Raven Mask, North American Indian, Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl), British Columbia, Canada, ca. 1870. Wood, pigment, metal, and cedar bark, 11 1/4 x 11 x 42 inches (28.6 x 27.9 x 106.7 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 31-125/7. (image courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is unfolding a dynamic range of exhibitions this summer and fall. These projects span the globe and thousands of years of creativity up to our present moment, including contemporary work being created specifically for display.
Although international in scope, they are also rooted in the local. Organized by our stellar curatorial team, these exhibitions are all drawn either from our own collections or borrowed from contemporary artists with ties to Kansas City.
The season opens June 5 with Testimony: African American Artists Collective. The museum is deeply honored to have invited the Kansas City-based group of artists to collaborate. The 36 exhibiting artists span generations and media, from painting, photography, sculpture, textiles, new media and jewelry to spoken word and performance. Many of the artists will debut new works in the exhibition, which has been organized by Stephanie Fox Knappe, the museum’s Samuel Sosland Curator of American Art, working together with the AAAC’s 150 members. Testimony is reciprocal: Both artists and viewers are called in witness to the experience of these artistic truths.
Beginning July 10, the whimsical exhibition Castles, Cottages, and Crimes reveals a neglected moment in British Victorian decorative arts, when ceramic buildings begin to make 19th- century British middle- and working-class homes smell sweeter and look prettier. Some of these little buildings were even ornaments documenting places where crimes were committed: murder houses long before “American Horror Story.” Given to the museum in 1978, these small structures haven’t been seen in decades. This is what happens when a new curator like myself goes digging in storage.
Part of understanding where we are today means making sense of where we’ve been. Origins: Collecting for the Nelson-Atkins takes a new look at the first two decades of the museum’s history. Where did we start and with what objects? Who shaped our collections? And how did we do this in Kansas City? MacKenzie Mallon, the museum’s Provenance Specialist, and Tara Laver, our Archivist, reveal the people and choices that began to build the Nelson-Atkins. You’ll see the very first object we ever acquired (it’s not what you think it might be, and it’s not the direction we followed for long) and explore how we began to bring the world to Kansas City, from Asian art to Old Masters to Native American Art. The exhibition opens Aug. 14.
Asian Art in one of its most important — and least studied — forms is the breathtaking story of Weaving Splendor: Masterpieces of Asian Textiles, opening Sept. 25. For centuries, Asia dominated global textile production. Asian textiles have influenced taste and technology across cultures and epochs. Yet due to their light-sensitive nature, our textiles have not been on view as much as their art historical importance warrants. Our entire East, South, and Southeast Asian curatorial team — Ling-en Lu, Kimberly Masteller, Yayoi Shinoda and Michele Valentine — have chosen over two dozen extraordinary works that span the entire continent. You will see magnificent Chinese, Japanese and Persian textiles, all of the highest technical and aesthetic quality — from tomb garments and wall hangings to carpets and theatrical costumes. They demonstrate Asia’s centrality to the global cultural economy, historically and today.
Finally, on Oct. 22, The Art of Illusion: Photography and Perceptual Play calls into question the “truth” of the medium. Curator of photography April Watson has crafted a fun — and slightly fiendish — show that makes us ask if seeing is indeed believing. The approximately 50 works by 25 artists, from the 1970s to today, will make you think twice about what you’re seeing. What’s even more astonishing is that these photographs were created with “old school,” traditional methods of manipulating the image, rather than digital interventions. Many of these photographs are recent acquisitions, so this is the first time they will have been displayed.
We hope this roster of exhibitions will ensure that as all we Kansas Citians begin to come back from the isolation of the pandemic, visitors will have at least five dynamic reasons to keep coming to the Nelson-Atkins.
–William Keyse Rudolph, Deputy Director, Curatorial Affairs, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art