Art Capsule Reviews

George Catlin and His Indian Gallery Back in the 1830s, George Catlin made his first trip west from St. Louis, recording his observations of American Indian Plains tribes by sketching and painting their portraits, ceremonies and landscapes. During Catlin’s lifetime, representatives from the U.S. government (which was busy passing the Indian Removal Act) ignored his efforts to sell them his collection, and the artist fell bankrupt. The Nelson’s show, however, is loaded with historic and artistic value; in addition to Catlin’s paintings, it includes artifacts he collected during his travels. Catlin presents his portrait subjects — chiefs, warriors, medicine men, women and children — in straightforward poses, paying great attention to details in dress and adornment. His ceremonial scenes stiffly capture gestures and movements as well as the size and complexity of the rituals. Through April 18 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St., 816-751-1278. (T.B.)

The Disembodied Spirit One of the most eerie pieces in the Kemper’s show is scary for reasons more psychological than otherworldly. Francesca Woodman — known as much for her young suicide as for her art — used to take out-of-focus self-portraits as she hid behind the peeling wallpaper in her dilapidated studio. In the resulting images, a woman seems either to be vanishing into or stepping out of the walls. One such beautifully creepy image is hidden in the corner of the gallery, a small work compared with the others in this varied exhibit. Other gems include a handful of tiny early photographs from the Spiritualist movement that depict people with superimposed images of deceased relatives (and other companions unavailable to pose for pictures — Jesus, for example). A standout example from this collection, titled “I Remember Father,” shows a well-dressed man sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette, smiling to himself. Framed by the smoke is a billowy likeness of what we can only assume is his pop. The exhibit delivers big names such as Joseph Beuys, Bill Viola and Gregory Crewdson. But more important, a suspended chair with gooey-looking, resin-covered fabric hanging from it brings back fond memories of scenes from Ghostbusters featuring “ectoplasm” — all anyone can ask of a ghost-themed art show. Through May 23 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (G.K.)

Hung Liu It’s no surprise that Hung Liu, who emigrated from China in 1984, finds inspiration in historical Chinese photos: Her mother destroyed the family’s photo album as a protective measure during China’s Cultural Revolution. Liu’s collages include photographic elements with figures, dragons, birds and flowers, using her signature paint-dripping style. With its mauve palette and borderline cutesy subject matter (small children), some of the work at the Cohen feels like living-room décor compared with the powerful piece in the Kemper’s collection “Mu Nu (Mother and Daughter),” which depicts a mother and daughter straining to pull a boat down a shallow river. Still, Liu’s combination of haunting old black-and-white images and swirling brush strokes of bright color and traditional Chinese imagery makes for intriguing paintings. Through May 1 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (T.B.)

Project 910 S Wall For his exhibit at the Society for Contemporary Photography, Kansas City artist Colby K. Smith painted a dilapidated old house white (the show is named after its address), then peeled away layers of the walls, sidewalk, floors and furniture, documenting each step of the process with video and photography. Taken on their own, the square photographs appear to be nothing but surface studies of glue, fabric, gravel, wallpaper, etc., but they’re arranged in groups that convey the narrative of Smith’s building biopsy. The SCP’s goal was to demonstrate how photography figures in to a larger project; Smith plans to cut the house into pieces and ship it on palettes from Illinois to Kansas City, where he will reassemble it in a gallery setting. Through May 8 at the Society for Contemporary Photography, 2012 Baltimore, 816-471-2115. (T.B.)

Prototypes-Excursions-Observations Kansas City artist Eric von Robertson’s new exhibit at the Urban Culture Project’s Paragraph Gallery aspires to a pretty lofty goal: “to eliminate the divisions between viewer and user, exhibition and art-making,” he writes. How does Robertson hope to accomplish this? By structuring his show as a work in progress and by sponsoring public events designed to encourage recreation and leisure, such as a picnic with “the gentle load” at 1 p.m. on April 10. Robertson works under the aegis of C.A.R.L. (the Center for the Advancement of Recreation and Leisure), an organization he founded with the intention of emphasizing “the creative process over finished products.” Prototypes-Excursions-Observations features a weird combination of pseudoscientific-looking work and blatantly leisure-related pieces that one might expect from an organization like CARL. On opening night, at least, the most recreational aspect of the entire show was the keg stored inside the boulder-shaped drywall structure at the center of the gallery. A rope hammock hangs in one corner in front of a video projected on a wall with a straw hat affixed to it. Pixilated digital prints of one of Robertson’s multicolored geometric structures blowing around a desert landscape are also on display. Through April 24 at the Paragraph Gallery, 23 East 12th St., 816-695-7734 (T.B.)

Somewhere Between Hypocrites and Holymen Is Truth … Ten Years of Art As Life is a crowded show. Prints hang on a line above paintings and wood blocks and sketches. Squeezing as much as possible into a show doesn’t follow gallery protocol, but it works because this is meant to be a reflection on ten years of work by Jeremy McConnell, whose simple, illustratorly paintings of people in stocking caps and hoodies can be spotted in restaurants and bars all over town. Viewers can watch his work develop from small, highly detailed black-and-white pieces to huge, colorful unstretched canvases with minimal text and imagery — paintings that feel like political traffic signs. (Some of the best pieces combine elements of these two extremes.) The quantity of work in the show can be overwhelming, but we’re drawn to the medium-sized painting of the blue-headed guy with undecipherable text running across his body. On the opposite wall is a series of wood blocks; rather than showing the prints from the wood blocks, McConnell has displayed the carved blocks themselves, letting their texture add dimension and showing a piece of the process that’s usually left in the studio. Finally, in the northeast corner of the space is McConnell’s contribution to the skateboard art show held at Lovely last summer. It’s a nice, neat print of three guys hovered around the numbers 816. KCMO, represent! Through April 18, with a closing party April 17. To schedule a viewing time, call 816-474-4814. (G.K.)

Categories: A&E