Major works added to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art's permanent collection

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Major works added to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art's permanent collection
Betty Blayton’s (American, 1937 – 2016) Dream Forms #3 (1984).

KANSAS CITY, MO.- Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art announced today the acquisitions of four major works of art by Polly Apfelbaum, Betty Blayton, Angel Otero, and Summer Wheat—all have been presented in exhibitions at the Museum over the past three years.

Betty Blayton’s (American, 1937 – 2016) Dream Forms #3 (1984) was presented for the first time in 2017 alongside forty-one works by twenty-one women artists of color in the groundbreaking traveling exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today. A longtime New York artist, activist, and educator, Blayton’s brightly colorful monoprint was selected for the exhibition from a larger series she made at the prestigious Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York.

Blayton described her inspiration for this work as having stemmed from an art project developed at the Harlem Children’s Art Carnival (CAC), a non-profit arts education center she founded, in which children were instructed to cut out shapes, ink them, and create patterns on paper. Her practice in abstraction she noted in an interview for the exhibition with curators Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina, “grew out of what was in [her] head. And the inspiration that [she] was trying to demonstrate [was to] somehow project feeling as it relates to metaphysical ideas and thoughts [she] was having, and not so much [artistic] tradition,” which gave her freedom to push her concepts into complexly layered compositions. In a statement of the Lifetime Trust of Betty Blayton regarding the acquisitions they express, “We are extremely pleased that the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has honored Betty by acquiring Dream Forms #3, recognizing her talent and lifelong pursuit of excellence as an artist. We are certain that adding this work to their collection will further the museum’s goal of enriching lives through the experience of contemporary art. Through Dream Forms #3, we are certain that guests of the Kemper will experience the joy, creativity and spiritual energy that Betty wished to share with the world.”

Kemper Museum kicked off its twenty-fifth anniversary year in 2019 with the major solo exhibition Polly Apfelbaum: Waiting for the UFOs (a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers) featuring new work by New York-based artist Polly Apfelbaum. The large-scale colorful rug work Squiggles (2018) joins an earlier work, Split (1998), a favorite of Kemper Museum Permanent Collection amongst visitors. The two side-by-side rectangle rugs that make up Squiggles recall the undulating curves of designer Verner Paton’s (Danish, 1926–1998) futuristic curvilinear lines and wild colors or resemble the late wall drawings of artist Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007) and emphasize Apfelbaum’s broad fields of influence and connection in fine art and design. Complicating the perceived boundaries where fine art and craft merge and evolve, Apfelbaum’s works also permeate aspects of important political movements, in this instance the rainbow colors explicitly referencing and giving reverence to the pride flag, which debuted over forty years earlier and was originally designed by Gilbert Baker (1951–2017), an openly gay activist who grew up in nearby Parsons, Kansas. Apfelbaum says of the work and its connection to the pride flag that it is, “even more relevant today symbolizing our hopeful journey forward. I couldn’t be happier that the piece based on these colors will live in an institution that prides itself on values true to the stripes’ message of sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, serenity, harmony, and spirit.” Apfelbaum has a beautiful, poetic, and generous way of acknowledging art and cultural histories in her work and this acquisition allows Kemper Museum to continue that significant tradition.

The 2019 Kemper Museum Atrium Project, Diario by Puerto Rican-born, New York based artist Angel Otero is the fifth of this major commissioned project series. This massive-scale tapestry-like painting is made from thousands of cut painted pieces (often reused from earlier paintings the artist considered failed) of canvas combined to create a signature collaged work. Otero combines the history of painting and abstraction, some in this work inspired by works in Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection such as Grace Hartigan’s Massacre (1952), with elements of great personal importance, such as objects sourced from antique shops in Kansas City that resemble specific furniture, materials, and patterns from his childhood. Otero notes, ”Although Diario took me a little over a year to complete, one of the most relevant moments during the process was my trips to Kansas City, Missouri. I visited many antique shops trying to find objects or elements that resonated with me and my past, and my memories of growing up in Puerto Rico in some way. Added to that, my engagement with the community of the Kemper Museum, the staff, and everyone involved within the institution is in some way transmitted through the work as well. I think at the end a special bridge evolved between me, the city, and the museum from this process and I truly think that's the most significant element of Diario.” Diario continues Kemper Museum’s initiative to celebrate and give visibility to contemporary Latinx artists.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears organized by Kemper Museum debuted ten new works made special for the exhibition, and that align with the museums aims of presenting works by artists who engender change and take on distinctly historical viewpoints with the impetus to correct and give focus to underrepresented people throughout the ages. Wheat’s focus on representing the hard work, inventiveness, and exuberance of women is forefront in Watermelon Seeds (2019), one of the most recent additions to Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection. In this large work, Wheat employs her unique technique of pushing paint through the back of mesh screens showing a female figure in repose being bathed in watermelon seeds by a community of female figures. Wheat shares the story she heard that if you put a watermelon seed in your mouth and then plant it, as the plant grows it will retain the DNA of that person. In the essay “Feminist Vitality and Wiggling Bodies,” written by Nina Bozicnik for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition she notes that Wheat “makes the hungry woman her subject. The prone figure, with breasts erect and legs akimbo, eagerly and unabashedly guzzles seeds that spill across the picture plane. This luxurious act of insatiable feeding celebrates a woman’s hearty appetite, an inversion of the gendered suppression of hunger - for food but also for pleasure and attention - reproduced across patriarchal society.” Of this acquisition Wheat notes, “It is a great honor to have my painting, Watermelon Seeds, added to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection. My solo exhibition, Blood, Sweat and Tears marked a significant moment in my career. I am thrilled to have a place in the collection alongside a long legacy of important artists who have made great contributions in defining our perceptions of history and culture. In addition, I would like to extend a special thanks to Mary Kemper, Bill and Christy Gautreaux, and Erin Dziedzic for their support of this exhibition. Now more than ever, institutional advocacy is crucial for artists to continue to be a conduit for change.

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