Editor’s Letter, March/April 2024

KC Studio editor Alice Thorson, photo by Mark Berndt.

Amid snow and sub-zero temperatures, winter in Kansas City brought moments of wonder, urgency and beauty in exhibits at Linda Hall Library and the Kansas City Art Institute’s H&R Block Artspace.

Linda Hall Library’s “Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future” through July 13 immerses the viewer in a veritable aviary of bird images and objects assembled by the library’s president, Eric Dorfman, and its vice president for public programs, Eric Ward. The allure of the images draws one into the exhibit’s cautionary messages about how human behavior has damaged bird populations and brought some species to extinction. Says Dorfman, “The exhibition aims to inspire visitors to learn from the past, raise concern for our dwindling bird populations and promote further study and conservation.” To learn more, see Emily Spradling’s story on the exhibit.

In the recent “Finding Ground” exhibit at Block Artspace, the visitor was immediately confronted by the arresting pairing of Philip Heying’s quietly sublime photographs of the prairie landscape and Erin Wiersma’s exquisite drawings made by pulling paper over Kansas fields charred by controlled burnings. The works are among the show’s many “rich meditations on place . . . inspired and informed by a deep connection to the natural world,” that include inventive investigations of the prairie landscape by Mitch Iburg, Julie Farstad, Cathleen Faubert and Cyan Meeks. (Read review of the show by Ashley Lindeman.)

Looking across the current exhibition landscape, these artists are part of a broad reexamination of the human/nature relationship, fueled in no small part by the dangers and destruction of climate change and born of partnerships between science, art and conservation.

Locally, they included an exhibit at Studios Inc of new works conveying a deep sense of eco-anxiety by Lilly McElroy, whose explosive “I Will Destroy You” was reproduced on the cover of our January/February issue. At the Spencer Museum of Art, the fall/winter group show “Reading the World” aimed to “prompt viewers to consider their own encounters with the natural world (and) their ecological and political contexts” through works by Wiersma, McElroy, Marie Bannerot, Lisa Grossman and others.

Our current issue adds the voice of Kansas poet and photographer Clay Marcusen to the groundswell of artists and exhibits focusing on the natural world. Marcusen’s work reflects his intimate 25-year relationship with 60 acres of land in Linn County, Kansas, which he converted into prairie with help from the Kansas Conservation Department.

Spring brings three big shows exploring diverse facets of the human/nature relationship to the region. Opening March 8 at the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis, “Delcy Morelos: Interwoven” presents a career’s worth of work by the Colombian artist, whose work utilizing organic materials “asks us to consider earth as a living entity where everything that exists is interconnected,” according to the release. For more information, pulitzerarts.org.

“What is it about the natural world that calls to us?” is the question posed by “Exquisite Creatures,” an exhibit of geometric works created from more than 400 preserved plant, animal and mineral specimens by noted artist and naturalist Christopher Marley, opening March 16 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. For more information, crystalbridges.org.

In May, the Denver Art Museum goes all out to highlight “the transformative power of nature” through “Biophilia: Nature Reimagined,” an exhibit of 70 works by an international roster of artists, architects and designers. Ranging from architectural models and photographs to digital installations and immersive art experiences, “the works in ‘Biophilia’ tap into our deeply embedded bond to our environment and its benefits to our minds and bodies,” according to the show’s organizer, Darrin Alfred, curator of architecture and design at DAM. For more information, www.denverartmuseum.org.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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