“Amalgam: Resident Exhibition 2019,” Belger Crane Yard Gallery

Every year the Belger Crane Yard Gallery invites artists who have been awarded residencies in one of their various programs to be part of a group exhibit. The five artists in this year’s resident exhibition, “Amalgam,” are from very different places, and they make very different art. Yet two distinct themes resonate throughout this show.

Pierce Haley and Kate Schroeder reference, in singular ways, the impact of family lineage on their art. Christen Baker, Elaine Buss and Wansoo Kim create dissimilar sculptures that all delve into provocative, hidden spaces that challenge viewers’ perceptions.

The world of cacti and succulents come alive in Kate Schroeder’s botanical sculptures, which are both surreal and realistic. Her small, exquisitely carved renditions of aloe and cactus plants spill out of coffee cups and inhabit the interior of disc-shaped vessels. Schroeder, who received her BFA from the University of Central Missouri and then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she got an MFA in sculpture, began this body of work “in the wake of many major life changes and serious health scares with my mother.”

Schroeder’s great grandmother earned a PhD in botany in the 1930s, and her grandmother and mother co-owned a flower shop when she grew up. “Traditionally aloe and succulents symbolize healing and luck,” she says. “Cacti symbolize protection and endurance. This symbolism is significant because each of the women in my genetic line has endured great challenges in life and have adapted to the situation with grace and perseverance.”

Vessels also factor in her art as they have historically represented the feminine; Schroeder forms her vessels so that they rock at a touch, which “alludes to balance in an unstable environment, whether external or internal.”

Rigorous geometry informs the earth-toned wall works of Pierce Haley, who is from Orinda, California, and received his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2015. The circles and overlapping planes in his work are inspired, he says, by the mid-century building designs of his architect father, whose constructions have stimulated him since childhood. There are flashes of everything from Art Deco to Frank Lloyd Wright in his stringent, graphic sculptures.

Christen Baker also received her BFA from KCAI, where she lectures in the ceramics department and teaches classes in kiln-fired glass. The glazed porcelain artworks in her “Celebration” series, featured here, are festive and enigmatic. Speckled and colorful, they allude to hatboxes, cakes and presents. What is inside them is a mystery, and ambiguity is the point. “Speckled clay, rudimentary shapes, and bright colors in my work are relatable,” Baker says, “in that they reference the pixilation and visual noise of our surroundings.” She wants her art “to fabricate discomfort, stimulation and desire within oneself.”

Elaine Buss holds an MFA from Ohio State University and is currently a career resident at Belger Crane Yard. Her pots, which are dark and moody, with names like “Crater,” “Pool” and “Reservoir,” are craggy and forbidding from the outside, while dreamy and inscrutable inside. Most of her pieces require the viewer to look deep within each vessel to fully see them. Her large works, which rise from the floor like burnt tree trunks, have an imposing typological appeal, and one must use a flashlight to see into their depths. It is as if Buss is pushing us to look for the soul within even the murkiest of forms, and there is a real spiritual component to her art.

The large porcelain and stoneware vessels of Wansoo Kim, who received his BFA from the Seoul National University of Science and Technology in South Korea, also insist that the viewer peer inside, but they are quite playful. The pots are simple and proletariat on the exterior, but the interiors are scrumptiously designed and glazed. Some even have messages inside, such as “speak up.”

“In my eyes,” Kim says, “the world is composed of both revealed things and hidden things . . . Upon observing an object or a structure, we see only its external reality. I aim to present the unobservable, often presenting the inner reality of things at the same time as I present the apparent outer reality.”

Although the exteriors of Kim’s vessels are mostly neutral in color, there are two pieces in this show that are delicious shades of orange/red, so delectable they leave your mouth watering. This is an artist who can handle color as well as ideas. Kim was featured as an emerging artist in the April issue of “Monthly Ceramic Art” magazine in South Korea, and one anticipates a productive career for him wherever he lives.

“Amalgam: Resident Exhibition 2019” continues at Belger Crane Yard Gallery, 2011 Tracy Ave., through July 13. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.474.7316 or www.CraneYardStudios.org

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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