Global Footprint of Romanian-Born Artist Armin Mühsam Extends to the Kansas City Library

Armin Muhsam in studio. (photo by Courtney Markle)

Armin Mühsam’s art has been featured in more than 50 exhibitions across the U.S. and in central and western Europe, but this is a particularly busy — and rewarding — time for the Kansas City-based artist.

Two solo shows wrapped up in June and September in his native Romania and Austria, respectively. A third was set to open at Wichita State University’s Clayton Staples Gallery on Nov. 1, not long after a two-person exhibit featuring his paintings at the Anteroom gallery in Corsicana, Texas.

And a selection of Mühsam’s architecture-infused works, a compelling collection of geometric lines and shapes that he titled Dissident Formalisms, is scheduled to be on display from Nov. 14 through Jan. 30 at the Kansas City Public Library’s downtown Central Library.

“It has been a good year,” he says, smiling in his pleasantly cluttered, second-floor studio in the West Bottoms.

The Library, a five-minute drive away, has emerged as a destination for local and emerging artists, and Mühsam welcomes an exhibition there, amid those other, more traditional art venues. “The public library is one of the cornerstones of civic society. It’s a meeting place for very diverse interest groups and audiences,” he says. “Viewed through those lenses . . . at least the potential is there to reach people who might not go to a venue that is designated specifically for visual arts.

“Art obviously needs to be viewed if it’s to do what art is for, and that is to communicate to people in a nonverbal language.

“On a more philosophical level,” he says, “you could say that showing visual art in a space dedicated to verbal and written words makes a library, in many respects, the perfect venue. It exposes people to a type of communication that does not rely on the stringing together of words. Language has to be experienced over time — a narrative evolves — whereas visual art is quite simultaneous and works with associations. And that is another kind of language.”

His voice has evolved over time — as he says all artists’ must.

Mühsam, 52, commutes weekly during the school year to Maryville and Northwest Missouri State University. A professor of painting, he has taught there the past 21 years while remaining committed to his work in his studio.

That work long consisted of architectural landscapes that spoke to the infringement and impact of mankind on the natural world. Some six years ago, he altered his approach. “I have become much more abstract,” Mühsam says, and his work in Dissident Formalisms reflects that.

“The message now is purely aesthetic,” he says. “It’s the creation of visually compelling compositions.

“If there is a (further) message, it is buried quite deep and probably understandable only to people who are steeped in art history. And that is the way I use modernism as reference, comparable to the way a jazz musician would riff on a 100-year-old jazz standard, putting it into a new arrangement, maybe using some basic melodic features but then being very free and exploratory with the present composition.”

He adds, “I happen to like jazz a lot.”

Mühsam was born in Cluj-Napoca, a city of a little more than 300,000 in northwestern Romania, then moved with his family to Munich before he was 10. His parents weren’t artistic, he says, but kept original artwork on the walls of their home and “that fell on fertile ground.” From the time he was small, Mühsam drew what he liked to look at.

He earned a degree in illustration in Munich and left for the U.S. in 1994, wanting to do graduate work and “make art in the Rocky Mountain West.” He came away with an MFA in painting from Montana State University, moved back to Munich at the wishes of his then-wife, sought without success to find a professorship there, and began submitting applications in America. Northwest Missouri State called in 2000.

Mühsam has effectively expanded his footprint since then. Previous solo exhibitions of his artwork have stretched in the U.S. from Furman University’s Thompson Gallery in Greenville, S.C., to the Charleston Heights Art Center in Las Vegas and locally from Haw Contemporary to the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph. Internationally, he has been featured in Munich, Paris and Budapest in addition to multiple venues in Romania.

“The nowadays-rare combination of message and artistic approach in Mühsam’s work makes him one of the most remarkable contemporary artists born in Romania,” says Thomas Emmerling, a collector, curator and founder of the Kunsthaus 7B gallery in Cisnadioara, Romania, where Mühsam’s work was featured this summer.

Mühsam also works occasionally in sculpture, and made it an aspect of his exhibition at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum in 2018, but says it has played only a supporting role to his painting and drawing.

He is content, he says, with where his artistic journey has taken him, including Kansas City as a landing spot.

“I feel very comfortable and very lucky to be part of the arts community here,” Mühsam says. “I think, for its size, it is an extremely vibrant and diverse community. In a sense, it’s punching above its weight.”

He’s very much a part of that.

–Steve Wieberg

CategoriesArts Consortium

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