Artist Pages: 25 Kemper Watchers Pick 25 Favorites

Oct. 2 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1994 opening of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and a quarter century of exhibitions and acquisitions that have expanded and enriched the Kansas City cultural landscape. In recognition of this milestone, “KC Studio” asked 25 Kemper watchers — including artists, critics, patrons, collectors and area museum professionals — to pick a favorite work of art or exhibition, which we chronicle in the following pages. — Alice Thorson, editor

Photos courtesy Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art


Beverly Semmes, “Yellow Pool” (1993) installation view (© Beverly Semmes, courtesy Susan Inglett Gallery)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Beverly Semmes: Yellow Pool” 1995

KEMPER WATCHER: James Martin, curator and writer


EXHIBITION PICK: “Hung Liu: A Ten-Year Survey (1988 – 1998)” 1998

KEMPER WATCHER: Susan Goldenberg, violinist, Kansas City Symphony


Installation view (from the artist)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Visualize the Art Guys” 1996

KEMPER WATCHER: Tal Wilson, photographer and educator


Christian Boltanski, “20 Dead Swiss” (1990) (© Christian Boltanski; photo by Marian Goodman Gallery)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Christian Boltanski: So Far” 1998

KEMPER WATCHER: Theresa Bembnister, curator of exhibitions, Akron Art Museum

“The haunting images of the faces in those black and white photos are seared into my memory.”
— Theresa Bembnister


(Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art)

COLLECTION PICK: Petah Coyne, “Untitled #1336 (Scalapino Nu Shu)” (2009)

KEMPER WATCHER: Laura Spencer, arts reporter, KCUR

“Novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor’s peafowl, which gathered on the roof and in the trees of her Georgia farm, served as the inspiration for the work.” — Laura Spencer


Liza Lou, “Kitchen” (1991–95) installation view (© Liza Lou; photo by Tony Cuñha)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Liza Lou: Back Yard and Kitchen” 1998

KEMPER WATCHER: Marc Wilson, former director and CEO, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Polly Apfelbaum, “Split” (1998) (© Polly Apfelbaum)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Abstract Painting Once Removed” 1999

KEMPER WATCHER: Robin Trafton, fine art curator, Commerce Bank


Lezley Saar, “Geneva Saar Agustsson—Labeled Autistic” (1998) (© Lezley Saar; photo by Dan Wayne)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Lezley Saar” 1999

KEMPER WATCHER: Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin, artist and curator


Frederick James Brown, “They Had the Right to Sing the Blues” (1995) (© Frederick J. Brown Trust / Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Frederick J. Brown: Portraits in Jazz, Blues, & Other Icons” 2002

KEMPER WATCHER: Harold Smith, artist and writer

“I went to see it at Kemper Museum and the accompanying exhibit at the American Jazz Museum multiple times. Even bought both of the books and read them until they fell apart!” — Harold Smith


Robin Bernat, “American Pastoral” (2001) film stills

EXHIBITION PICK: “Robin Bernat: American Pastoral” 2003

KEMPER WATCHER: Heather Lustfeldt, curator and writer


Installation view (photo by Bruce Mathews)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Zephyr: Paintings by Gajin Fujita” 2006

KEMPER WATCHER: Larry Meeker, art collector

“I loved the mix of cultures — Japanese and Mexican — in his work, brought about by his ethnic origin and the neighborhood he grew up in in Los Angeles.” — Larry Meeker


Jaimie Warren, “Untitled (Self Portrait, Red and Flowers, Tokyo)” (2007) (© and courtesy of the artist)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Jaimie Warren: You Are So Beautiful in the Face” 2009

KEMPER WATCHER: Hesse McGraw, curator and partner, el dorado inc


© 2015 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

COLLECTION PICK: Helen Frankenthaler, “Coral Wedge” (1972)

KEMPER WATCHER: Elise Kelly, Kemper Museum protection staff


Installation view (photo by Bruce Mathews)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Keltie Ferris: Man Eaters” 2009

