Friday, August 25, 2006

African modern art

They’re buying
the Nelson and JCCC have acquired for their upcoming new spaces ART
By ALICE THORSON found at The Kansas City Star

More space calls for more art.
So the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Johnson County Community College are racking up acquisitions: the Nelson to fill its new Bloch Building, opening June 9, and JCCC for the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, opening in fall 2007.
Jan Schall, the Nelson’s curator of modern and contemporary art, has been working with adviser Robert Storr on an array of purchases, funded by a $10 million grant from the William T. Kemper Foundation — Commerce Bank, Trustee.

Most of the works are destined for the modern and contemporary art galleries in the Bloch Building, where the collection will enjoy 14,240 square feet, a 50 percent increase in space over its former quarters in the original Nelson structure.

At the Nerman, director Bruce Hartman has been on an extended shopping spree since January 2004, thanks to Kansas City philanthropists Tony and Marti Oppenheimer.
To date, the Oppenheimers and the Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation have spent $654,000 on 76 artworks for the museum. They will appear in rotating displays in three permanent collection galleries, measuring 4,000 square feet, on the second floor.

As of this month, the two institutions together have added more than 100 new works. Here’s a sneak preview of a small sampling.
•Richard Serra, “Corner Block” (1983):

Serra’s rectangular block of steel balanced atop a 5-by-5-foot plate of steel is part of the eminent American sculptor’s “prop series,” inspired by the verb “to prop.”
“It’s just based on gravity, balance and point load,” Schall explained. “You have that sense of suspended animation, arrested motion and this tension about the fact that nothing seems to be supporting this but forces of nature. There’s always a little sense of danger.”
“We have a very strong collection of minimalist art, and we’ve never had a Serra,” Schall added. “(This piece) cements the core of key artists involved with minimalist thinking.”
•Marc Handelman, “Miasma (2)” (2006):
L.A. art critic David Pagel raved about Handelman’s “creepy images of power” in the artist’s debut exhibit at Marc Selwyn Fine Art in Los Angeles in 2005.
The Nerman’s new acquisition, an 8-by-8-foot abstraction that riffs on the Fox News logo, continues in this vein.
“He took the logo and just started abstracting and abstracting it until it became a big swirl,” Hartman said. “It’s all in red, white and blue, and the center spirals around. It’s like an explosion of patriotism, but there’s a void at the center suggesting something is awry. It’s really out there.”
• Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled (March 5th) #2” (1991):
His lover Ross, who died of AIDS in 1991, was a major inspiration for the art of Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996), including the Nelson’s recently acquired light sculpture.
The March 5 date included in the title is Ross’ birthday.
“It’s a tribute to Ross as an AIDS activist and gay man,” Schall said. “It’s about two lives, two energies, hung side by side together, and somebody’s light will go out first,” she added. “It’s very poignant, and such a simple use of metaphor for such eloquent and humanistic content. All it is, is two cords, two plugs, two sockets, two light bulbs. When one burns out, you change both and start over.”
•Jess, “Figure 2 — A Field of Pumpkins Grown for Seed: Translation #11” (1965):
Born Burgess Collins in Long Beach, Calif., in 1923, the artist who came to be known simply as “Jess” was a leading light in the Bay Area art scene. Although his idiosyncratic work was slow to earn national critical recognition, it now appears in major museum collections around the country.
The Nelson’s recent acquisition is one of the enigmatic figurative works Jess called “translations.”
“They’re all based on little black-and-white reproductions of things he’s seen in books and translated into something else,” Schall said. The source image for the Nelson painting came from an early 20th-century U.S. Department of Agriculture yearbook.
“It’s a magical painting, and yet it’s so mundane,” Schall said. “It is really outside the mainstream. We wanted to bring in some things that aren’t necessarily part of the big story that’s always told.”
•Nick Cave, “Soundsuit” (2005):
Cave, a 1992 alum of the Kansas City Art Institute, makes elaborate “soundsuits,” incorporating feathers, dryer lint, sequins, beads and human hair. He relates them to “African ceremonial costumes and masks,” and designs them to be worn and performed.
For the Nerman, Hartman purchased a vibrant beaded and sequined soundsuit featuring old beaded compact cases that Cave picked up at flea markets. The design on the back resembles African Kuba cloth, but the most striking element of the work is its pointed headdress, evoking a Ku Klux Klan hood.
“He’s taken the most conspicuous symbol of the Klan and completely subverted it,” Hartman said. “It’s no longer a question of fearing something. He’s overwhelming it.”
•Nadine Robinson, “Rock Box #2” (2006):
“I wanted to get hip-hop culture into the larger mainstream,” Robinson said during a visit to Kansas City in spring 2005. She was showing two big blue paintings inset with black speakers in the “Lost in Music” show at JCCC.
Robinson continues to develop her unique fusion of street culture and high art in a commissioned work for the Nerman. Her “Rock Box #2” (2006) “references hip-hop and bling,” Hartman said.
“It’s a big speaker box, all white and completely covered with rhinestones,” he said. “It also has a sound component, derived from New York dance club music, and the speaker pulsates slightly to the beat.”

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