Art Capsule Reviews

The Brainsex Showdown Squatting in the Kansas City Art Institute’s new Crossroads digs, printmaking students perform that moving rite of passage: showing off their cool stuff. KCAI instructors Jes Owings, James Woodfill and Oz McGuire curate a department show that, Owings says, explores the “distinction between merchandise and fine art.” So, Megan Rains’ “Pillow” speaks to our eternal teen angst, with unframed color photographs documenting a Barbie doll’s life in turmoil — she catches the heroine in the act of mushy soap-opera weeping, always with the ever-faithful pillow. Another Rains piece, the wonderfully fractured “Self-Study Triptych,” presents the artist’s image in broken Styrofoam pieces. Greg Daiker’s “Bam,” an illustration of bombing, crashing planes, presents war as a simple and horrific act of anonymous aggression. Finally, the student-run “bizarre bazaar” of books, stuffed animals, T-shirts and other items lets us ponder the commerce-art dichotomy more personally. Like the youth exhibited here, the show ends soon. Through Nov. 20 at the Kansas City Art Institute Crossroads Gallery, 1908 Main, 816-802-3622. (R.T.B.)

Charlotte Street Foundation The Charlotte Street Foundation awards show isn’t your average group show, lumping together somewhat disparate artists with a theme or linking their work by period or subject. Instead, the CSF artists whose work hangs together at Johnson County Community College’s Gallery of Art share something else: recognition and the funding that comes with it. This year’s award winners include Craig Subler, who comments on the experience of viewing art by rendering works that question how people participate in museums and galleries; looking at his pieces makes us worry that we’re in danger of becoming his next victim. Miles Neidinger’s Maelstrom of Reflections is an enormous installation made from sheets of foil; in Neidinger’s skillful hands, the lowly sandwich wrap evokes Frank Gehry’s undulating architecture. Max Key thinks big, too, with wall-sized paintings that are dark, decorative and gothic. (Look closely for patterns that echo those of origami, silhouette portraits and botanical prints.) Sean Ward, on the other hand, doesn’t do pretty. His paintings of Halloween masks and claws are pretty funny, though. And it’s hard not to want to touch Callyann Casteel’s soft sculptures, assemblages of hands, chains and horns — they’re on display here, but they’re meant to be worn. Through Dec. 20 at the Johnson County Community College Gallery of Art (inside the Carlsen Center), 12345 College Blvd. in Overland Park, 913-469-8500, ext. 3972. (R.B.)

Conclusion of the System of Things Nadine Robinson’s gallery-sized installation is big and loud, like a Hollywood movie, and the fog machine that’s turned on when visitors enter the gallery only reinforces the cinematic spirit of the piece. With a bold, climactic soundtrack pouring from round speakers installed along a wall to reference the positions of figures in Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment,” however, the piece happens to be quite understated in spite of all the melodrama (not to mention the apocalyptic title). When viewers look at what can only be called a painting of sound, they see a minimal, functional, symmetrical tableau. That it feels like a movie is mere trickery. After all, it’s missing cinema’s most obvious components: moving images on a screen. There are no characters, and there is no plot. All that remains are special effects signifying that stakes are rising, a journey is ending and emotions are accelerating toward a spectacular conclusion. Viewers are left to envision their own high stakes, epic voyages and scantily clad performers — that is, of course, until they read the gallery’s brochure explaining the artist’s intended meaning. We recommend picking up the brochure on the way out rather than on the way in. The artist’s personal associations, though interesting and valid, complicate a piece that resists explanation, working best (in fact, brilliantly) on a purely sensory level. Through Dec. 17 at Grand Arts, 1819 Grand, 816-421-6887. (G.K.)

Exhibición de la arte de vida y muerte The Day of the Dead Festival is over. Gone is your chance to buy skull-shaped lollipops, refrigerator magnets and pens. No more can you enjoy funnel cake while watching lithe flamenco dancers stomp gracefully in high heels. But the art and ofrendas (or altars) at Mattie Rhodes Gallery are still on display, and art workshops continue for the duration of the exhibit. The most-publicized work is by famous Mexican artist Jorge R. Gutierrez, whose colorful, iconic posters of El Macho (or Macho Man) seem to have predicted the current trendiness of skull imagery. (His Web site has the best URL ever; at super-macho.com you can also see the artist’s “manimation.”) Other pieces of wall art worth the visit are Xerox-transfer skull prints on big, heavy stone tablets and layered, comic-book style Day of the Dead stories. But a window installation is our favorite part. Dirt covers the window sill, and a grave awaits an unglazed clay coffin carried by a procession of unglazed clay skeletons. Through Nov. 19 at Mattie Rhodes Gallery, 919 W. 17th St., 816-221-2349. (G.K.)

