Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Spring 1993

KCAC Forum Magazine Spring 1993

by Deanne Pearson

Much has been said lately about the proposed installation of a Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen collaboration project on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The project involves installing four 18-foot badminton shuttlecocks in various positions along the north-south axis of the museum grounds, inferring that the museum building is something of a net in an imaginary badminton game. Not all that has been said has been positive.

All art has its detractors; it goes without saying that beauty, and often artistic merit, lies in the eye of the beholder. But to consider refusing an opportunity because the art is risky and doesn’t conform to the traditional, conservative idea of sculpture is to miss out on a wonderful opportunity to expand those ideas in a relatively safe and meaningful way.

Look at the proposal. It was initiated upon the invitation of an anonymous donor, who would presumably foot the bill for fabrication and installation of the sculptures. Hence it would expand local artistic offerings without the use of any public funding and without compromising other projects or straining any already tight budgets

It would fit in well with the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s modern sculpture initiative begun last year, which seeks to build a strong collection of 20th century sculpture. And because the pieces would be built for outdoor display, the collection would then include a monumental sculpture without sacrificing a monumental amount of limited gallery
space. Oldenburg is considered one of the best known artists of the Pop movement of the 1960s; two of his small scale soft sculptures are already part of the museum permanent collection. By adding a recent, monumental collaborative sculpture, the museum would round out their holdings by this artist, enabling them to show the depth of his work as well as its breadth. They would also join the ranks of such institutions as Yale University in New Haven, Conn., the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Dallas Museum of Art, all of which display large-scale projects by Oldenburg and van Bruggen.

Taking on this project would have educational results as well. By accepting and displaying the sculpture proudly, the Nelson Atkins Museum would show that art doesn’t have to be all oil paints and still lifes; there is room within art for humor, whimsy and work that goes beyond the traditional boundaries that so often limit local tastes. And the sculptures do so in a relatively benign way. They avoid the entanglements of politics, religion, sex and morality that are so often tied to “controversial” modern art. If you want a safe risk, this is it.

And of course the sculptures would bring more attention to the already well-thought-of museum, and would attract new visitors to the area. Those of us who live in Kansas City and regularly partake of its culture are aware of its richness. But beyond about a 200-mile radius the city is often thought of as a backwards cow-town with little to offer anyone. This proposed addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s holding when joined with its already strong collection and the new Kemper Museum of Contemporary
Art and Design being built on the grounds of Kansas City Art Institute, will build on Kansas City’s reputation for fine arts. How can the city lose by continuing to expand its culture to include new attractions and thereby attract new visitors?

The old saying goes “Opportunity knocks but once.” When you consider the positives included in this particular artistic opportunity, it would be a crime for Kansas City to close its curtains and pretend that nobody is home, or worse yet, to slam the door shouting, “We don’t want any.” Instead it should answer the knock, welcome the opportunity, and use it as an impetus to educate and expand the tastesof the local public.