Visual Arts

Nostalgia, activism and regret flavor Charlotte Street awards exhibition

Garry Noland’s “Close Up USA” is made from discarded foam, with a silver-painted shape resembling the outline of the continental USA cut into the surface.
Garry Noland’s “Close Up USA” is made from discarded foam, with a silver-painted shape resembling the outline of the continental USA cut into the surface. Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

A focus on the past unifies the “Charlotte Street Foundation Fellows 2014” show at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

The exhibit features works by Kansas City artists Amy Kligman, Garry Noland and Sean Starowitz, who each received a $10,000 cash award from the Charlotte Street Foundation for artistic accomplishment.

This year’s panel of judges included Gilbert Vicario, senior curator of the Des Moines Art Center; Lumi Tan, assistant curator of the Kitchen in New York; Danny Orendorff, curator-in-residence of the Charlotte Street Foundation; and Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum and also curator of this exhibition.

Almost two dozen paintings by Kligman, showing details of everyday life in the late 20th- and early 21st-century America, fill one intimate gallery.

“VHS” is a small painting on an oval canvas showing a stack of VHS boxes with familiar titles like “Empire Records,” “Chasing Amy” and “Footloose.” Another work, “Two Packs a Day,” has a similar composition, showing a supermarket display of brand-name cigarette packs. “Everyone Is Coming” depicts a packet of ketchup painted many times larger than actual size.

While some might find the images banal, Kligman is documenting many aspects of our lives that might soon disappear or are already gone, providing a record for generations to come.

A museum is an unusual place to view the work of Starowitz, an artist known for his activism and socially engaged art practice. Many of his contributions to the show are models, maquettes and research for social projects, such as his miniature model for renovating an abandoned Kansas City lot with his “Lots of Love” urban renewal project.

Other works include “Five Stones From Five Foundations of Sacred Sites,” made of five old, broken masonry stones that may or may not be from the demolished homes of local musicians Charlie Parker, Virgil Thomson and Ben Webster.

Also included is a photocopy of a 1960s Human Relations Department brochure telling a fictionalized story of “Joe Jitters.” The story attempts to calm nerves around racial integration and the predatory real estate practices that lead to white flight.

While Starowitz’s most ambitious works can’t fit into a gallery because of their social, temporal and site-specific nature, the artist has still created an intriguing arrangement of artifacts and information that inform his practice.

Noland’s “Failed Monuments” are constructed from discarded pieces of shipping foam that he collected in the Lake of the Ozarks. The foam is cracked, broken and fairly dirty, but Noland has covered one side or crevice of each work in reflective gold tape.

Three works titled “Close Up USA” also are made from discarded foam; each has a silver-painted shape resembling the outline of the continental USA cut into the surface. Noland’s “Partial Columns” comprises three broken PVC pipes, covered in glass marbles, that curve between the floor and the wall.

As the titles suggest, these pieces of trash have been collected and presented like ancient artifacts, portions of “failed monuments,” like crumbling pieces of ancient temples.

Where Kligman’s paintings provide a nostalgic look at everyday items, Starowitz’s work has an activist’s fervor for rehabilitating the past, and Noland’s sculptures offer a tragic, somewhat dark, view of our society, as if it were a collapsed ancient culture.

That three viewpoints aren’t in complete agreement with one another creates an exhibit that reflects the diversity of art-making in Kansas City.

On exhibit

“Charlotte Street Foundation Fellows 2014: Amy Kligman, Garry Noland, Sean Starowitz” continues at Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, through Dec. 21. The exhibit is free. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. More information at 913-469-3000 or