A rare 1960 abstraction by eminent Kansas City artist Wilbur Niewald brings a new level of sophistication to the public’s exposure to contemporary art at Arrowhead Stadium.
Dallas-based Sharron Hunt, daughter of Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt, spearheaded the purchase of Niewald’s “Red Landscape IV” for the stadium’s growing art collection after seeing the work at Haw Contemporary gallery.
“It’s very rare,” Haw gallerist Emily Eddins said. “There’s just a small handful available.”
The work, one of a series of dynamic abstractions of the landscape Niewald made before shifting to realism, features broad, stuttering strokes of color overlapping in columnar vertical formations and segmented horizontal bands.
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But like many of the artist’s well-known realist landscapes, Eddins said, “Red Landscape IV” was based on drawings and watercolors done on location in Kansas City parks.
In fall 2012, the Chiefs announced the Chiefs Art Program, a plan to create a stellar collection of regional art and display it throughout the stadium. Focusing on artists from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas, it was recently renamed the Arrowhead Art Collection to stress the stadium’s role as “a community asset,” Hunt said during a recent tour.
Hunt, with input from her brothers — team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, Lamar Hunt Jr. and Daniel Hunt — is working with a committee of art experts to build the collection, which now numbers 26 pieces, including a 1962 American Football League banner.
Last April saw the installation of the first outdoor piece, an 8-foot-tall head by noted Omaha-based ceramic artist Jun Kaneko, creator of the multi-part “Water Plaza” public artwork at Bartle Hall.
Titled “Horizon,” Kaneko’s piece for Arrowhead is one of 14 recent acquisitions to the collection. Most are commissions for specific locations within the stadium, and Hunt and the committee have decided to use Dolphin Frames, run by Kansas City artist Archie Scott Gobber, to give visual consistency to the installation.
Corporate patronage has played a crucial role in Kansas City’s art economy for decades. Hallmark, American Century, Sprint, H&R Block, Polsinelli and others have built major collections that include purchases from Kansas City galleries and artists.
Ten of the 11 initial art acquisitions by the Chiefs were created by Kansas City area artists; the latest group of 14 is divided equally between KC artists and artists from the broader region. Six are based in St. Louis and Nebraska; one, Dan Rizzie, is based in New York but earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. His painting, “Hawthorn,” was inspired by the state flower of Missouri.
The Chiefs declined to release the specific figure of what they are spending on art, but to date the investment has reached seven figures, according to spokesman Luke Shanno.
A highlight of the latest round is a curated grouping of photographs by Kansas City artist and 2013 Guggenheim fellow Mike Sinclair, including his “Fourth of July#2, Independence, Missouri, 1997.” The image, of people enjoying fireworks on the lawn of the Truman Library, achieved national exposure when it accompanied the cover story of the July 2, 2012, issue of Time magazine.
The fireworks shot is one of 19 Sinclair photographs capturing people and events in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, and presented under the heading, “Fairgrounds, Parks & Community Gatherings.”
Landscape, still life, local history and the game of football are favored themes of the art at Arrowhead. Two recently acquired organic abstractions by Kansas City artists Jose Faus and Susan White converse with earlier evocations of the region’s natural forms and phenomena by Anne Lindberg and Matt Dehaemers. Inspired by architectural drawings of Arrowhead from 1972 and 2010, a diptych by Marilyn Mahoney re-envisions the stadium as a futuristic fantasy.
Another new piece, a 6-by-6-foot quilt, “Connecting Threads,” by NedRa Bonds, invokes the history of KCK’s Quindaro neighborhood; “War Paint,” a painting by Mark English, depicts an Appaloosa horse as if galloping through a dream.
Hunt worked with the Kiechel Fine Art gallery in Lincoln, Neb., to acquire “Large Horizontal Prairie # 5,” a graphite and acrylic on paper landscape by Venezuelan-born Francisco Souto, and a set of six woodblock and watercolor prints from Lincoln-based Karen Kunc’s “Aqua Alta Series,” inspired by the artist’s observations of water.
With its iconic red barn, Jenny Kruger’s “Home” is a classic Midwestern landscape. Yet the artist renders it not so classic by substituting flowered chintz for the traditional expanse of blue sky.
“Chintz, home, comforting — it’s a female landscape,” Hunt said.
The art selection committee was unanimous, Hunt said, in its enthusiasm for St. Louis-based Ken Worley’s “Rockwoods VII.13,” a towering oilstick on canvas inspired by the artist’s visits to the Rockwoods Reservation State Park in eastern Missouri. It’s a dramatic piece, featuring stylized trees in a pared back landscape illumined with the same raking light employed by the Italian surrealist Giorgio De Chirico.
St. Louis-based Tim Liddy has gotten a bounce from his inclusion in the “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now” exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., where he is showing three paintings based on box tops of old board games, created in enamel and oil on copper.
The Chiefs are adding 10 Liddy paintings from his 2014 “Circa Series” of football board games, including one box, Hunt said, of a 1919 football board game that the Chiefs own.
There’s more to the series than play, according to the posted label, which suggests: “A keen observer will see decades of American culture unfold within these board games. Underlying themes include social norms and paradigms, gender and racial stereotypes, class separation, and cultural history.”
Each of the works in the collection is accompanied by a brief label that discusses the piece, and from the first, Hunt was committed to developing an education program around the collection.
Teachers and students in grades 3 through 6 can now take advantage of a new arts learning program that includes a tour of the collection. Outlined in a 58-page booklet, the program includes pre- and post-visit curricula; additionally, each child will be provided with a spiral-bound Chiefs Student Sketch Book, featuring hands-on exercises, puzzles and a set of KC Chiefs Artists Trading Cards at the back.
Hunt has also begun working with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s HistoryMakers, a graduate internship program in the history department designed to connect students with key public humanities institutions.
And in late September, she learned that a Chiefs-produced segment on the Arrowhead Art Collection received a Mid-America Emmy Award.