Visual Arts

Kemper’s ‘Piece by Piece’ leads the way in 2015's visual arts

Nigerian-born, New York-based Toyin Odutola’s “LTS XI” (2014) is part of the “Piece by Piece” exhibit at the Kemper Museum.
Nigerian-born, New York-based Toyin Odutola’s “LTS XI” (2014) is part of the “Piece by Piece” exhibit at the Kemper Museum. Bill and Christy Gautreaux collection

What may be the most exciting show of 2015 is coming up fast.

“Piece by Piece: Building a Collection,” opening Jan. 30 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, offers a look at the international art holdings of Kansas City collectors Bill and Christy Gautreaux. The couple made Art News magazine’s list of top 200 collectors in 2014.

The Gautreauxes have been buying work since 1996 and have stepped up the pace of acquisitions in recent years.

“Our collecting gained a lot of momentum when we began to meet many knowledgeable collectors and started attending art fairs like Miami Basel, where we were exposed to great galleries from around the world,” Bill Gautreaux said in a statement put out by the Kemper. “It has become a journey of learning from great creators (artists) and expanding our own awareness.”

The exhibit, organized by Kemper curator Erin Dziedzic, will feature more than 30 works by 26 artists, a fraction of a collection that Dziedzic says contains hundreds of pieces.

Many visitors will recognize Sanford Biggers, Nick Cave, Jeffrey Gibson and Kara Walker from previous exhibits in Kansas City. The thrill of this show is its inclusion of works by rising international stars who have not been shown here before, including Mariana Palma, who is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Nigerian-born Toyin Odutola.

Dziedzic was given a free hand in choosing the works to include, a process that has taken almost two years. Linking her selections is a focus on “process, pattern and material,” while the works range over a variety of topics and themes.

“This exhibition emphasizes an engagement with themes of abstraction, the body and gesture, race and politics, landscape and geography,” she said.

One of the most satisfying aspects of curating the exhibit was collaborating with the Gautreauxes, Dziedzic said.

“There’s a lot of energy exchanged between the collectors, the artists and works in this show,” she added, “and it’s so important and exhilarating to see and present such a rich collection here in Kansas City.”

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson has two big ticketed exhibitions planned for 2015 that should be crowd-pleasers. In March, the museum opens “A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America,” an exhibit of more than 60 pieces, including a carousel elephant, drawn from the private collection of Barbara L. Gordon.

The other big show, which will open in October, revisits the career of Thomas Hart Benton through the prism of Hollywood, where his work on five major film-related projects influenced his development of a “cinematic style of painting.” “American Epics” will feature roughly 100 works by Benton, including paintings, murals, drawings, prints and books, as well as archival photographs, film clips and stills.

The Nelson has also lined up several intriguing smaller shows. Among them: an exhibit of drawings by Spanish chef Ferran Adrià offering insights into his creative productions for his renowned elBulli restaurant.

Also featured is a show of artist and filmmaker Philip Haas’ 3-D re-creations of Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s witty portraits of human heads composed from fruit, flowers and vegetables. Measuring 15 feet tall, these will be installed in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park; maquettes of the works will be displayed in a gallery indoors.

In September, the museum will present “Rising Up,” an exhibit of noted African-American artist Hale Woodruff’s historic murals, including scenes of the mutiny on the slave ship Amistad, for Talledega College in Atlanta. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith proclaimed the exhibit, “stunning” when it was shown at New York University in summer 2013, as part of its three-year tour.

Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

Continuing its commitment to showing contemporary American Indian art, the Nerman will open the 2015 season in February with quilt-based installations by Gina Adams, an artist from Kansas of Ojibwa ancestry, and Oregon-based Natalie Ball.

Ball, who is of Modoc and African-American ancestry, will draw on both strains in “Mapping Coyote Black,” in which she employs the trickster coyote figure as an avatar.

“In my installation, she signifies what cannot be contained by performances of gender, race, and ethnicity,” Ball writes in her artist statement. Her aim: “to disrupt the mainstream definition of Indian, a definition too limited for the complexity of Native lives.”

Adams’ installation, “Its Honor Is Here Pledged,” will feature vintage quilts that she has overlaid with texts from historic treaties. The installation “addresses particular, painful moments in so-called modern time,” she writes, “when ‘white man’ broke his promises over and over again to the original peoples of America: Native Americans.”

Also in the works at the Nerman is “Bloom — the Garden as Inspiration,” which will include a fort-style installation filled with cacti from the local collection of Mark Raduziner, created by L.A. artist Amir H. Fallah.

Other venues

At the Kansas City Art Institute’s Block Artspace, director Raechell Smith has teamed up with David Cateforis, professor of art history at the University of Kansas, on the exhibit “Making Histories,” in which the two explore the trend to revisit history in contemporary art.

As they characterize the show, which opens in February, “Connections between the past and the present are revealed through the artists’ focus on global events during the 20th century in works that reimagine, re-enact and refigure what has come before and consider the role of collective memory and historical consciousness.”

Grand Arts will mark its final year of operations with two projects. First up is L.A.-based Glenn Kaino’s “Tank,” scheduled to open this spring.

Inspired by the U.S. military’s practice of discarding retired tanks in the ocean, where they are colonized by coral, Kaino’s installation will feature a series of saltwater-filled vitrines containing translucent resin casts of a decommissioned M60 military tank covered with live corals.

A version of the work, featuring seven tanks, is now at Prospect New Orleans. The Grand Arts show will likely include double that number, says Eric Dobbins, Grand Arts’ assistant director.

Grand Arts is also in the research and development phase on a project with the Propeller Group, a trans-Pacific collective known for such inventive projects as its 2011 “Television Commercial for Communism.”

“If all continues to go well at our secret testing facility, you’ll see something extraordinary from them before we close next fall,” Dobbins promises.

And lovers of ceramics and abstract painting have something to look forward to in the Belger Crane Yard Gallery’s February show of award-winning 2007 Kansas City Art Institute alum Lauren Mabry, who transforms cylindrical vessels into dynamic expressionist abstractions in the round.

2015 openings

A sampling of art shows scheduled so far:


▪ “Piece by Piece: Building a Collection,” Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Jan. 30-April 26


▪ “Natalie Ball: Mapping Coyote Black” and “Gina Adams: Its Honor Is Here Pledged,” Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb. 5-May 13

▪ “Xaviera Simmons,” Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb. 6-June 7

▪ “Making Histories,” H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, Feb. 7-April 15

▪ “Lauren Mabry: Passages,” Belger Crane Yard Gallery, Feb. 6-April 18

▪ “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Feb. 21-Aug. 2


▪ “A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, March 28-July 5


▪ “Philip Haas: The Four Seasons,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, April 25-Oct. 19


▪ “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Sept. 25-Jan. 10


▪ “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood,” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Oct. 10-Jan. 3