Season Lookahead: Women in Front of the Lens

Annie Leibovitz, “Self Portrait, Brooklyn, New York” (2017) (photo courtesy of the artist © Annie Leibovitz)

Fall brings four dazzling exhibits of photography by women to KC and the region

Although there is no dearth of female photographers in the world, there is a definite shortage of museums who exhibit their art. Three Kansas City museums, along with The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, will be bolstering those statistics now and into 2024 with four dazzling exhibitions of work by female artists, some well-known, others not so much, but all of them with absorbing agendas both formal and personal.


Annie Leibovitz, “Winona LaDuke, Osage, Minnesota” (2019) (photo courtesy of the artist © Annie Leibovitz)

Annie Leibovitz is almost as famous as the celebrities she’s been photographing since 1973, when she became Rolling Stone magazine’s chief photographer at age 23. She’s also worked extensively for Vogue and Vanity Fair, and in 1991 was the first woman to have a solo exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Her portraits are noteworthy for both their lucidity and theatricality. Besides all the rock stars, there are such riveting images as the one of Whoopi Goldberg luxuriating in a bath of milk, and most recently her group portrait of the Royals in England.

While including her older and more familiar works, this exhibition is centered around a “new group of photographs highlighting current events and exceptional figures in today’s world,” a good reason to check out this show even if you think you already know her art.

“Annie Leibovitz at Work, ”Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas,
Sept. 16 – Jan. 29. crystalbridges.org

Julie Blackmon, “Records” (2021), archival pigment print, edition 4 of 7, 44 x 67.5” (collection of Andrea and Steve Morgan. art and photo © Julie Blackmon)


Julie Blackmon was born in 1966 in Springfield, Missouri, and still lives there. With an idiosyncratic, witty and slightly surreal take on the world in which she lives, captured in fascinating but fictitious scenes peopled by her friends and family, her art makes quite the impact.

Blackmon’s photographs are slyly conceptual; it can take a moment to comprehend that her works are thoroughly staged. Often her photos focus on children — seemingly doing what kids tend to do. But besides the occasional hilarity in these images there exists an uncomfortable possibility of menace or impending disaster not far off. Some of her photographs are derived from movies, some from famous artworks, while other scenarios could be happening in homes and yards everywhere. It is her blend of the everyday with the fear of possibilities and her sophisticated knowledge of art that makes Blackmon’s art unforgettable.
“Julie Blackmon: A Life in Frame,” Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Sept. 15 – Jan. 7, www.kemperart.org


Evelyn Hofer, “Bicycle Girl, in the Coombe, Dublin” (1966), dye transfer print, 16 3/8 × 13 1/8” (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, gift of the Hall Family Foundation © Estate of Evelyn Hofer)

The work of Evelyn Hofer (1922-2009) is not as well-known as it deserves to be, but the upcoming exhibit “Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City” promises to change that. The last time an American museum exhibited Hofer’s art was in 1975 at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Eyes on the City” is a traveling show curated by Gregory Harris of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and April Watson of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, focusing exclusively on the collaborative work Hofer did with various writers who researched the architecture and peoples of Washington, D.C., Dublin, London, New York and Paris.

Hofer had previously worked as a commercial photographer, and her photos were widely published in a range of magazines, including Vogue. This exhibit emphasizes Hofer’s “perspective from the viewpoint of geography and urban studies . . . emphasizing the relevance of these photographs to the present day.”

Hofer was not interested in working in the snapshot, “decisive moment” manner that was popular at the time. She used a tripod and deliberately established a rapport with her subjects, who were often in less glamorous parts of the cities she was exploring. Her commercial background enabled her to embrace color photography when she desired, although it was still regarded as lowbrow by many critics. Sections of this show, such as the “Chocolate City” portraits from Washington, D.C., are startlingly contemporary and evidence as to why this exhibit is necessary now.

“Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City,” The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Sept. 16 – Feb. 11, www.nelson-atkins.org


Cara Romero, “Coyote Tales No. 1” (2018), color photograph, 44 x 44”, from “PhotograpHER” (Collection Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas, gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., South Pasadena, California.)

The “PhotograpHER” exhibit at the Nerman Museum, which opened in June, features work by six women artists from the museum’s permanent collection — Uta Barth, Sheila Pree Bright, Martine Gutierrez, Portia Munson, Wendy Red Star and Cara Romero — in the museum’s Oppenheimer New Media Gallery on the second floor.

Barth is internationally known for her influential quiet, mysterious and unpeopled photographs. Focusing on African American culture and issues, Sheila Pree Bright is an African American artist, whose “Untitled” 2009 shot of an elegant domestic interior is anchored by a coffee table display of magazines featuring cover images of Barack Obama. Her “#1960Now” project was shown outside JCCC’s FADS Building in 2020. Portia Munson is a multimedia artist who is also an environmental activist and feminist, famous for her over-the-top installations. Wendy Red Star, one of the most prominent American Indian photographers in the country, gained notice for her deadpan depictions of Native Americans in stereotypical backgrounds. Cara Romero is a Chemehuevi photographer whose art was recently featured on the cover of KC Studio magazine. Martine Gutierrez is an over-the-top trans Latinx multi-disciplinary artist who photographs herself in a variety of satiric poses that challenge traditional identity issues. Do feminists have a sense of humor? Just look at the work of Munson, Red Star, Gutierrez and Romero and see for yourself.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum displayed two permanent collection prints from Kansas City photographer Mary Wessel’s “Worldscapes” series on the second floor over the summer, before moving them to the “New Chapter” exhibition.

“PhotograpHER: Women Photographers from the Permanent Collection,” Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, June 9 – Nov. 26

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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