KEMPER WATCHER: Steve Abend, architect and collector

“Seeing Keltie’s work again at a New York art fair brought Barbara and I to commission a huge painting titled ‘[[[O]]][[[O]]].’ It is an explosion of forms and colors at the center of our home . . .” — Steve Abend


Installation view (photo by Bruce Mathews)

EXHIBITION PICK: “David Bates: The Katrina Paintings” 2010

KEMPER WATCHER: Steve Paul, author and columnist


Gao Brothers, “Execution of Christ” (2009) installation view (photo by Bruce Mathews)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Gao Brothers: Grandeur and Catharsis” 2010

KEMPER WATCHER: Evelyn Craft Belger, executive director, Belger Arts Center and Belger Crane Yard Studios

“The work is very political, of course, but it also has irony and makes you look at contemporary culture/society in a different way.” — Evelyn Craft Belger


Nick Vedros, “Damien, 2015” (2015) (© and courtesy of the artist)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Faces of Change: 22 Inmate Portraits by Photographer Nick Vedros” 2015

KEMPER WATCHER: Jan Schall, former curator of modern art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Gina Adams, “Survival/Zhaabwiiwin” (2013-15) installation view (photo by E.G. Schempf)

EXHIBITION PICK: “The Center is a Moving Target: If You Ever Lived (T)here” 2015

KEMPER WATCHER: E.G. Schempf, photographer

“I was especially moved by the Gina Adams tents; Caitlin Horsmon’s piece was a standout. Jim Woodfill’s installation was great too! All the artists and the curator utilized the Kemper Crossroads space perfectly.” — E.G. Schempf


Rashid Johnson, “Antoine’s Organ” (2016) installation view (photo by E. G. Schempf)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” 2017

KEMPER WATCHER: David Hughes, founder and director emeritus, Charlotte Street Foundation


photo by James Allison Photography

COLLECTION PICK: Marsden Hartley, “Backwaters Up Millinocket Way” (1939)

KEMPER WATCHER: James Brinsfield, artist

“On the eve of World War II, Hartley turned the ordinary into the extraordinary in this synthesis of a clunky, darkly romantic, 19th-century provincial landscape with a 20th-century nihilistic vision of death, destruction and displacement.” — James Brinsfield


Sylvia Snowden, “June 12” (1992) (© Sylvia Snowden)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction 1960s to Today” 2017

KEMPER WATCHER: Bruce Hartman, executive director and curator, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art


Naoko Wowsugi, “Thank You for Teaching Me English” (2013) Installation view (© Naoko Wowsugi; photo by E. G. Schempf)

EXHIBITION PICK: “National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition” 2017

KEMPER WATCHER: Merily Goetz, Kemper Museum docent


© Virginia Jaramillo, courtesy of the artist and Douglas Drake Fine Art, Kansas City, Missouri

COLLECTION PICK: Virginia Jaramillo, “Principle of Equivalence” (1975)

KEMPER WATCHER: Doug Drake, independent art consultant, Drake Fine Art


Installation view (photo by E.G. Schempf)

EXHIBITION PICK: “Nkame: A Retrospective of the Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon” 2018

KEMPER WATCHER: Elisabeth Kirsch, curator and writer

“I visited the show six times and brought everyone I knew.” — Elisabeth Kirsch


© Estate of Jacques Lipchitz, courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; photo by Dan Wayne

COLLECTION PICK: Jacques Lipchitz, “Bellerophon Taming Pegasus: Large Version” (1964)

KEMPER WATCHER: David Cateforis, professor and chair of art history, University of Kansas

“I love the swelling, rippling, thrusting volumes of the giant kicking horse with his hand-like wings, his baroque energy calmly held in check by the diminutive Bellerophon, who is virtually an afterthought in the composition.” — David Cateforis

About The Author: KC Studio

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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