Married to Adventure Before loaded terms such as “multiculturalism” came along to institutionalize a basic desire to understand other people, Osa Johnson and her husband, Martin, just got in a plane and lived the idea, completely unself-consciously. The two Kansans traveled to parts of the world that scared the bejesus out of most Americans in the early part of the 20th century. Their still and moving footage of indigenous civilizations was later used in popular silent films — and in at least one instance, they returned to those locales to screen a film for the people who had appeared in it. The exhibit at the Kansas City Museum shows photographs and film reels as well as special editions of Osa Johnson’s best-selling autobiography, I Married Adventure, printed with zebra-striped covers. Especially awe-inspiring is the photo, shot from a plane, of stampeding giraffes. Osa Johnson = total badass. Through Jan. 8 at the Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., 816-460-2020. (G.K.)

Json Myers and Wade Eldean Json Myers discards traditional mediums such as clay, paint and canvas for less familiar ones — tractor enamel and “pyrotechnics residue,” i.e., burnt stuff. The results are oddly shaped impressionist plaques. In the inaccurately titled “Crap,” a 4-foot-long strip of timber hangs horizontally to display a Rorschach dragon with holes — one looks like an open mouth — caused by fire. In “Parable of the Rose,” heavily shellacked wood conjoins with tree bark, enhancing the differences between the naturally organic and finished materials; in “Grow Up,” an image of a tree “grows” from a palette, and a cityscape runs along the bottom of the piece. On the gallery floor, Wade Eldean’s open and lit suitcases serve as display cases for the sorts of things that people keep in their attics or basements — or throw in their trash cans. The best piece is a visually surprising concoction of baggage, amusingly titled “Just in Case.” The handle’s tag displays the artist’s name, phone number and address in Michigan; we presume this is how he wanted his installation delivered. Through Nov. 30 at the Zone Gallery, 1830 Locust St., 816-471-3618. (R.T.B.)

New Paintings Living in the desert (specifically Phoenix) does something to a person; painter Steven Yazzie is proof. These expansive, mysterious landscapes feature a recurring, nearly obsessive image: the sword-shaped leaves of the agave, a plant that grows only in hot, dry regions. It figures prominently in “Confluences I,” “Confluences II” and “Twilight.” Yazzie’s physical surroundings inhabit these pictures subtly — in the suggestive curve of a mountain in the background, or in the hint of sun in floating, unfinished ovals. All of the canvases, shellacked in Yazzie’s layering technique, reflect like glass. In the show’s main piece, “Surface Agendas,” a blue expanse of colors represents the artist’s emotional or mental state, and it’s a subdued, amorphous abstraction. This must be what the subconscious looks like. Through Nov. 29 at the Blue Gallery, 7 West 19th Street, 816-527-0823. (R.T.B.)

Newrotic: Experiments in Eroticism With new gallery director Luis Garcia in place, the Vault has gathered paintings of women resembling Tank Girl, airbrushed hip-hop portraits and girls who look straight out of manga. But one person’s Playboy centerfold is another’s unsexy nightmare. Accordingly, the works in this group show are a bit of a sensual smorgasbord — what one viewer finds titillating, another might find mundane. Adrian Halpern’s delicate, disjointed figures (a screaming girl wields a sword in one hand; her other arm is a fish, her legs a mass of snakes) are set next to a series of photographs called “Mine Is Bigger Than Yours” in which Beanie Babies are placed in provocative positions with … mushrooms. The piece that provoked the most laughter on opening night involves Ronald McDonald proclaiming “I’m loving it” as a woman, naked but for thigh-high stockings and a corset around her midsection, goes down on his Big Mac. We’ll skip the joke about supersizing it. Through Nov. 24 at the Vault Gallery at Leedy-Voulkos, 2012 Baltimore, 816-405-3562. (R.B.)

Parts In each of the 11 large-scale photographs that make up Parts, the latest exhibit to open at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, artist Nikki S. Lee adopts a distinct persona — and a boyfriend to complement it. Staged in snapshot form, the glossy images feature Lee interacting with tattooed muscle men and pale drug addicts, on playgrounds and in bars; however, each of the guys has been cut out of the picture, suggesting truncated relationships. (After viewing 11 presumably failed attempts at relationships, one starts to feel a little discouraged.) Her diverse identities are certainly driven by stereotypes, but we empathize with the desire to be someone else every so often. In “Part 18,” she’s in morning-after mode, drinking coffee on a fire escape, bedheaded and wearing boxers; “Part 13” has her barefoot and laughing on a bus. What’s most striking is that it’s not her face — where one usually looks for indications of mood or disposition — that gives her away; it’s her body language. There does seem to be a direct correlation between the amount of makeup Lee wears and her level of misery, though. We’d better toss our eyeliner. Through Dec. 11 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (A.F.)

