Art Capsule Reviews

Polly Apfelbaum Like any good artist, Polly Apfelbaum makes complex work. But it is also dazzlingly beautiful, which in the past has caused some snooty art-world folk to dismiss it as mere décor. “People don’t want you to deal with beauty,” Apfelbaum says. “I was interested in the decorative arts. I was interested in the everyday. Screw you. If it is my sensibility to make something very, very beautiful, I want to do it.” Squeezed into the Kemper’s main gallery are 14 pieces spanning 13 years of her New York City-based career. The space seems a little tight for the show (the longest piece measures in at 40 feet), but the cramped quarters create an interesting dialogue among the works. Lately, Apfelbaum has been creating complicated installations of synthetic fabrics dyed in a hallucinogenic range of colors (as many as 104 of them), cut into thousands of tiny pieces and arranged on a floor. “Split,” a recent addition to the Kemper’s permanent collection, covers the blond hardwood floor along the north end of the gallery like a black, bubbly oil spill. Branching out from its glistening, black-and-white body are long fingers of color. Also on display are several of Apfelbaum’s early, pop-culture influenced pieces, such as “Pocket Full of Posies,” a ring of cut-out steel flowers that lies flat on the floor. Through September 5 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (T.B.)

Avenue of the Arts “Silly” seems to be the overwhelming theme of this year’s Avenue of the Arts, a temporary installation of six public-art pieces along Central Avenue downtown. Kansas City Art Institute printmaking teacher Laura Berman’s “Cowboys and Indians” has a ‘zine-aesthetic-meets-the-USDA’s-latest-fruit-campaign feel, along with a 1950s-nostalgia twist: Large-scale, black-and-white, photocopy-quality images of children in cowboy and Indian costumes are attached to the walls of a parking garage between 10th and 11th avenues, though they have been holding fruit instead of toy weapons. (This piece is reportedly supposed to change as the summer goes by, so keep an eye out.) Mark Cowardin’s “Out in the Open,” between 13th and 14th streets, consists of (nonworking) kitchen, utility and bathroom sinks rising above the sidewalks with the support of their plumbing. Described as a “tourist viewer,” Maria Velasco’s “City With a View,” a replica of the pay binoculars (free here) often installed near the edges of scenic vistas, sits near the corner of 11th and Central. A look through the piece reveals notable downtown architectural landmarks, such as the Lyric Opera building, with office workers scaling walls and lounging on rooftops. Hesse McGraw, Rachel Hayes and Michael Jones McKean also contribute works. Through September on Central Avenue between 10th and 14th streets. (T.B.)

Black and White in America: Photography of the Civil Rights Era The essay accompanying Black and White in America: Photography of the Civil Rights Era reminds readers that before television became commonplace in the mid-1960s, Americans received their visual news through newspaper and magazine photographs. The stillness and detail of the images on display in this exhibit invite contemplation of the meanings and repercussions of the moments they capture in a way that today’s TV coverage cannot. The photographs include portraits, photojournalism and more personal artistic endeavors, but each of them embodies an element of the struggle for racial justice. Roy De Carava’s “Hallway-Harlem, New York” depicts a long, narrow corridor lighted with a single dingy light bulb and disappearing into a black hole of a shadow. He writes that the photograph reminded him of the hallways he walked through as a child in Harlem. “They were poor, poor tenements, badly lit, narrow and confining, hallways that had something to do with the economics of building for poor people.” Through October 3 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (T.B.)

Borderland The show, which explores the grotesque in contemporary art (it’s up in conjunction with Boundary Creatures at the Kansas City Jewish Museum’s Epsten Gallery at Village Shalom), was inspired by Modern Art and the Grotesque, a collection of essays edited by University of Missouri-Kansas City art historian Frances Connelly. Connelly’s definition of grotesque is wider-reaching than the everyday — it’s not merely absurd, ugly or horrible. The grotesque, she writes, is characterized by a lack of fixity, by elements of unpredictability and instability. That’s why images can hover on the border between two disparate ideas, like cute and ugly, as they do in Mie Yim’s work. The huggable bears and fuzzy pink puppies set against a background of green pastures and golden bluffs in the wall painting “Ni-Na-No” look too saccharine even for Saturday-morning cartoons. But Yim subtly depicts the adorable little creatures in some not-so-happy activities. A line of puppies marches up the side of a bluff, only to topple, lemming-style, over the edge. The water below bobs with little puppy heads. Through August 29 at the Johnson County Community College Gallery of Art, 12345 College Blvd. in Overland Park, 913-469-2344. (T.B.)

