Ashley Lindeman, 2022 Emerging Curator at plug gallery, stands in front of a mural by Jake Merten curated by SpraySeeMO at 2023 Washington Blvd.
(photo by Jim Barcus)
Three young talents bring their ideas to bear on the presentation of art from KC and beyond
As anyone familiar with Kansas City’s cultural milieu knows, the community is exceedingly fortunate to boast such a diverse and talented pool of visual artists. And although these creators deserve their well-earned recognition, what happens behind the looking glass at every gallery opening or museum exhibit remains more elusive and mysterious to the public. And thus it is important to contemplate the energy and labor that the city’s curatorial teams put into showcasing the work of its artists. In 2022, despite the burdens of a pandemic and economic malaise, there is a cohort of relatively new curators accomplishing incredible things by bringing art to the people.
While it would be a folly to suggest that the city’s corps of up and coming curators were forged from the same mold, there are undoubtedly some shared values that inform their approach. Ashley Lindeman, Kimberly Kitada, and Andrew Ordonez, in addition to being relatively young within the field, have all made contributions to the regional arts community that reflect a commitment to inclusivity and interdisciplinary programming. As a microcosm of broader trends in the professional world, it is also noteworthy that each of these individuals has worked in a variety of settings and institutions, rather than remaining at a single gallery or museum in perpetuity. This diversity and range of experience adds a richness to what is happening in Kansas City’s art world that benefits artists, scholars, and visitors alike.
“I believe an art curator is someone who helps other viewers find meaning in art,” says Ashley Lindeman, a Ph.D. candidate in modern art at Florida State University. In much the same way that having a local guide when visiting a foreign city can help broaden and enrich the experience, curators are responsible for gathering and exhibiting pieces of art in a way that empowers people to explore their own meanings and messages. Lindeman notes that the traditional perception of art curators as elite gatekeepers is quickly becoming an anachronism. It is important that the exhibitions they create speak to “a wide range of viewers, especially including those of marginalized communities . . . it should be a place where any person can feel inspired and comfortable to learn about other cultures, time periods and points of view.”
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Lindeman earned a B.F.A. in art history and visual communication from the University of Kansas and an M.A. in modern art from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2016, while serving as president of the Graduate Art History Association (GAHA) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she and her colleagues created an exhibition, “Body-Mind Entente,” which opened at the UMKC Gallery of Art. The project involved a merging of art and neuroscience and invited audiences to contemplate how their sense of identity is shaped by other people and the pieces of art around them.
In describing the myriad tasks involved in executing their exhibition — applying for grants, visiting studios, arranging a panel discussion, creating promotional material, preparing the space, and physically installing the work — Lindeman illustrates how complex and diversified the role of an art curator truly is. She was also proud that “Body-Mind Entente” featured Kansas City artists including Anne Austin Pearce, Diana Heise, Jim Sajovic, Maret Miller, Miles Neidinger and Hong Chun Zhang.
In the spring of 2022, Lindeman was named the 2022 Emerging Curator at plug gallery in Kansas City. This opportunity will allow her to work with a mentor to plan and launch her own exhibition, tentatively titled “Muralism: Inside Out,” which is scheduled to open Oct. 21. Lindeman seeks to “unite the worlds of public art and the private gallery space by focusing on Kansas City muralists.” Thematically, Lindeman’s exhibit will focus on Kansas City murals that speak to issues relevant to the LGBTQIA community, Black Lives Matter, immigration and Indigenous peoples.
“The curator often pinpoints art historical moments, socio-political context, and other artists who are in conversation with a particular work.”Kimberly Kitada
Another local institution that serves as a training laboratory for ascendant curators is the Charlotte Street Foundation, which welcomed Kimberly Kitada as the Jedel Family Foundation Curatorial Fellow in 2020. Kitada earned a B.A. in art history and classics from Bucknell University and an M.A. in museum studies from New York University. Prior to arriving in Kansas City, she worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles and at Independent Curators International, New York.
Facilitating opportunities for people to engage with artwork and ideas is a core component of how Kitada sees her own role. Curators must “work closely” she says, with the artists to bring their work to the public sphere in an engaging, accessible way.” She also emphasizes the importance of conducting her work through an educational lens. “The curator often pinpoints art historical moments, sociopolitical context, and other artists who are in conversation with a particular work.”
Although Kitada believes in the importance of the academic, theoretical aspect of curating, she is quick to highlight the value of hands-on experience and advises aspiring curators to “organize exhibitions in alternative or DIY spaces.” She recalls working on her first exhibition, which was hosted in an alternative gallery called TEMP Art Space in New York. The physical challenges of installing artwork in an unconventional setting “is something that you need to learn by doing,” she said.
In 2019, while working on the exhibition “Xu Zhen: In Just a Blink of an Eye” at MOCA, Los Angeles, Kitada applied her resourcefulness and adaptability to the challenge of integrating 20 professional dancers into a performance art project. “Museum staff are typically trained to work with object-based artworks, so the constant needs of performers in the space prompted some new dialogues and problem solving.”
Kitada’s current project, “Handiwork: Art, Craft, and The Space Between,” is scheduled to open at the Charlotte Street Foundation in August and will involve artists from Kansas City, New York, Dallas and Chicago. She describes the exhibition as one that “unravels conventional demarcations around the ideas of ‘art’ and ‘craft’ while also questioning notions of labor, gender and social constructs.”
“(The curator is) the coordinator, organizer, presenter and host for a really long time.”Andrew Ordonez
Charlotte Street Foundation also supports opportunities for practicing artists to serve in curatorial roles. In the spring of 2022, Andrew Ordonez, a studio resident at Charlotte Street, curated the exhibition “Sweeping the Chimney Through the Mantle of the Earth.” (Visit www.kcstudio.org to read Neil Thrun’s review of the show.)
Ordonez graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2013 with a B.F.A. in painting and has lived in the city ever since. And while he has been painting and sculpting for many years, “Sweeping the Chimney” was his curatorial debut. “It was something I always wanted to do,” he said.
He describes the exhibit as a metaphor for how the human body relates to nature when in distress; it invites viewers to contemplate the sociopolitical issues of the day through the lens of nature, visibility and the earth. Ordonez explained that the process of developing and staging the exhibit took seven or eight months, and that one of the most rewarding parts of the experience was helping local artists earn the recognition that they deserve and “representing them for this project.” Participating Kansas City artists included Pia Bakala, Kevin Demery, Jada Patterson, Donald Pruitt and Fred Vorder-Bruegge. Ordonez also spoke fondly of collaborating with artists of national and international stature and incorporating their work and perspectives into the project.
Much like his contemporaries in the curatorial realm, Ordonez is candid about the challenges of organizing a successful art exhibition. “This was a learning process. You are the coordinator, organizer, presenter and host for a really long time.” Ordonez’s perspective of the curator as a host provides an insightful and relatable way for people to better understand the mission of a curator. It entails far more than merely hanging paintings on a wall; successful curators must create a comfortable environment for a dialogue to happen between artists, their work and the public.
Thanks to a background in education, Ordonez is positioned to help facilitate these conversations. He has taught portfolio preparation courses to art students and worked at a day program for artists living with disabilities. In the fall of 2022, he will attend Yale University to pursue an M.F.A. in sculpture, which he hopes will enable him to teach in a higher-education role.
With a skilled and dedicated cadre of new curatorial talent beginning to leave its mark on the Kansas City art scene, residents and visitors have great things to look forward to in the years ahead. Even the best art does not speak for itself; it takes true collaboration between artists, curators and audiences for ideas to be heard.