‘Aliza Nisenbaum: Aquí Se Puede (Here You Can)’ at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation view in Kemper Museum atrium of “Aliza Nisenbaum: Aquí Se Puede (Here You Can),” featuring (left to right) “DJ Luis” (2021), oil on canvas, 64 x 57 x 1 1/4″ “Sheree” (2021), oil on canvas, 64 x 57 x 1 1/4″ and “Dálida and Michael (Serenata del Tres Cubano)” (2021), oil on canvas, 64 x 57 x 1 1/4″.

In August, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened “Aliza Nisenbaum: Aquí Se Puede (Here You Can),” its sixth annual Atrium Project exhibition. The three commissioned works by New York-based artist Aliza Nisenbaum portray four individuals who are active in Kansas City’s salsa dance and music communities. The paintings emerge from the artist’s sustained attention to the individuals and speak to the vibrancy and energy of their communities.

Many of the commissioned works for the Atrium Project have been works by Latinx artists.

Nisenbaum was born in Mexico City, earned BFA and MFA degrees at The Art Institute of Chicago, and teaches in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. The paintings on display show multidimensional representations of a DJ from El Salvador, a couple who met in Havana, Cuba, and lives in Kansas City, and an established salsa dancer and teacher of dance in Kansas City. Skillful painting techniques render the shifting colors and tones of the individuals’ figures and energies.

The exhibition represents the activation of a museum space that is not typically considered a gallery space. Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum, said in a recent interview that “we had such a great amount of people coming to the museum’s café for lunch and enjoying the café and sometimes they didn’t have time to see the galleries. So, what better way to meet and greet people than to showcase artists’ work front and center.”

“It’s not anything new,” Dziedzic added. “The ICA Boston has a strong program of doing something in their atrium, the Hammer Museum for many years has done something . . . so it’s in that lineage of working within these nontraditional exhibition spaces.” Many “KC Studio” readers will be familiar with the iconic Frank Stella piece “The Prophet (D16, 2X)” (1990) that has lived in the museum’s atrium for some years.

Many of the commissioned works from the Atrium Project become part of the museum’s permanent collection or spark a dialogue with pieces from the permanent collection. Viewers will infer that Nisenbaum is very much conscious of the history of presenting figures in her practice. The folds and the shifts and the way the body is positioned show a shared energy between Nisenbaum’s brightly colored paintings and the nearby “Portrait of Sid Duffy” (1973) by Alice Neel, for whom Nisenbaum has a “deep love,” Dziedzic said. There is also shared energy between Nisenbaum’s work and “Watermelon Seeds” (2019), a large acrylic painting on aluminum mesh by Summer Wheat, which is also in the space.

There is an intergenerational conversation here that helps us to better appreciate the museum’s collections and to better appreciate the breadth of contemporary art. “This project premieres the week that students return to the Art Institute and is in conjunction with the museum’s annual block party,” Dziedzic said. “It’s a celebration of this work, but it’s also a way for us to welcome students back to campus and to let them know that we have some stuff going on here.”

“Aliza Nisenbaum: Aquí Se Puede (Here You Can)” continues through July 31 at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. For more information, 816.753.5784 or www.kemperart.org

Robert Brown

Robert Brown is a poet and multimedia artist who works with the Foundation Department at the Kansas City Art Institute. His poems have appeared in “Chicago Quarterly Review” and Kansas City Ballet educational materials.

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