Born in a Barn
One recent Friday evening, a handful of Kansas Citians gathered around small mounds of wood chips, drinking wine from a box in the West Bottoms. No, they weren’t at the American Royal. Close, but no cigar. They were at the Green Door Gallery, looking at aht.
Of the maybe 25 mellow people who’d gathered in the rustic, open space for the opening of My Neighbor Is Trying to Kill Me, one repeatedly stepped on the wood chips, forgetting that they were, you know, art. She’d look down, remember her surroundings, then nervously peer over her shoulder at an annoyed-looking artist.
In a bigger city, a floor covering for livestock might feel unfamiliar, thereby drawing attention to itself. In Kansas City’s West Bottoms, it seems perfectly at home.
The wood chips are part of an installation by David Petersen. Pink pig sculptures and three-dimensional gray birds hang out in varying scenarios. Some look downright appealing, in a country sort of way; others, such as the ones in which the birds are attached to sticks of dynamite, don’t seem appealing at all. Dark doesn’t quite work for this particular artist. His cartoonish renderings of farm scenes using minimal shapes and materials come off better in the simpler pieces because his strength is in creating an atmosphere so convincing that people mistake the art for a barn floor.
The other side of the gallery is what really wowed us. A pile of very real-looking, soft, human-body sculptures lay limp beneath a giant desk. As we walked toward them, we heard another viewer say, “Oh! It’s all one piece!” Whatever, we thought, feeling confused. Then we looked across the gallery and saw a sculpture of a headless archer, bow and arrow in hand, taking aim at where a desk would have hung in the air before falling on these people. It was like Dilbert-gone-Darwin. There is something surreal and funny and melancholy about office drones being killed by a desk-hunting man in tights.
But, to be fair to Petersen, aside from giant barbecue conventions, nothing ties together the modern Kansas City and the historic cowtown Kansas City like a dead bird. Anyone who lives downtown will tell you that it’s common for birds to kill themselves, flying into the giant windowpanes of renovated lofts. In that sense, nothing could be more perfect for this show than Petersen’s birds, fallen after apparently flying straight into targets in a downtown gallery, landing right beside a pile of musty wood chips.