Recent Paintings, Drawings and Prints by Michael Krueger and Don Ed Hardy Don Ed Hardy is a tattoo-art icon. We know multitudes of inked people who salivate at the mention of his name, so we had to check out his show. What we discovered: Each painting, displayed on archival scroll paper mounted on Chinese silk, looks like an elaborate tattoo big enough to cover the back of the world’s fattest man. Even the iconography — lions, skulls, pirate ships and sexy women — is tattoo-inspired. But unlike skin, which provides a fleshy, monochromatic backdrop for tattoo art, the scroll paper and Chinese silk swatches have a flimsy and beautifully patterned texture that makes the art look exceptionally bright, dynamic and, in some cases, even metallic. And though Hardy is the superstar, don’t ignore the simpler, smaller drawings by area artist Michael Krueger. With characters floating against a plain white background, these drawings are well-executed and possess a distinct narrative style. Our favorite is “Josephine,” which depicts a young woman walking out of a patch of plants and rocks, naked except for some letters mysteriously but neatly etched on her skin. Through Dec. 23 at the Dennis Morgan Gallery, 2011 Tracy, 816-842-8755. (G.K.)

The Sesquicentennial Whitmaniacs Congress Ryan Kelly gets a little obsessive sometimes. After hearing that the poet Walt Whitman had made a list of the 21 famous people he’d met, Kelly decided to bring them back to life as oversized, papier-m&acircché heads. The heads hang from the ceiling on hooks, and Kelly encourages viewers to try them on and wander around for a bit as, say, Edgar Allan Poe or Andrew Jackson. Whitman himself doesn’t hang from the ceiling, but he turns on a barbecue spit, surveying his noteworthy friends. Kelly, a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute’s ceramics department, hasn’t abandoned his regular medium; there’s a clay portrait of Whitman hanging on one wall and a delicately painted bowl on a table near a Whitman portrait station. Yes, portrait station: Sit down, fasten a beard to your face with ear hooks, put on a hat and a woolly cardigan and get a Polaroid snapped. There’s a copy of the Whitman photograph you’ll be aping, but First Friday gallerygoers found it more fun to pose as Whitman doing things he probably wouldn’t want caught on film. Through Jan. 6, 2006, at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut, 816-474-3250. (R.B.)

The Snug Sensation Martin Morehouse’s sculptures — nine white, upholstered forms of various shapes and sizes, simultaneously suspended from the ceiling and stuck to the floor — look like punching bags. But aggression is the last thing they’re intended to incite; in fact, Morehouse wants you to hug them. Using a tactile transducer (a variation on a speaker that vibrates solids instead of air), he makes his figures pulse like muscle contractions, heartbeats, refrigerators and idle motors. The objective is to energize the senses of sight, sound and touch in a nonthreatening way. The gallery was deserted when we stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, and we felt damned silly embracing these sculptures while alone. But we found evidence of a more populated opening: the comment sheet. And we were fascinated by how the remarks differed by what appeared to be the writers’ genders. Whereas large, loopy letters — often accented with exclamation points — declared the show “very intimate” and confided “I enjoyed hugging your art,” a minimalist, masculine scrawl announced: “I kinda think this is bullshit.” Through Nov. 26 in the Front Room Gallery of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (A.F.)

Through My Eyes Patrick Andrew Adams realizes art is everywhere. His photographs offer glimpses of the mundane and anonymous minutiae of cities as seen from the lowly perspective of a pedestrian — a stenciled panda bear spray-painted onto a clean brick wall, say, or weathered directional signs. Graffiti tags serve as urban texts, with the artist acting as translator. “Orpy” shows that Andre the Giant really wasn’t all that photogenic and how visual litter — random stickers on signposts and telephone poles, or a skewed stop sign — form a beautiful, if discomfiting, sample of life’s randomness. Our favorite, “Birds of Prey” (one of the few natural images in the show) captures birds flying gracefully and precariously away from daggerlike pine trees. Through Nov. 30 at Tchoupitoulas, 1526 Walnut, 816-221-0362. (R.T.B.)

29 Ghosts: Cathartic Expressions of Despair Jacob Weller’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations are similar to tarot cards. They’re figurative, beautiful, powerful — and a bitch to decode. That’s not criticism, just observation. One of the most striking images in this show is the first piece visible inside the gallery, which doubles as the entrance to a tattoo parlor. The slightly Edward Gorey-like “Nuestra Dama de la Tormenta” depicts a woman in a long, drapey garment; she faces away from the viewer, her hair in places appearing to be either a feathery bird’s wing or a foaming, tempestuous body of water. She stands with her head in clouds, towering over the horizon with skinny, knobbed lightning bolts stretching down on either side of her like bony old fingers. A pair of scissors hovers in the sky. Scissors recur in many of these images, sometimes making gruesome, violent appearances (puncturing characters’ chests, for example). We don’t know what they mean, but we like them and would gladly come in for a reading. Through Nov. 20 at the Mercy Seat, 210 East 16th Street, 816-421-4833. (G.K.)

Categories: A&E