Preview: Art in the Year Ahead

A ballerina touching a canvas that rads (Illustration: Sam Yates | KCPT)

In Kansas City, the arts have long been an engine for growth. During the city’s first golden age, jazz was the dominant medium. In the 21st century, though, visual arts have led the way. That leadership should continue in 2017, with a concornopia of impressive events and exhibits to keep our city at the forefront. Flatland has just a few of the big art happenings sure to make news in the new year.

On Jan. 20, Greenwood Baptist Church will host NASTY FOLK, a one-day group sale and exhibition to be held, pointedly, on Inauguration Day. The show, also pointedly, will be a fundraiser for the ACLU.

It’s a universally inclusive event. Everyone is welcome, of any age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, economic background or citizenship status. If you are human, in other words, you are invited, and that same ecumenical spirit applies to the show itself. Every work, in any form, will be included, just so long as it’s submitted here before Jan. 15. That means painters, sculptors and photographers can contribute. So can writers. Musicians can offer recordings. Dancers can provide tickets to upcoming shows. Culinary artists can donate food, drink or gift certificates. You name it. Absolutely anyone with something constructive to contribute is welcome to take part.

Feb. 9, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art will open “Hail We Now Sing Joy,” a new collection by Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson. The work, exploring themes of anxiety, identity and escape, will offer lots of Johnson’s signature look; big, white ceramic tile panels and mirror fragments covered with scrawled drawings of tense, unsettled faces. Which, accordingly, should make it a tense and unsettling show. That’s a good thing. Some of us need to be unsettled.

On Feb. 23, the advocacy group ArtsKC will host its 2017 Awards Luncheon. Julia Irene Kauffman will serve as honorary chair for the event, presiding over the city’s movers and shakers as they stop moving and shaking long enough to sit and schmooze. Rachelle Gardner-Roe will be the featured visual artist, while MoonDrop Circus, Xiangyu Zhao of the UMKC Conservatory and The Kansas City Boys Choir provide live entertainment.

In March, your impression of the Nelson will change. The museum will open a major new gallery space to display a glorious set of acquisitions. The newly renovated Bloch Galleries, tucked in the museum’s original 1933 Beaux-Arts building, will open as a showcase for the Marion and Henry Bloch Collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Expect to be dazzled. With more than two dozen masterpieces, the collection nearly doubles the museum’s holdings of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. It’s a who’s who, really, including works by Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Seurat, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne.

Since 1992, Johnson County Community College has held a biennial fundraiser, BEYOND BOUNDS. This year’s party, set for April 29, will be particularly special, as it marks the 10th anniversary of JCCC’s Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. The theme is “DAZZLING!” In accordance, several local artists were sent dazzling art supplies, including micro-jewel glitter and diamond dust. They’ll use them to create original art works, which will then be auctioned at the event to raise money for the museum. Plus, there’ll be, like, food and stuff.

Art festivals are always with us, and 2017 will be no exception. May 5-7, the Brookside Art Annual will celebrate its 32nd year. Sept. 8 to 10, Art Westport will turn 38. The Plaza Art Fair, as always, is hosted the third weekend after Labor Day, with 2017 marking the 86th edition of the mammoth event.

In June, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art will open “Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction 1960s to Today,” the first U.S. presentation exclusively dedicated to the formal and historical dialogue of abstraction by black female artists. “Magnetic Fields,” it’s worth noting, is supported by an NEA grant, marking the third straight year the museum has been so honored. The fact that Jane Chu, former president and CEO of the Kauffman Center, is chairwoman of the NEA is emphatically not why the Kemper gets grants. They get grants because they do excellent work. But it sure doesn’t hurt the city to have such a powerful friend.

Also in June, “So You Think You Know” opens at the Nerman, inside the Kansas Focus Gallery. Composed of hundreds of small collages created by Larry Thomas, retired professor and fine arts chair at JCCC, this will be a massive, immersive installation using traditional media, such as painting, drawing and printmaking, as well as more contemporary forms, such as digitally generated images.

In October, unbridled personality will come to the Kemper. Every three years, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery stages the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a juried exhibit of contemporary portraiture. Starting Oct. 6, the winners will be in KC, one of only three cities chosen to host the prestigious show.

Also in October, get ready to get cubist, as the Nelson-Atkins will host a groundbreaking, world-class Picasso exhibit. A collaboration with Musée Picasso, Musée du quai Branly and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the show will feature some 170 objects, including more than 40 masterworks by Picasso himself. The major survey, a first of its kind in the Midwest, will demonstrate how Picasso was influenced by non-western art, including the African and Oceanic objects he owned. The Nelson stop, by the way, is the only United States venue for the exhibit.

— Hampton Stevens writes about the arts and entertainment for regional and national publications. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with his pit bull, Ginger. Follow him @HamptonStevens.


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