The Delta variant means this is not the fall we’d hoped for, yet as this issue goes to press, KC arts organizations are on the rebound, with a well-stocked calendar of performances and exhibits to enjoy, albeit while wearing masks.
Summer brought the opening of the wondrous “Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse” exhibit at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, presenting viewers with a cosmic array of lights that blink in response to the heartbeats of gallery occupants. And the “Testimony” exhibit at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is everything Kansas Citians could hope for when it comes to celebrating the talents of African American artists from the city and beyond.
A treat destined to bring out the incipient collector in every art lover is the current Kansas City Flatfile & Digitalfile exhibit at the Kansas City Art Institute’s H&R Block Artspace. Given the contraction of the gallery scene over the past decade, with the deaths of longtime dealers including Jan Weiner, Byron Cohen, Tom Deatherage and Ron Chaney, the Flatfile exhibit, with its drawers of files filled with work by 275 KC artists, affords visitors an opportunity to experience a breathtaking array of work by many artists who do not have local gallery representation — along with artists who do. Nearly all the work is for sale, at price points geared to every budget.
This is the biggest Flatfile yet, according to Artspace director Raechell Smith, with nearly 40 more artists than the 2018 iteration. The growth reflects nominations from a panel of community curators, enlisted to expand the exhibit’s reach into the community. This year, 20 percent of the exhibiting artists are new to the Flatfile, which has been presented biennially since 2000. “I’m incredibly pleased,” Smith said during a recent visit, noting that the Flatfile opportunity inspired artists to get excited about making work after the shutdown of shows during the pandemic. Many works in the exhibit also reflect “how we’ve all drawn inwards, isolation and interiority,” she said.
The Flatfile is filled with surprises, including previously unseen bodies of new work by Deanna Dikeman and Mary Wessel and a first-time KC showing of work by Joe Houston, who is based here, but usually exhibits at PPOW in New York. The exhibit’s cultural reach is broad, from the intricate mola-like paintings of Chico Sierra to Jorge García Almodovar’s prints inspired by the ornate gates in his native Puerto Rico and searing new additions to Harold Smith’s “Men of Color” series.
“There are so many treasures here; there really are,” said art critic Elisabeth Kirsch, whose review of this year’s Flatfile [is forthcoming].
As Bob Trussell points out in his overview of upcoming stage productions, the ideas and efforts of women dominate the fall theater season. So too in the visual arts.
Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum, is responsible for the Rafael Lozano-Hemmer show. Stephanie Fox Knappe, curator of American art at the Nelson-Atkins, worked with members of the African American Artists Collective to organize “Testimony.” Raechell Smith, who has been producing the Flatfile for 20 years, has managed to up the energy and relevance of the exhibit in the 2021 version. And before long, KC gallery goers will have an opportunity to experience the vision of another woman curator, as the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art’s new director and chief curator JoAnne Northrup begins organizing exhibitions.
Women’s achievements are something to celebrate as we all slowly, cautiously, make our way back to stages, concert halls and museums.