After two years of showing paintings and drawings by Impressionist and Abstract Expressionist masters as well as contemporary sculpture, photography and videotapes, in December 1976, I presented an interactive installation work by Cyndi Ketchum at Douglas Drake Gallery, 4500 State Line Road.
Ketchum was a 34-year-old recent graduate of the Art Institute whose previous art environments in her attic and in her Brookside basement had struck me as intelligent, symbolically coherent, and engaging on many levels. She had challenged me to give her some time and space in the gallery, and I readily accepted. What she had in mind and developed was a work titled Women in Glasses, presented the nights of Dec. 7 and 8, 1976.
In a designed, totally white environment, 12 to 15 nude women (depending on the night), dyed pink and wearing pink sunglasses, lay, sat or stood on individual pedestals.
Crucial to the artist’s intent, this living sculpture of women allowed space for the public to be part of the art, as well. The models were instructed not to look directly into the eyes of the audience, and were choreographed to change positions on specific words: “glass . . . wet . . . velvet . . . neon . . . fog . . . thorn . . . water . . . green . . . knife . . . brick . . . swan . . . rust,” spoken over the recorded wash cycle of a washing machine. The soundtrack was a 12-minute loop created with the assistance of Bill Shapiro, who went on to host KCUR’s “Cypress Avenue” show in 1978.
The volunteer models included artists, students, professionals and housewives — including one woman who was five months pregnant. Nelson-Atkins chief curator Ted Coe attended the first night and returned the second night with several of the museum’s trustees! Total attendance for the two nights was 325 people.
The front door to the main gallery space was locked and the space itself was enclosed with white sheets. Entry was from the back door, which was on a lower level. Another local character crucial to the project was Arthur Benson, who guided me with elements to prevent legal issues, primarily by posting signs at the event entrance saying that no one under 18 would be admitted, no drinking or smoking, 2 dollar payment and model release were required, and the caution, “If nudity offends you, please leave.” One couple did.
The late photographer Donald White took color and black-and-white photos of record; some of these were shown two months later in a special exhibition at the gallery. Ketchum (now known as Cyncha Jeansonne) has described the piece as “an interactive 3D version of a Rubens painting.” It was a topical, provocative work, joining the era’s feminist refutations of the male gaze by artists such as Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann and Lynda Benglis.
Shifra Stein of The Kansas City Star and Victoria Melcher of Kansas City Magazine reviewed the exhibition. The Associated Press relayed reports to many cities where local articles then appeared, including Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Cleveland, Newport Beach, Fort Worth, St. Louis — and in Scotland and London.
Above: Closeup view of Cyndi Ketchum’s Women in Glasses installation/performance work, presented at Douglas Drake Gallery in Kansas City on Dec. 7 and 8, 1976. Image from the artist.