It’s a sign of the times that over espresso recently, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art director Julián Zugazagoitia led off with the Royals when asked about the most important events of 2015.
When I clarified that I meant in the world of art, Zugazagoitia nodded emphatically and said, “Yes, I would have to say winning the baseball game. Because it was such an outpouring of positive energy, and when you have 800,000 people going to that parade and no one gets hurt, it tells you that collectively joyful moments can bring us together.”
It’s an interesting perspective, with the clear implication that art can also provide galvanizing moments of collective joy. A few days later, evidence that the Nelson is succeeding at expanding and pleasing its audience came when Yelp named it the top museum in the country based on visitor reviews.
Zugazagoitia also thinks Mayor Sly James’ hiring of Megan Crigger for a new position as director of creative services for the city was a bold move to push arts and culture higher as a civic priority.
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Besides those macro developments, 2015 was rich with thought-provoking and beautiful exhibitions for museum and gallery patrons. Following are a few of many memorable shows.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
“Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity”: This thoroughly modern mashup of celebrity culture, haute cuisine and mesmerizing drawings and notations by the world’s most technically innovative chef was a surprisingly satisfying show. The chef also got a whirlwind tasting tour of Kansas City when he visited.
“American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood”: This exhibition highlights a period of Benton’s career and works that were less well known than his large, politically and socially charged murals set in the Midwest. Fortuitous timing has allowed Kansas Citians to see Benton’s works alongside Hale Woodruff’s Talladega murals, which were clearly influenced by Benton. The Benton exhibit runs through Jan. 3, the Woodruff through Jan. 10.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
“Adam Cvijanovic: American Montage”: Monumental scale paintings on Tyvek adhered to the wall created an immersive experience of landscape works that referenced the Hudson Valley School while incorporating cinematic elements that added a sense of time passing.
“Piece by Piece: Building a Collection, Selections From the Christy and Bill Gautreaux Collection”: The first exhibition of a private collection not connected to the Kemper family afforded Kansas Citians a chance to see works from major national and international artists in a wide range of materials, from large colorful sculptures to photographs to mixed media paintings.
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
“Its Honor Is Here Pledged,” by Gina Adams: This solo show created for the Nerman reflected the layered and fractured history of European settlers and Native American tribes. Adams’ “Broken Treaty” quilts seduced and shocked with the beauty and intricate craftsmanship of hand-stitched letters on antique quilts juxtaposed with the quiet horror of the words themselves.
“The Caretaker,” by Amir H. Fallah: Fallah’s work re-imagines portraiture, and for this show his subject was a journalism professor at Johnson County Community College. Fallah conducted a kind of purposeful home invasion, finding meaning and narrative in the artifacts of the professor’s life. The senses-bending installation incorporated a giant lava lamp, a tapestry of ’80s Coogie sweaters and hundreds of cacti climbing up brightly painted walls.
H&R Block Artspace at Kansas City Art Institute
“Making Histories”: Video, fiber and graphic works by eight artists from Norway, China, Britain, Albania and the U.S. explored connections between historical events from the 20th century and the present.
“Architecture of Touch,” by Del Harrow, Andy Brayman, Sanam Emami: Exploring the nuance of repetition and variation in made things and spanning all three first-floor galleries, this exhibition created an immersive, playful and process-driven experience.