“Current Works,” Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

The Kansas City Society for Contemporary Photography’s annual “Current Works” exhibition is now on view on the lower level of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. Featuring 37 photographs by 23 photographers, the show presents recent work, most made within the last 18 months. Megan Benitz, Registrar/Exhibitions Manager at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum, served as juror for the show. In her opening statement, Benitz wrote that the “diversity of subject, technique, and process” which demonstrated the “wide array of viewpoints in contemporary photography” helped drive her toward her final selections.

Although many of the photographs were undoubtedly made prior to the current state of the world, it is impossible to look at them (or anything, for that matter) with pre-pandemic eyes. Some photographs carry overt references — Brian Cattelle’s entries evoke feelings of isolation and helplessness. Resembling a laboratory slide, Angie Jennings’ work about her personal health battles reminds one of how steeped in conversation about virus and vaccine we have become.

A strange new vantage point has emerged over the last nine months — a view of the world behind glass. Lea Murphy’s solitary walks reveal glimpses of domestic life through a window. In another Murphy photograph, vibrant colors reflected inside a closed restaurant stand in stark contrast to its emptiness. Jon Onstot’s image of his 97-year old mother peering out from her barely opened door is heartbreakingly poignant considering the disastrous toll of the pandemic on older populations. Gary Hodson’s obscured image of two individuals conversing behind frosted glass with two “DO NOT ENTER” signs forbid access to shared private space.

Other photographs in the show project a sense of uneasiness. Clutching her cat and surrounded by Betty Boop paraphernalia, the young woman in Charlie Pott’s photograph exudes an uncomfortable mix of youth and sophistication. In a nod to traditional street photography, Laura Lloyd’s off-kilter viewpoint disorients. Even Shirley Harryman’s image of purple martins roosting as storm clouds gather feels foreboding.

Some important lessons have been learned this past year. Morgan Willingham’s tribute to the mother-daughter connection and the importance of family is reinforced in her dreamy cyanotype images on found textiles. Thankfully, nature still provides respite from the real world: the quiet pleasure of a heavy snowfall experienced in the work of Roy Inman or immersion in the lush forest landscape in Kirk Decker’s photograph. And tiny reminders that life marches on as seen in the playful gesture of a man illuminated by light in Kyle Batson’s piece.

This little show is easily and quickly viewed, and is well worth the time, particularly for those deprived of art for the past months. All the works are for sale, most in the $200-500 range. The exhibition is accompanied by an 88-page catalogue, available for sale online.

“Current Works 2020” continues at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through Jan. 29. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (with Covid safety precautions observed). For those more comfortable viewing at home, an online slide show can be found at www.leedy-voulkos.com/leedyunderground. For more information, 816.474.1919 or www.leedy-voulkos.com.

About The Author: Jane L. Aspinwall

Jane L. Aspinwall

Jane L. Aspinwall is the former curator and collections supervisor of photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Holding a PhD in art history and an MBA, she has authored and curated numerous publications and exhibitions on photography. Aspinwall is currently working on a project about the early work of Alfred Eisenstaedt.