“Who We Were, Who We Are, Who We Will Be,” Charlotte Street Foundation

Gonzalo Hernandez, Selection of Daily Practice. Acrylic on Yupo 98” x 143”, 2020-2021. (photo by Hope-Lian Vinson, courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation)

The Charlotte Street Foundation is celebrating the grand opening of its new facilities with the exhibition: “Who We Were, Who We Are, Who We Will Be.” Featuring ten artists working in a range of mediums, the exhibition is a fitting representation of the wide range of art happening in and near Kansas City. 

Near the front of the exhibition is a painting installation by Julie Farstad titled “Urgent Experiments in Tending.” Paintings on paper in watercolor, oil and ink depict Farstad’s children in candid scenes of play and daily life with telltale signs of the pandemic like medical masks. Suspended around the paintings are flowers in ceramic pots and plastic bottles. Clip lamps with UV lights hang precariously. The entire installation has an improvised feeling, the paintings aren’t professionally framed or mounted, but simply hung with blue painter’s tape. This form of presentation matches the loose and ‘urgent’ style of the paintings themselves and will feel relatable for anyone who has spent the last year trying to navigate the blurring lines of work and home. 

Max Adrian, Sabina: The Furry Divine of Violent Revelations. Faux fur, pleather, glitter, fringe, chains, hardware, blower, timer, 86” x 48” x 48”, 2019 (photo by Hope-Lian Vinson, courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation)

Max Adrian has two enormous sculptures in the exhibition, part of his series “The Sensational Inflatable Furry Divines.” The sculptures stand more than 10 feet tall, are similar in shape to a bowling pin, and constructed from faux fur, sequins and other fabric. While the sculptures appear solid from a distance, they’re inflated with air pumps which makes them subtly breathe and move. The name has a double meaning, referring to the costume culture of “Furries” who create costumes of animals using similar materials, but also “Furies,” divine spirits of Greek myth. One sculpture, titled “Corona,” was inspired by the 2017 eclipse and has a large sun-like head with a black void in the center, meant to represent the void of consumerism and consumption. 

Sara Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin, March on Kansas City (Journey: Legacy Series). Quilted textiles 5’ x 13.5’, 2012-2014 (photo by Hope-Lian Vinson, courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation)

Sara Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin has numerous fiber works in the exhibition, but her narrative quilt “March on Kansas City” stands out. It’s 13 feet long and made with Kente cloth and fabrics patterned with 1950s women’s fashion, elephants and dollar bills. The quilt depicts the 1950s boycotts and marches of the Community Committee for Social Action, an activist group of African American women who protested department stores that wouldn’t let Black people eat at their lunch counters or try on clothing. Elephants, representing the members of the CCSA, march around the perimeter of the quilt and through the center of it, symbolizing the strength and numbers of the Kansas City women who engaged in those historic protests. 

Judith Levy, Ava Golem. Film still (from the artist)

A curtained room at the back of the exhibition has a new video work by Judith Levy titled “Ava Golem.” In the film, the artist claims to be a golem named Ava, who explains that golems are creatures made of earth to protect Jews. “Ava” goes through historical golem tales, like Golem of Prague, the Gingerbread Man and Paul Bunyan. “Ava” explains that she was made by the artist Judith Levy in order to protect her in these dangerous times. The film uses a variety of animation techniques and montage sources, including footage from the protests and counter protests in Charlottesville and the January 6 insurrection. 

Jillian Youngbird, 3 Cowboys Walk Into a Bar. Glass beads, ceramic boot. Dimensions Variable. 2019-2020 (photo by Hope-Lian Vinson, courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation)

Other artworks in the exhibition include Jillian Youngbird’s “3 Cowboys Walk Into a Bar,” incorporating expertly beaded faux bandanas, a lengthy graphic novel titled “Denim Rider” by Jason Lips and a wall of prints and paintings by Gonzalo Hernandez. 

The exhibition title is a reference to the famous existential question from Paul Gauguin’s painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” Instead of a asking a question, “Who We Were, Who We Are and Who We Will Be” offers a declarative statement, and it is one very fitting for this diverse range of artists, their interest in history and their desires for a new future. 

“Who We Were, Who We Are, Who We Will Be” continues through July 10 at the Charlotte Street Foundation, 3333 Wyoming St. Hours are 12 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.221.5115 or www.charlottestreetfoundation.org. 

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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