Summer Seeing

For 23 years, art dealer Jan Weiner has been showing the work of Kansas City artists in a home west of the Plaza. Hers isn’t the kind of gallery that’s likely to draw crowds of casual art viewers — you have to make an appointment. But if you work anywhere near the Plaza, it’s a pretty engaging way to spend a summer lunch hour.

As curators for many summer exhibitions do, Weiner presents an assortment of recent and not so recent work from her stable of artists. There are some clunkers, but let’s not spoil the fun; it’s summer. Many of the pieces are dynamic and appealing, providing some visual and conceptual challenges.

Typically, I’m drawn to narrative work because I like complex storytelling. Seeing an artist’s story made visible and how it fits — or doesn’t — into broader social contexts helps me expand my visual and philosophical perspectives. Formalist abstractions are often more self-referential, requiring a theoretical examination of painting itself. Lately, however, the more formalist work I’ve come across by Kansas City artists has turned my head because the work has been so smart.

For instance, Jorge Garcia Almodovar’s recent “Untitled” is a small work — only 12 inches by 30 inches — made of various lengths of wood strips connected in painted vertical stripes. Almodovar’s pinks, ivories, blues and magentas create a tension that feels lively and energetic. He’s known for his sculptures and his Avenue of the Arts project (last summer’s “A Minor Chord” on the wall of a parking garage at 10th Street and Central), but I find this visually tight piece more satisfying — the color juxtapositions and wood lengths make sense by seeming to be arbitrary and effortless.

John Ochs’ Untitled is an abstract oil-and-shellac painting on panel in which he makes layers of paint visible through surface sanding. Small, intricate changes in the layers suggest a topographical map; the piece is velvety and subtle, different from his larger and busier abstractions.

Photographer Art Miller suggests that ambiguity can signify the essence of place. In his large 1999 silver gelatin print “Jalisco Mexican Restaurant,” Miller produces a work that is inside and out, here and nowhere. Our point of view is through a partially destroyed wall (its rubble lies in front of us) to a mural of romantic lovers. The juxtaposition of destroyed architecture with a pristinely intact mural creates a frisson of narrative potential. Are we looking in or out? Do we focus on the mural or the destruction? The sameness with which Miller treats foreground, middle ground and background is unnerving — the eye longs for something to rest on — and suggests that all views and interpretations are equally full of conceptual potential.

Other highlights include former Kansas City Art Institute student Amy Myers’ large, biomorphic drawings on black paper (which I feel that I see everywhere) and British artist Fiona Rae’s wildly exuberant prints and paintings. Rae employs strategies of design, typography, cartooning and Victorian excess to create a pastiche of ornament and abstraction. Like Miller, she collapses the space between background and foreground — except hers is on a flattened, designed surface rather than an illusionistic one.

Sure, the exhibition is too crowded, and some works shouldn’t have been included, but it’s worth the effort to make an appointment to see the good ones.

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