Art Capsule Reviews

From Bingham to Benton, Midwest as Muse Those of us who grew up around here have seen paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and company from such an early age, and on such abysmally boring field trips, that the artists’ work constitutes — for us — the visual equivalent of white noise. Incredibly, this exhibit could change that. George Caleb Bingham’s “The Jolly Flatboatmen” alone would be worth the visit. Created in 1847, the painting enraged New York art appreciators for two reasons. First, the boatmen on the river playing fiddles, drinking and dancing were viewed as lowly commoners unworthy of a portrait. Second, the tranquil float scene did not cater to New Yorkers’ fantasies of life in the wild, wild West. It’s kind of like how, when you head to the coasts, people feel gypped that the only Kansan they know can’t milk a cow. On display through July 31 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (G.K.)

A Hairy Tale Jerry Seinfeld once mused that hair — when attached to a person’s head — is luscious and begs admirers to run their fingers through it, yet, once detached and stranded in, say, a casserole, instantly transforms into something gross. For A Hairy Tale, Naoko Wowsugi cut her friends’ hair and rolled it into balls that float about the open Fahrenheit Gallery space like tumbleweeds. The effect is not gross. Instead, it makes the gallery feel like some deserted corner of the world. In fact, that’s the effect of this entire three-person collaboration. Wowsugi’s photographs contain a great deal of empty, white space. A photograph of a girl lying on her stomach is printed on a long, narrow sheet of mostly white photo paper that stretches up one wall, across a specially constructed archway and back down the opposite wall, forming a canopy over viewers. Aaron Wrinkle’s adjacent installation of a low-hanging chandelier ensures that the viewer sees his or her own shadow on the photo paper. Meanwhile, Anthony Baab’s nearby landscape contains a lot of sky but only a little bit of glacier — off in the lower right-hand corner of a smudgy, blue-and-white tableau is a jagged ice formation rendered in simple, streamlined vectors, as it might be mapped by some kind of geological architect. Through March 11 at the Fahrenheit Gallery, 1717 West 9th St., 816-474-5477. (G.K.)

Roberto Juarez: They Entered the Road How we choose to memorialize the dead often has something a little, well, dead about it. Monuments and plaques are fine and dandy, but how do they give us any clue about someone’s life? Roberto Juarez attempts to answer that question in this collection of five paintings, each one titled in tribute to a deceased friend or family member. This could have been a morbid undertaking (pardon the pun), but Juarez’s paintings are alive and kicking. Using diverse materials — peat moss, rice paper, charcoal — on a huge scale (one work measures 21 feet by 9 feet), Juarez uses nature as both an ingredient and a subject, painting vivid flowers, leaves and fruits as if the makings for a still life have been set free to tumble across his canvases. One painted elegy, “Gone to Italy/Se Fue a Italia,” takes its title from a friend who died of AIDS and said before his death, “When I die, don’t tell people I died — tell them I went to Italy.” In “Caminito, Gloria/Little Road, Gloria,” Juarez leaves an enormous blank space in the middle of his canvas, keeping the painting’s activity to the corners and edges. It’s as if he’s grappling with the hole left by the loss of his niece. Through Feb. 27 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (R.B.)

Manifest Destiny Buying cigarettes in Canada makes you think twice about sucking on that nic stick — the packs feature graphic photos of diseased gums and lungs or premature babies. Similarly, Alexis Rockman’s mural Manifest Destiny might convince every Hummer driver to switch to a Prius. Originally painted for the Brooklyn Museum’s recent reopening, Manifest Destiny imagines Brooklyn after global warming, several thousand years in the future. In a hazy orange light, eels, fish and seals swim among the ruins of Brooklyn’s landmarks. A cockroach’s antennae wiggle as it perches on a sinking oil drum. Seagulls and pelicans scavenge for their next meal. There’s a lot to digest in this detailed, 8-foot-by-24-foot work. Through Feb. 26 at Grand Arts, 1819 Grand, 816-421-6887. (R.B.)

Y-Topia It makes sense that James Brinsfield, a member of the painting faculty at the Kansas City Art Institute, would guest-curate a show of mostly former KCAI students. Theoretically, he’s in the perfect position to choose the best of the Generation-Y artists who have maintained ties to KC. For the most part, we appreciate his choices. Lynus Young’s “Stages of Sleep” blends 13 three-dimensional elements into one delightfully weird mixed-media installation — kind of like a large-scale figural version of Magnetic Poetry. Eric Sall’s thick oil-on-canvas creations are the show’s most challenging pieces, and we dig Peter Demos’ high-gloss acrylic drips. We don’t really get what Jaimie Warren is attempting with her unframed digital prints, and Liz Smith’s loopy paintings seem more decorative than anything else. More than the individual pieces, though, what works is the pervasive sense of youth conveyed in the work — not immaturity and not inexperience, but definitely youth. Through Feb. 26 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (A.F.)

Categories: A&E