Kemper Museum presents “Julie Blackmon: A Life in Frame,” a survey exhibition of photography exploring contemporary issues through scenes of Midwestern everyday life

Julie Blackmon (American, born 1966), Costco, 2021 , archival pigment print, 59 x 69 7/10 inches. Bill and Christy Gautreaux Collection, Kansas City, Missouri. Art and photo © Julie Blackmon.

This fall, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art presents “Julie Blackmon: A Life in Frame,” an exhibition that focuses on the last decade of the artist’s photography. Blackmon’s subject is the conflation of art and life—particularly everyday life in Springfield, Missouri. The works on view show scenes depicting family, community, and landscape deeply rooted in her Midwestern heritage.   

Blackmon uses her surroundings to engage broader ideas of social and political issues, gender issues and family dynamics, and art historical references. While Blackmon’s work celebrates the visual vernacular of an area of the country that many dismiss as culturally unremarkable, she positions it in conversation with a wide range of artistic references–including 17th century Dutch painters, 19th century Missouri-based artist George Caleb Bingham, and contemporary photographers like Diane Arbus. She applies these genres’ techniques to create uniquely playful and critical examinations of the modern family, feminism, and other social and political issues. 

The 20 works on view demonstrate these conceptual and aesthetic themes that the artist has engaged over the past decade, as well as the deep collecting history of Blackmon’s work in the Midwest. While her work is known and collected nationally – two of her works were recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. – many of the works on view come from local collections, emphasizing the close relationship with Blackmon and her work in the region. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art was the first museum to collect Blackmon’s work when it acquired four of the artist’s photographs in 2008.  

“The day my Chicago gallery called me to announce that Kemper Museum had acquired my work was an important moment early on, when I was first getting serious in my photography career,” said Blackmon. “It felt like validation. But even better have been the years that followed. Many people have told me about encountering my work there, what it meant to them, and how they connected with it. It was the first time I got that kind of feedback.  It was just really motivating to get that kind of feedback.” 

To accompany the exhibition, Kansas City, MO-based musician Kevin Morby, composed a soundscape inspired by Blackmon’s photography. Drawing from the shared themes in their work, Morby blends unique sounds recorded during a summertime visit with the artist in Springfield, MO to create a multi-sensory experience specific to the exhibition at Kemper Museum. 

The recording is accessible in the galleries via a QR code throughout the run of the exhibition, and visitors are invited to listen together when the recording is played during the following Sound Sessions:  

  • 12:30pm on Wednesdays 
  • 7:30 pm on Thursdays (except Nov. 2, Nov. 23, Nov. 30, & Dec. 7) 
  • 11:30 am on Saturdays & Sundays (except Dec. 16 & 17) 

The exhibition is organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and will be on view through January 7, 2024. 

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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