including an octopus – is designed in the grand tradition of European precious metalwork that has been collected for magnificent “Cabinets of Wonder” since the Renaissance.
As a sculpture historian I reveal my personal bias by a selection of several works featuring figurative sculpture (Shakura Jackson, Brandon Frederick). And as a museum curator the echoing interior of a long gallery in the Louvre (Ada Koch), or the blurry image of seated girls before a painting (Jerry Stogsdill), evoke the familiar spaces and activities of my own museum career.
Finally, a final small group of photographs demonstrate that Futurism and Surrealism are alive and well. The utopian images of Metropolis and Lefi Riefenstahl’s films and Robert Rauschenberg’s sophisticated collages seem to haunt Brett Chenoweth’s photo-collages. And the wheels of a train at Illinois Central (Jo Narron) might start to move forward as if in one of Marinetti’s Futurist paintings.”
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