Monday, August 29, 2011

Art Appreciation

On the morning of my birthday, the K-Man indulged me with an early visit to two Kansas City jewels: the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. We recently strolled the sculpture garden at the Nelson with Ronnie and Jeff and that did indeed whet my appetite to return to stroll the art and artifacts inside the museum. Spending time taking in the wonders of art and history constitute a form of therapy for me...I find myself simultaneously relaxed and recharged once done.

I return to the comment "indulge" as Keith is, admittedly, not a museum fan and had not even visited the new, world-class Bloch Building addition. In the end, he enjoyed our visit almost as much as I did.... and I was gobsmacked. It had been such an embarrassingly long time since we had visited, that I found the architecture itself utterly breathtaking all over again. The original neoclassic building was opened in 1933 and still today its an absolute stunner. I remember feeling a tad overwhelmed on our first rushed visit and, on this day, it was to my deepest satisfaction that we were able to stroll this beautiful building at a more leisurely pace.

The original Nelson Atkins building opens into a jaw-dropping grand central hall with stately columns and abundant flourishes that have you looking in every direction. We had a delicious lunch at the atmospheric Rozzelle Court restaurant (pictured upper left, top of page); situated in a fabulous recreation of a 15th century Italian courtyard. Lunch is set up self-service counter style, but the creative food is a contrast to that style: a flavorful California Club filled with fresh avocado and a salad of mixed greens with feta cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and black olives with an herb vinaigrette. The central fountain with the zodiac theme is the tranquil centerpiece of this lovely setting.

We soon strolled the Egyptian galleries, gasping at the actual mummy (pictured at left) on display named Ka-i-nefer, meaning "my ka is good". Ka refers to the vital life force and beside the display is a prayer or "spell" which can be spoken; asking for bread and wine to "feed the ka" in order to preserve the life force. The mummy is thought to originate from 525-332 BC and the Nelson recently partnered with ATF agents to use special facial recognition software to help identify the mummy. A special presentation of their discoveries will be happening at the Nelson on Sept. 12. Go here for more info.

Continuing through the Ancient and Egyptian galleries, I found myself endlessly mesmerized by the displays. The regal terra cotta sculpture of young god Apollo (pictured upper right), ancient Roman sculptures and two magnificent crypts are a small representation of the treasures to be found in this area alone.

We walked along through the European galleries, taking in the details of paintings by famous artists and admiring the 18th century stained glass. I found some wonderful food connections in the Decorative Arts Galleries: the Folgers Silver Collection, including a stunningly detailed cake server and a seriously intimidating wine pitcher. We enjoyed the African and Native American galleries and in particular, the Asian galleries. Welcoming us to the staircase ascending to the Asian galleries is a powerful-looking Buddha statue and a display of samurai-style ancient warrior garb. Beautiful vases and ornate Shiva statues in the Southern Asian galleries were abundant. The ancient Chinese cave carving was almost hypnotic; every angle bringing a new perspective. Another carving that pairs with this one resides in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. For me, this was all glorious.

In the newish sleek and spectacular Bloch building, more of Roxy Paine's influence could be felt in addition to the Ferment tree in the sculpture garden. The artist's computer operated sculpture-making machine, called a Scumak, is programmed by the artist to create these dendroid sculptures from molten plastic. The Scumak is always creating on full display and its a fascinating process to behold. We walked the rest of the Bloch addition; taking in the many displays of contemporary Pop and Conceptual Art, but mostly I am utterly intrigued with the architecture; a Steven Holl Architects-designed work of art itself. Every angle in the Bloch addition provides another unique portrait of the building's interior. It was also tres cool to see some of artist Robyn Nichol's gorgeous silver artwork on display. We met Robyn a few years back and attended a fabulous gallery show she created that featured the traditional dressing of an actual was amazing. What a grand visit with the Nelson-Atkins.

We moved on to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art a couple of blocks away, driving past the historic Art Institute building. The setting of the this museum is certainly unmistakable, thanks to the giant Louise Bourgeois spider sculptures on the lawn and at the entrance. The Kemper's smooth and glossy interior is also uniquely adorned with beautifully delicate Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. We took in the various artwork and checked out the next place we certainly intend to have lunch: the whimsically designed Cafe Sebastienne. Chef Jennifer Maloney does amazing things with fresh, local ingredients at this little hotspot. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting this lovely chef when she attended one of the much-missed John Glenn wine tastings at the Elms. I used to assist John with those tastings and when Jennifer attended, it was clear she had a delightful personality to match her cuisine.

I was much blessed and grateful to Keith to be able to enjoy a morning of art appreciation. I felt a singular elation over this great experience but also not a little shame. These museums are free and open to the public, why am I not here on a far more regular basis? Choose your poison...ignorance, laziness, whatever. These museums are fantastic gifts to this community; absolute treasures. I am making a vow here and now to return far more often. I'm looking quite forward to the upcoming show titled After Ghostcatching at the Nelson and the exhibition The Map As Art at the Kemper.

Fully sated with creative vision and food, we drove home but not before stopping to see one more artwork on the way home, this one a tad controversial. This artwork is deliberately situated across from the KC branch of the Federal Reserve. A giant, seven-story creation, consisting of 117 multi-colored shipping containers that spell out "IOU" on one side and "USA" on the other. Clearly a statement on the federal budget that faces the FR building, its quite the sight.

That's another example of one of the big reasons I love KC. There is art everywhere in the city, from the airport to Overland Park. The art is in a wide range of styles and evokes every kind of reaction from admiration to provocation to bewilderment. That, to me, is why art is a beautiful thing.


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