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 Sept. 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.)

2004 River Market Regional Exhibition This is the best show to hit the Kansas City Artists Coalition in a long time. (Too often it seems like the artists on display at the KCAC put more thought into their signatures than into the actual artwork.) Shannon Fitzgerald, curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, whittled 944 submissions down to 29 artists working in a variety of media, including painting, photography and sculpture. Standouts include top prizewinner Celeste Marble’s installation “Hanging Garden,” a lush, junglelike assemblage of watercolor papers that hang like leaves from the gallery’s ceiling. Noriko Ebersole’s “One-A-Day Drawings: 365 Self-Portraits” features (surprise!) 365 pencil drawings of the artist on tiny sheets of sketchpad paper. Ebersole scrawls short reflections of the day’s events on some of the papers. The narrative she creates provides a poignant look into the artist’s life that is missing from the stone-faced expressions of her self-portraits. Through August 6 at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte, 816-421-5222.

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.)

Categories: A&E