Arts News: Not Your Average Art Course

Art course rendering by Amber Mills (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Appreciating art and accurately putting a golf ball may seem like disparate objectives.

Yet “each requires a certain level of discipline and commitment and creativity,” says Casey Claps, manager of strategic initiatives at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

And each will come into symbiotic play at Art Course, the new mini-golf experience open May 24 through Labor Day on the Nelson’s south lawn. Every hole reimagines a different masterpiece in the museum’s permanent collection.

“It’s really playful and it’s really social,” Claps says. “There are going to be so many memories made out there, bringing families to the sculpture park and having these experiences with art. We want people to ‘play’ these works and then go into the galleries and appreciate them in their original form.”

In the works since 2017, the inventive concepts behind Art Course’s nine holes were selected from 75 local submissions, including those from architects, designers, teachers and students. The branding of the course was left to Hallmark’s Creative Marketing Studio.

“We knew we needed a brand,” Claps says. “They came up with the Art Course name, the logo and the taglines: ‘Picasso had his blue period. Consider this your green one’ and ‘Play around with art.’ They are so clever.”

A Look at Each Art Course Hole:

First Hole: “Jawbreaker Machine,” inspired by Wayne Thiebaud’s 1963 painting of the same name, riffs on “Pop art right off the bat,” Claps says, “by looking at objects and bringing them to life in colorful and vibrant ways.”

Second Hole: “Op-Art,” inspired by Luis Tomasello’s 2011 abstract geometric construction, “Chromoplastic Mural,” “unfolds one of Tomasello’s polygons,” Claps says, “so you get a different kind of appreciation for the complexity of this striking artwork.”

Third Hole: “Le Partie d’Artgolf,” inspired by Edouard Manet’s 1871 painting, “The Croquet Party,” blows up the human figures to life size, Claps says, and “lets you step into the work of art and sort of join the croquet game.”

Fourth Hole: “Pedal!,” inspired by Evelyn Hofer’s 1966 photograph “Girl with Bicycle,” invites players to “get on the bicycle and pedal it,” Claps says, “which adds an obstacle element to their opponent trying to get the ball into the hole.”

Fifth Hole: “Heaven Putt Hell,” inspired by Marsden Hartley’s 1914-1915 painting “Himmel,” offers a heavenly hole-in-one opportunity, Claps says, as well as the far less delightful prospect of “having to putt around a little bit.”

Sixth Hole: “Rose with Gray,” inspired by Vasily Kandinsky’s 1924 painting of the same name, is played like a pinball machine, evoking the artist’s synesthesia, whereby he “heard” the colors that he painted. “The ball cascades down and bounces off noisemakers,” Claps says, “so you elicit what Kandinsky might have experienced while painting.”

Seventh Hole: “The Mischievous Dragon,” inspired by Chinese, Vase (1426-1435), presumes that a dragon has escaped the artwork depicting it. “The ball goes on a journey down the dragon’s spine and just rolls around,” Claps says. “It’s really visually beautiful.”

Eighth Hole: “Zoomy,” inspired by Mark Di Suvero’s 1991 steel sculpture “Rumi,” is no gimme. Players must navigate a bridge linking two tricky platforms, “and you’ve really got to be a good putter to get this one right,” Claps says. “The layout of the sculpture is designed against you.”

Ninth Hole: “Nelson-Atkins Campus,” inspired by the grounds of the museum, is a “super-whimsical representation,” Claps says, where competitors can pretend to be giants playing badminton with the Nelson’s signature “Shuttlecocks” sculptures.

“The goal is really to give people an experience at the museum that they will remember forever,” Claps says, including live bands and picnic-building food concessions on Friday evenings. “It’s a magical moment to share with the family.”

Art Course tickets cost $14 for adults ($11 for museum members) and $9 for ages 4 to 12. For more information, www.nelson-atkins.org.

Brian McTavish

Brian McTavish is a freelance writer specializing in the arts and pop culture. He was an arts and entertainment writer for more than 20 years at The Kansas City Star. He regularly shared his “Weekend To-Do List” at KCUR-FM (89.3)/kcur.org.

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