International Sculpture Conference Comes to KC Oct. 25 – 28

The KC Arts Scene Responds with tours, Exhibits, Talks and More

Kansas City continues to attract conferences from nationally and internationally prominent arts organizations. Spring of 2016 brought the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, and this fall the International Sculpture Center holds its 27th conference here, under the organizing topic of “Intersections + Identities.”

The ISC seeks to “expand public understanding and appreciation of sculpture internationally; demonstrate the power of sculpture to educate and effect social change; engage artists and arts professionals in a dialogue to advance the art form; and promote a supportive environment for sculpture and sculptors.” The ISC publishes “Sculpture” magazine and owns www.sculpture.org.

The organization’s ties to the Kansas City area date back to its foundation. The late Elden Tefft, formerly professor of sculpture at the University of Kansas, organized a national sculpture conference in 1960, and the International Sculpture Center was created as a result of conference discussions. Tefft is credited with being the founder of the organization. Thanks to his involvement, the National Sculpture Conference was held at KU until 1976, when the organization began choosing other locations.

When asked what led ISC to choose Kansas City for this year’s conference, Executive Director Johanna Hutchison replied that “Kansas City was chosen for its vibrant and giving art community. ISC staff visited during NCECA (2016) and was really impressed with how the entire city came together and welcomed artists and an art audience. We are hosting programming at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has an amazing sculpture collection. We are also working closely with the Kansas City Art Institute, which is offering great workshops in the new David T. Beals III Studios for Art & Technology. The entire city has been very welcoming and we are very excited to host the International Sculpture Conference in Kansas City.”

The conference runs October 24 – 29, headquartered at the Marriott Country Club Plaza. Tuesday the 24th and Wednesday the 25th feature tours of artspaces and fabrication studios for conference attendees — perhaps most notably, a visit to A. Zahner Co. to “experience the intersection of art and architecture.”

Zahner, a 120-year-old high-end metalworking company based in Kansas City, is well known worldwide for producing complex metalwork on many leading architectural projects, such as Frank Gehry’s Experience Music Project building in Seattle, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco by Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan.

It seems less well known that Zahner has also been involved in fabricating public art, such as the Kansas City-area icons “Sky Stations” by R.M. Fischer, “Winds of Aphrodite” by Zhao Suikang, and the newly dedicated Leawood work “Weight of Your Heart, Weight of a Feather” by David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr. In addition, Zahner’s sister company, MetaLabs, provides metal conservation services to museums, collectors, historical buildings and municipalities.

Recently, Zahner and MetaLabs have been making a more concerted effort to work with art and artists. Sean Kelley, director of art business development, says, “Over the years, Zahner has had close relationships with artists and we have often had the same goals. We’re evolving from having occasional, casual relationships with artists to looking for artists that are a good fit with our world-class fabrication capabilities.”

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is playing a lead role in the conference also, as panel discussions will be held in the museum’s Atkins Auditorium Thursday the 24th through Saturday the 29th. The panel discussions are open to registered conference attendees only, although the keynote speech Thursday evening is open to the public. The speaker has not been named as of press time, but the topic will be “Sculpture Parks in the Urban Core: What is the Future?”

Other events scheduled during the conference include a tour of Belger Crane Yard Studios; workshops in 3-D printing, CNC milling and laser cutting at the Kansas City Art Institute; a glassblowing workshop at Monarch Glass Studio; a “Long String Instrument” concert by Ellen Fullman; and a trip to Lawrence with tours of the Spencer Museum of Art, the Lawrence Arts Center and the sculpture department at the University of Kansas. Many galleries will also be featuring sculpture-oriented exhibitions during the conference.

Some of the conference attendees will be visiting Kansas City from overseas, as the ISC has members in far-flung locations such as Japan, England and Turkey.

Jill Downen, assistant professor and chairperson of the sculpture department at the Kansas City Art Institute notes, “The conference is a great opportunity to highlight our community and to exchange ideas with people from all over the world. I think we’re living in a time in which it’s important for us to listen to each other and be open to a variety of experiences.”

At least one panel discussion will address diversity head-on. Native American artists Gerald Clarke, Bob Houzous, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Holly Wilson will participate in a panel discussion titled “Indigenous Sculptors Respond: Indigenous (hi)Story, Land and ‘Belonging’ in an Era of Anti-Immigration.”

Kansas City has long had a national reputation for being very supportive of the ceramic arts. The ISC conference may help demonstrate that the area should also be well known for sculpture.

About The Author: James Martin

James Martin

James Martin is an independent consultant, curator, educator and writer based in the Kansas City area. Most recently, he served as guest curator of “Chromaphilia,” an exhibition of Kansas City Art Institute ceramics department alumni, on view at the KCAI Gallery through June 4. Since 2001, he has focused on working with art located outside of typical art venues, such as public art and corporate and hospital art collections.

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