“Healing at the Roots,” by Clarissa Knighten, is one of 11 permanent site-specific artworks now on view at the Kansas City Museum’s Corinthian Hall. (photo by EG Schempf)
The Kansas City Museum carries within its walls and on its grounds the past, present and future of our city. Falling into disrepair for a time, it has gone through years of major repairs and renovations to emerge in true splendor. Because of the One Percent for Art program, which stipulates that 1% of all publicly funded projects must include artistic projects in their budget, its renovations have come with numerous site-specific artworks from Kansas City artists. Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera welcomes input from artists throughout the design process, calling it “an incredible experience,” and this connection between the museum and the artists is evident.
Former resident of what is now the Kansas City Museum, Robert A. Long, was a lumber baron, so the underlying inspiration of several works is the tree. The first floor contains photographs from Dr. Charles Porter, Jason Piggie and David Remley, each of which features Kansas City trees. Linda Lighton’s ornate chandelier lights the salon with insects and leaves curling themselves around 25 suspended lights.
Climbing the grand stairwell to the second floor, viewers are greeted with Marv Graff’s “Cordon d’Or” — an angelic figure with a crown of antlers and wings jutting from its shoulder blades. Clarissa Knighten’s “Healing at the Roots” is a meticulously arranged web of peeled tree branches and jewels that spans 17 feet at the top of the stairs. The twigs, gathered from the Kansas City Museum grounds, are bare, not only for aesthetics, but also to symbolize the sometimes painful excavation that must occur in unearthing histories. Nestled in a second-floor doorway, Mona Cliff’s work appears to be the spiral of a tree trunk, twisting outward like a fingerprint to show its age. Part of it is from a maple tree, but Cliff has embellished the design with Indigenous beadwork.
Some of the site-specific artworks are deeply personal, illustrating that Kansas City history is neither singular nor simple. Zachary Laman’s “Portraits of Us” takes audiences up three flights of the west staircase. The subjects of the murals float in the clouds, immortalized as influential people in Laman’s life. Aquetzali (Kiki) Serna tells a story of immigration to Kansas City from Mexico. Letters from her family are pasted into the pieces, with the words “Valió La Pena,” or “It was worth it.” Hasna Sal’s work brings the commonly ignored issue of human trafficking to the forefront, with both predator and prey as abstract figures.
On the third floor, Stephen Proski’s “Battle of Kansas City” is a 72 x 132-inch quilt containing symbols of Kansas City in each square. Director of Operations Chiluba Musonda explained that the squares represent how the rest of the country sees us as well as how we see ourselves. Renee Cinderhouse’s time capsules exemplify the museum’s partnership with Kansas City history and its contemporary artists. Her “Storage Room 308” pulls in salvaged materials from the museum and is installed directly into a wall. As with history itself, parts of the installation are hidden from view — a commentary on the preserved as well as the forgotten pieces of our past.
Site-specific artworks can be viewed at the Kansas City Museum at 3218 Gladstone Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, 816.702.7700 or kansascitymuseum.org.