The Mini Vinnie Bini is where a maximalist First Friday starts

Read the mission statement of the Rocket Grant program, the longtime artist-funding mechanism fostered by the Spencer Museum of Art and the Charlotte Street Foundation, and you’ll be reminded that part of the design is to launch “innovative, public-oriented work in nontraditional spaces” in the KC area. Megan Mantia and Leone Anne Reeves, who have lately made art together under the name Blanket Undercover, have taken each of those descriptors very much to heart with a citywide re-creation of the 56th annual Venice Biennale, the Mini Vinnie Bini. They went to the Biennale this past summer and have spent the time since then working out a geographically intensive simulation of what they saw in Italy. Working with three assistant artists and 40-some partner locations — venues as diverse as the Workhouse castle on Vine Street, the Gym KC, and the Writers Place — they’ve assembled three months’ worth of free, family-friendly events and exhibitions, an art trip for anyone who wants to experience the big-deal Venice event without leaving the metro. The best way to keep up with events, venues and tours is to keep an eye on

The Belger Crane Yard Gallery (2011 Tracy) opens two new exhibitions on first Friday: Orchard by Christopher Kurtz and Schema: A Journey Through Traditional Patterns and Imagery by Melanie Sherman. Kurtz is a master woodworker with a fine-arts education; expect to see painstakingly crafted sculptures as well as contemporary clean-line furniture, all of it demonstrating a passion for visual impact as well as spot-on construction. Sherman is a ceramist from Germany who has taken recent inspiration from artist residencies in Hungary and China (ceramic-world capitals); her lavishly painted surfaces reflect a love for ornamentation and 18th-century European styles.

Another ceramist fresh from a residency — this one in Nanjing, China — is showing at Hilliard Gallery (1820 McGee). Ron Fondaw, based in St. Louis at Washington University, approaches his work through investigation of the elements of ceramics — heating, cooling, weathering — and drawing and painting on them as a way to reflect his nature-inspired thoughts. UnSeen Forces gathers recent works.

Blue Gallery
(118 Southwest Boulevard) usually sneaks into First Friday with a Thursday artist’s talk. This time, the early event is a Thursday, October 1, reception (starting at 6 p.m.) with Kelly Porter speaking about her work at 7. Thirty percent of proceeds generated that evening will benefit the Rose Brooks Center, one of Kansas City’s domestic-violence shelters. Her solo exhibition is called Blankets + Brambles, and in it she presents large-scale paintings and works on paper that reveal the organic and emerging forms of the smallest pieces of life — abstract and beautiful renderings suggesting cellular growth in a way that conveys comfort.

Another abstract painter with a long history of work, Don Kottmann, is featured this month at Todd Weiner Gallery (115 West 18th Street). Kottmann splits his time between Kansas City and Calgary, Alberta, where he teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design and was one of last December’s recipients of a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, a champion of gestural abstract painting.

Two figurative shows continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art (2004 Baltimore): Jeff Aeling: Landscapes, Figures, Flowers and Michiko Itatani: Cosmic Wanderlust II. Aeling’s landscapes are well-known, but in this show, he also includes the figures (women) he has painted for years but rarely shown. Itatani’s paintings depict created worlds presented in miniature. They implore you to lean in, the better to be absorbed into new, enchanting spaces.

And there’s even more strong painting elsewhere. New works by David Gant are at Main Street Gallery (1610 Main, with a reception 5–8 p.m. Saturday); solo shows by Russell Easterwood and Laura Nugent are at the Late Show (1600 Cherry); and Adolfo Marron III’s Flora Veil of the Mulberry Moth is at Garcia Squared Contemporary (115 West 18th Street, upstairs).

Of course, it’s also time for the Mattie Rhodes Art Center’s Dia de los Muertos, the 17th annual exhibition and cultural festival. Ofrendas (altars) are on display inside the space (919 West 17th Street), open for a reception first Friday (6–10 p.m.) ahead of Saturday’s street festival (1–9 p.m.). Details at

For more First Friday gallery shows and events, click here.

Categories: A&E, Art