A Visit to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Before my latest trip, I had never been west of Michigan in the United States. I was thrilled when I got the chance to expand my travels to attend my best friend’s wedding—artist Siobhán Gallagher—in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a wedding weekend filled with activities and events and one free afternoon I visited The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In this post, I write about my museum visit, the joy of talking art with friends, and finding a special souvenir.

Friends and I were welcomed at the museum entrance by a guide who kindly and thoroughly explained the layout and collections of the museum. It was the first time in Kansas City for all of us and we were keen to discover the sights. We had eaten barbeque, seen fountains, didn’t quite make it to jazz, but we squeezed in some visual art viewing after the wedding!

Jane Freilicher, Corner of Studio, 1973, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.

The first room we visited was American art. I stopped in front of a landscape painting by Jane Freilicher entitled, Corner of Studio (1973). The viewer is positioned inside the artist’s studio looking out at a landscape of tall grasses and fields. The eye travels from the white structured window frames to the top right of the paining—towards faraway houses—byway of the reddish-brown fields. In the left middle ground is part of a landscape painting, within the painting itself. I liked the balance of warm tones outside the window—yellows, red-browns, peaches—and cooler tones—white and blueish purple—within the studio space.

Alex Katz, Good Afternoon, 1974, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.

Next to Freilicher’s painting was an Alex Katz: Good Afternoon, from 1974.  I love that most of the painting is one solid colour, a soft eggshell blue, which depicts both water and sky. The flatness of the blue communicates that there isn’t a hint of wind on what seems to be a hot summer day. Katz’s wife and model, Ada, sits in a canoe, paddle in hand, her image reflected clearly in the water below. The distinct shadows along Ada’s arms and hands indicate that it must be the middle of the day. The feeling of this painting, for me, is one of calm adventure. Katz’s work has been inspiring to me. He makes everyday subject matter of people and landscapes captivating. There is a retrospective of Katz’s work at the Guggenheim, New York, on now until February 2023, Alex Katz: Gathering.

Hong Chun Zhang, Continuity, 2022, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.

An artwork from this year that was striking was Hong Chun Zhang’s Continuity, a large ink painting on fabric. In addition to the nature-theme, it was the scale of the work—emphasized by its unique horizontal-vertical positioning, that made me stop in my tracks. I was intrigued that the roots of the intertwining trees extended much further than the trees’ branches. The soft swirling lines of the trees evoke figures: two gazing upward and supporting a third in their branches. In the panel next to the work, the artist explains that she uses “long hair imagery […] to mix figurative and land landscape composition…”.

Sharing my love for van Gogh.

I loved seeing works by van Gogh, Cézanne, Degas, and Pissarro, among many others. Any van Gogh–whether well-known or not, my personal favourite or one unknown to me–is a joy to see in person. The paintings of van Gogh celebrate the everyday and this is what all my favourite artists have in common. A tree, a flower, a collection of roots, are infused with energy thanks to colour and bold brush strokes. The group of friends who were together in Kansas City are spread out far and wide across a few countries, so it was extra special to get to walk around a museum together.

At the end of our visit, we headed to the museum gift shop. There, I found myself a souvenir of my time in Kansas City: a pair of earrings by local artist, Chandra Beadleston. I was drawn to the earrings for their mixture of delicacy and boldness. The earrings are made of porcelain and decorated by hand. The white and blue reminded me of the Delft porcelain I saw in my childhood. The patterns are reminiscent of textiles and indeed the artist describes the influence of fabrics on her ceramic work. The earrings said “celebratory” to me, just like my whole trip had been.

Beadleston earrings purchased at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Thanks for reading!

*Feature image of the Rozzelle Court Restaurant inside The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

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