Arts News – 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City: A New Home for Contemporary Art

The Savoy Hotel’s four-year transformation is complete, and 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City is now a dynamic new home for contemporary art.

“21c Kansas City is an extraordinary addition to the city’s visual arts scene. It’s terrific that this legendary structure now exhibits and extols cutting-edge, contemporary art,” says Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

21c Kansas City is the eighth 21c Museum Hotel, which is one of the largest museums in North America dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting 21st-century art. Alice Gray Stites, 21c Museum Hotel’s museum director and chief curator, says 21c is a new model for bringing art to the public.

“At 21c, we have an opportunity to show artwork that challenges and inspires people about the world we live in through exhibits that are intentionally inclusive,” Stites says. “Everyone is welcome. Anyone who walks in the door should see themselves and, at the same time, see the unfamiliar.”

The familiar and unfamiliar intersect in “Refuge” and “Limitless,” the inaugural exhibits at 21c Kansas City, which opened July 17.

The diverse works bridge humanity’s past and present, as they provoke questions about our shared future.

In “Refuge,” 54 international artists give voice to the stories of migrants seeking, needing and creating shelter.

Through painting, sculpture, photography and video installations, the artists depict migrants around the world, motivated by environmental, economic and socio-political factors, who “seek a better life by crossing the four seas.”

Water-born passages, a recurrent theme in the show, present daunting spiritual, emotional and physical challenges for travelers longing — or forced — to seek a new life. Seas and sailing vessels symbolize migration’s implicit peril and loss, along with its allure of safety and hope.

In his series of photographs, “Passage,” Mohau Modisakeng depicts refugees crossing dark seas alone on seemingly impossible journeys. Dinh Q. Lê, Ellen Kooi and other artists interpret the sea as a promising escape, while Yoan Capote portrays the ocean’s canvas as a snare riddled with fish hooks.

Ornamented with relics and objects often brought along on a migration journey, Hew Locke’s flotilla of hanging boats, “The Wine Dark Sea,” pays homage to Homer’s “wine-dark sea,” while also speaking to the risk and promise of human journeys. “It’s not just about something dark,” says Locke. “It’s about people searching for a better life, which is a human right.”

The artists in “Refuge” draw from rich, multi-layered roots. History, literature, ancient allegory and the continuum of human migration are woven through the tapestry of today, offering a new look at current world conditions.

“Limitless,” the second inaugural exhibition, showcases three permanent site-specific installations in which the artists have responded to the building’s original history and architecture, while also delving into crucial questions about our future.

Luftwerk’s “Linear Sky” features color-saturated LED light fixtures that create optical illusions in the hotel’s entrance hallway. Luftwerk, an artistic collaboration of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, designed a lighting sequence inspired by the changing hues of Kansas City’s urban skies — skies that were viewed from the Savoy for more than 100 years.

Installed in the hotel lounge, American Indian artist Brad Kahlhamer’s 2017 “Super Catcher, Vast Array,” is a magical sculptural installation of Native American dream catchers created from wire and bells.

Ken+Julia Yonetani’s “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nuclear Nations” is a radiant, luminous catalyst for profound questions, installed in the 21c lobby dome.

Introduced at the 2013 Singapore Biennial, the chandelier’s intricate uranium glass elements correspond to the scale of other countries’ nuclear power capabilities, while also representing our own nation’s power manifestations. The stunning work sparks a somber discussion, “In the future, what should we wish for?”

“Refuge” continues at 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City, 219 W. 9th St., Kansas City, Missouri, through May 2019. “Limitless” is a permanent site-specific installation. Both exhibits are free and open to the public 365 days per year. Guided museum tours are offered Wednesdays and Fridays at 5 p.m. For more information (816) 443-4200 or www.21cmuseumhotels.com/kansascity.

Anne Marie Hunter

Anne Marie Hunter is a writer and photographer who holds a B.S. in speech and art history from Northwestern University and a M.A. in Art Education from Southern Oregon University. Her work includes newspaper, magazine and corporate photography and writing assignments and projects. You can view and read her work at annemariehunter.com.

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