Today was museum day. We started at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. This is a fantastic museum that needs more than the hour and a half we were able to give it…but we do what we can do.
We of course couldn't miss Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen's Shuttlecocks (1994) in the sculpture garden. I love this piece. It totally gives you the feeling of giants playing badminton over the museum grounds. They feel so light but they're huge.
Check out this aerial from Google Maps:
Here's a little background on the origin of the project that I found really interesting (from Oldenburg/Van Bruggen's website):
Asked to create a large-scale project integrated into the setting of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, we traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1991, prepared to transform the vast, imposing lawn that stretches before the massive neoclassical facade of the museum. While visiting the galleries soon after our arrival, Coosje was attracted to the headdresses worn by Native Americans in a painting by Frederic Remington, which led to our initial concept of large feathers scattered over the lawn as if dropped from the wing of a huge passing bird. As we proceeded to research the site, we came across an aerial photograph of the museum grounds that reminded us of the layout of a tennis court. We imagined the museum building as a net, with balls distributed over the grounds, but soon determined that the ball shape would be too repetitive. What if, as Coosje suggested, feathers were combined with the ball form to become a shuttlecock, a lyrical object, with the ability to float, spin, fly, and land in many different ways? We proposed three 17-foot-high shuttlecock sculptures for the lawn, each in a different position. Although their placement appeared to be random, the shuttlecocks were actually located at strategic points that would bring the far reaches of the site together. A fourth shuttlecock, in an inverted position reminiscent of a tepee, "landed" on the other side of the museum.
Instantly, a heated controversy arose over the suitability of sculptures based on such a mundane object as a shuttlecock for one of the city’s most prestigious sites. Defending the project, the museum's staff offered to give a course in art history, showing that common subjects have a long tradition, to members of the Parks and Recreation Department who had objected to the sculpture, but was rebuffed by the department's president. The controversy was fanned by the city's newspaper, the Kansas City Star, with hostile editorials and cartoons. Donors to the project and the museum staff stood firm, however, and the Shuttlecocks were installed without incident.
We went to the Terry Evans photography exhibit Heartland (loved it), saw some photography from the permanent collection, and then wandered the contemporary/modern rooms. This is a high quality museum (with admission: surprisingly free — with the exception of special exhibits). Great light inside the atrium of the main museum building:
We dug this installation by Luis Tomasello (b. 1915, Argentina…lives in Paris). The piece was done in 2011. If you do that math, that makes him 96 at time of installation. Amazing. This piece is called Chromatic Mural and consists of over 600 pieces (wood and acrylic paint). From the side, it looks like this:
From the front, the pieces look white, with a red glow from the flourescent paint on the back sides:
It's a very cool piece, and even more impressive once you learn a little about this artist. There's more info here, along with an interview if you're interested.
After this we headed over to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in the River District (admission: $14.50 includes a tour, a 14 minute film about the excavation, and all time time you want in the museum). The Steamboat Arabia was a sidewheel steamer built in Brownsville, PA in 1853. During one of its trips up the Missouri River in 1856 it hit a submerged tree snag and sank in about 5 minutes. The boat sank so rapidly into the mud that by the next morning, only the smokestacks and pilot house remained visible. Within a few days, these traces of the boat were gone. Numerous salvage attempts failed, and eventually the boat was completely covered by water. Over time, the river shifted a half a mile to the east, and the wreckage was basically buried under some guy's corn field. The story of the rediscovery and excavation (from this guy's corn field in the late 80s) is super interesting and you can read more about it here if you're interested.
A shot of the excavation (they dug a hole the size of a football field–in some guy's corn field), only it was 45 feet deep. They had to install 20 pumps to get/keep the water out while they excavated. Then, when they were done, they filled it in and he didn't miss a planting season.
All of the items salvaged are on display in this museum and it's quite amazing, really. The steamboat carried mostly new items to be distributed to different stores in towns along its route. There's stuff they haven't even gotten to yet that's been kept frozen and is still in the process of being preserved. Crazy. Apparently there were also 400 barrels of the finest Kentucky bourbon on board that were never found (likely "salvaged" by one of the first mostly unsuccessful attempts in the late 1800s).
There's Wedgewood china from England, a crazy amount of shoes and boots, jewelry, cookware, tools, beads from Italy…it's like an 1856 Macy's.
This place is highly worth a detour.
Here are a few snaps I took while we were driving from place to place, to give you a feel for the city if you haven't been here:
The signage is what really gets me here…it's got such an "old" feel to it…combined with the architecture (minus some of the new buildings) it feels like it's another era.
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (designed by architect Moshe Safdie):
Moody factory silhouette:
We're heading outta here tomorrow morning. Not sure where we'll be next, but of course, we'll let you know.