“Safe Space” installation by Bubble Gum Kurt at The Box Gallery. (photo courtesy Commerce Bank)
“Full Volume” at The Box Gallery at Commerce Bank is a unique collaboration between two openly queer KC artists, Bubble Gum Kurt and Jared Horman. Kurt’s fiber art and installations are vibrant, unusual and sometimes messy, a quirky match for Horman’s paintings of anthropomorphic fruit and vegetables. Together, the artists explore what they call “Queer Joy” in a slightly silly but impressive exhibition.
“Safe Space” by Bubble Gum Kurt is a large installation that takes up an entire corner of the gallery. The installation features dozens of woven yarn objects, quilts, paintings and found objects, like a miniature ball pit, stuffed animals and a giant pink and green piñata in the shape of a bull. The color pink dominates the space, but a rainbow of other colors is also present.
“Creativity and making art offer us a space to process that inner turmoil, to build what is loud and eccentric, or to simply enter a headspace where more is possible than our current circumstances,” the artists write in a statement about the exhibition. “Safe Space” is certainly loud and eccentric. It looks lived in, a bit disorganized, reminiscent of a messy bedroom, the perfect place to be immersed in your own thoughts.
Jared Horman’s “Mural” is painted directly onto the back wall of the gallery. Enormous vegetables and fruits with human arms and legs sprawl across it, depicted in crisp black lines of latex paint. The anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables appear to be dancing and posing, almost reminiscent of renaissance paintings of angels dancing across the domes of cathedrals, or the famous painting “Dance” by Henri Matisse. These creatures are frankly quite silly, like something out of old Looney Toons episodes.
“Fake Flowers,” a smaller, collaborative work by Kurt and Horman, features brightly colored yarn woven in a chaotic manner. Tight and flat in some places and like a shag rug in others, it includes fake flowers stuck into the weaving. Behind the weaving, Horman has painted one of his anthropomorphic vegetable people on the wall, resulting in very simple and strangely pleasing collaboration.
“Full Volume,” through its press materials, artist statements and gallery placards, is openly queer. The exhibition opened in October for LGBT History Month, and the press release states, “Full Volume “is a “family-friendly show filled with color, texture and Queer Joy.” The exhibition is sponsored by the non-profit No Divide KC, which promotes diversity in the KC art scene, but it is also sponsored by PRIDE, an “employee resource group” of Commerce Bank, made up of LGBTQ people and allies employed at Commerce Bank. The gallery, overseen by director Robin Trafton, is in the Commerce Bank Building downtown and is underwritten by Commerce Bank. A large TV screen dominates one of the gallery walls, cycling through a slideshow of information from PRIDE, including employee statements and introductory primers on what terms like LGBTQIA and allyship mean.
Queer art is nothing new in KC, but it’s notable that over the last decade it has expanded from DIY spaces to high-end commercial galleries and even spaces like Commerce Bank. Queer community is no longer something marginalized to the underground, but proudly supported by mainstream institutions.
This mainstreaming comes with constraints of course. While “Full Volume” is proudly queer, there is nothing here that feels shocking, edgy, or sexual. Some may see this as a matter of respectability politics or self-censoring, but that is a cynical take. Queerness is more than queer sexuality; it is also a culture and a community (or maybe many communities) and being openly queer means being open and unapologetic about who you are and how you live. Perhaps this is what is meant by “Queer Joy,” and “Full Volume” is a joyous celebration of queer identity.
Full Volume” continues at The Box Gallery, Commerce Bank Building, 1000 Walnut St., through Jan. 11. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, 816.760.7885 or www.theboxgallery.org.