“Lineage and Impact: KCAI Faculty Past and Present,” Haw Contemporary Stockyards

Haw Contemporary and the Kansas City Art Institute have collaborated on an ambitious exhibition, “Lineage and Impact: KCAI Faculty Past and Present,” on view at Haw’s Stockyards space in the West Bottoms through May 4.

The show was conceived when gallery owner Bill Haw approached KCAI President Tony Jones about showing the work of four to five educators who also exhibit regularly.

Jones convinced Haw to think more broadly about the exhibition and include additional past and current faculty members. Planning for the show was turned over to KCAI’s Education Outreach and Exhibition Committee, co-chaired by Kim Eichler-Messmer, Associate Professor of Fiber, and Lisa Maione, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design.

KCAI was founded in 1885. One challenge the KCAI committee faced was how to address such a long history. Haw Contemporary represents Emeritus Professor of Painting Wilbur Niewald, who began teaching at KCAI in 1949. To honor the 70th anniversary of Niewald’s career and his relationship with Haw Contemporary, the exhibition organizers decided to limit its scope to faculty that have taught since he began there.

Maione explains further, “The H&R Block Artspace has regular shows of faculty work. The emphasis on legacy sets this one apart. It was never meant to be comprehensive, but we wanted to be as generous as we could be.”

The chair of each KCAI degree program was asked to nominate three to four former faculty members who had a big impact on their program. The committee also sent out a call for artists to all current faculty so that the exhibition would present an up-to-date picture of the institution.

The far-reaching show utilizes almost every available wall at Haw, both upstairs and down. The checklist includes 63 works. Additional books, essays, stories, poems and videos by Liberal Arts faculty members reside together in a small gallery arranged like a comfy reading room. Despite the show’s expansiveness it never feels overcrowded, thanks to the careful exhibition design by the KCAI committee, assisted by graphic design student Z Lisenbee.

Haw reports that the Liberal Arts reading room has been one of the most popular areas. Herein lies a key to enjoying this remarkable exhibition: give yourself plenty of time and plenty of visits to take it all in. If the great variety of voices in the galleries becomes too much, reading a short story or some poems in the reading room can be quite restorative.

The work that appeals the most to this reviewer is a short video loop by Lilly McElroy displayed on a flat-screen monitor, “Let’s Dance.” Two oscillating fans on tall stands propel a balloon to-and-fro above a rock that it is tethered to. A spiny cactus rides a robotic vacuum into the bottom of the frame. We instantly know how this story is going to end, yet watch the video transfixed, waiting for the tragicomedy to unfold as the robo-cactus advances, crosses and retreats, over and over.

Other exhibition standouts include a still life by Niewald with a sparkling, translucent surface;

Jim Sajovic’s “Microscape,” a colorful two-canvas work of pigmented inks and acrylic that questions notions of authenticity; “Oscar’s Tools,” John Ferry’s small ode to labor; Dwight Frizzell’s “Bridge: Missouri River Bridge as Instrument,” an absorbing multi-channel video and sound installation; and “Phainesthai” by Cyan Meeks, a long video that explores the quiet beauty of this region’s rural areas.

Overall, the exhibition demonstrates that KCAI faculty members are producing ample lovable art—so much, in fact, that a powerful calligraphic work by Carl Kurtz, “There Are More Things To Love” might have made an excellent exhibition title.

However, art that engages today’s pressing issues is in short supply here. Exceptions include “The Daily Today: March 15, 2019,” letterpress posters by Erin Zona that read “…AND WE will inherit the EARTH, big boy, NOT YOU,” that viewers are encouraged to take with them. Tyler Galloway’s “how to kill the planet in three easy steps” implies ecological disaster by drawing parallels between the production and consumption of meat and fossil fuels. Adam Lucas also addresses ecological concerns with two prints on paper made from 100% recycled junk mail entitled “EARTH FIRE WIND WATER” and “HEART.”

This relative absence of politically focused art may be related to choices made about which colleagues would participate in the exhibition, or which works would be shown. Alternatively, it could indicate a direction in which KCAI might consider augmenting its faculty expertise. The institution seems to be taking steps in the right direction, as indicated by the April 4, 2019 lecture by MacArthur Foundation Fellow Titus Kaphar.

“Lineage and Impact: KCAI Faculty Past and Present” continues at Haw Contemporary Stockyards, 1600 Liberty St,. through May 4. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday–Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.842.5877 or hawcontemporary.com

James Martin

James Martin is Public Art Administrator for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to working for KCMO, he wrote freelance for “KC Studio” and served as public art consultant for the cities of Gladstone, Missouri; Leawood, Merriam, and Olathe, Kansas, and for Overland Park Regional Medical Center. He has held curatorial positions with Truman Medical Centers, Sprint and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and taught art history at UMKC, JCCC, Park University and Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. He holds a B.A. in art history from the University of Kansas and an M.A in art history from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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