I Planned for This Contingency Joseph Sullivan photographs grass, rocks, pavement and snow with his camera at ground level, skewing scale relationships so that a lawn becomes a forest and a pile of rocks becomes a mountain range, à la Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. On second thought, perhaps the size-shifting antics from Alice in Wonderland are a better comparison; Sullivan plays with depth of field, blurring areas of his photographs into ambiguous and dreamy shapes of vibrant color and light. Each work has a long, unwieldy title that serves to further confuse the identity of its subject. For example, “Right between two collage apartment buildings lives an old deaf lady. Any time of the night she may be standing on her back porch, holding the screen door open while waiting for her dog to finish his business. Everyone hopes she never dies since her house would be torn down and turned into something like a Soviet Bloc apartment building” captures translucent, silver-colored ovals among tall, thin grassy blades against a radiant background of black, icy-blue, coral and lavender. No old ladies or dogs in sight. Through August at the Arts Incubator, 115 W. 18th St. (T.B.)

She’s Hot Like Cone 10 The Kansas City Art Institute’s ceramics department needs a new storage and display cabinet for its teaching collection. Started in the early 1960s by then-professor Ken Ferguson, the collection of work by students, faculty and visiting artists has grown to more than 600 pieces. To raise money for the construction, students and teachers who’ve been involved in the ceramics program over the past 9 years have donated pieces to sell in this show. We were especially intrigued by Meredith Host’s porcelain “Salt and Pepper Shakers with Cavities” (the shakers are shaped like hot air balloons and covered in a shiny blue and yellow glaze; molars appear at their bases, and a black coating mars their white surfaces) and Rachel Euting’s slate-blue “Oval Bowl” (Euting has formed the bowl’s lip into a wavy line and given the texture lining the inside of the bowl a curvy shape that mimics the lip). Ceramic artwork sells well in Kansas City, and visitors bought several of the pieces in the first days of the exhibition. Through August 28 at the Cube at Beco, 1912 Baltimore, 816-582-8997. (T.B.)

Summer Eyes/Summerize Along with humidity and road construction, summer brings group art shows to Kansas City. Jan Weiner has departed from the usual method of assembling a summer show out of work by the artists represented by a single gallery; instead, she’s giving young Kansas City artists a chance to display their work next to the internationally known artists Weiner usually exhibits. Weiner says she wants to create a dialogue between the work and attract a new crowd while concentrating on what she calls “edgy” work. Kansas City artist Marcus Cain’s mixed media paintings on wood, “Missile” and “Bomb,” definitely fit into the edgy category; Cain depicts weapons of mass destruction with simple outlines and covers them with his characteristically elaborate, multicolored wavy marks, giving them a cartoonish feel. Hanging nearby is Los Angeles-based artist Kori Newkirk’s photograph “Haywood,” a naked self-portrait of the artist standing in the snow. The work’s out-of-focus, low-contrast look makes it feel like a surveillance-camera photograph. Through August 31; call 816-931-8755. (T.B.)

Ungood Despite its title, Ungood is a very good show. (The name comes from George Orwell’s 1984, but it’s used here not as a qualitative adjective but as a sort of descriptive noun for the complex subjective and metaphorical realm in which artists work.) In what sounds like the makings of a reality-TV-show plot, curator James Brinsfield gathers 16 local artists of varying ages and experience levels and allows each to select his or her own pieces, then decide as a group where to display the work within the offices of architecture firm Shaw-Hofstra and Associates. Visually, Ungood is a mixed bag, everything from Miles Neidinger’s garland of white plastic ties, to Karen Nease’s geometric collages of pattern papers, to Marcus Cain’s grid-covered figure drawings. Through September 10 at Shaw-Hofstra and Associates, 1717 Oak, 816-421-0505. (T.B.)

Women Are Beautiful Garry Winogrand walked around with his 35-mm handheld Leica, shooting photographs of unsuspecting women at parties, lounging in parks and walking down busy city streets. Eighty-five of those photographs make up the Women Are Beautiful portfolio, which is on display in its entirety in the Kemper Meeting Room. Despite a bit of T&A, this show is no Girls Gone Wild. In most cases, Winogrand’s subjects are unposed and at ease, unaware of the camera. These pictures share more similarities with snapshots than with portraits; the compositions have unusual angles and a quickly executed feel. Audience reaction to this not quite politically correct exhibition has been mixed; check out the comment book to read such gems as “Interesting that he could have photographed so many women’s breasts with out their permission and not be decked by their boyfriends. Or was he?” Through October 10 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (T.B.)

Categories: A&E