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Arts & Life

Kansas City Art Institute Opens Crossroads Gallery For First Fridays

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Laura Spencer
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KCUR 89.3
Michael Schonhoff is the director of KCAI Gallery, which opens in the Crossroads Arts District on April 1.

The Kansas City Art Institute stakes a claim in the Crossroads Arts District on First Friday, April 1, with the debut of KCAI Gallery.

The new venue at 1819 Grand Boulevard will be a familiar stop to many gallery-goers. Grand Arts had a 20-year run at this site, producing and exhibiting shows by artists such as Sanford Biggers, Laurel Nakadate, and Sissel Tolaas, among many others, until it closed in September 2015

Founder Margaret Silva, an Art Institute graduate and former board member, gifted the building, which includes two galleries, an interdisciplinary studio, and an artist-in-residence apartment. 

"She literally handed us the key to the space, and said, 'Here you go, it's yours,'" says KCAI Gallery director Michael Schonhoff. "We've taken it, and received it with extreme gratitude. And [we've] really looked at what the space could mean for the Art Institute."  

Schonhoff, former assistant curator at the H&R Block Artspace, expects the first year in the Crossroads to be one of experimentation. But, as a gallery tied to an arts college, he says it made sense to not only build on the successful model Grand Arts established as a gallery space but to also focus on academics. 

"Our purpose is to teach. And our purpose is to work with students, and have those learning experiences," he says. "So everything that we do here, the goal is to align it with the student opportunity, with the student experience."

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Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Tia Pulitzer's 'Timeless v. Ageless,' 2010.

The two opening exhibitions at KCAI Gallery showcase contemporary ceramics by alumni: Chromaphobia, curated by artist and business owner Peregrine Honig, and Chromaphilia, curated by independent consultant and educator James Martin.

Chromaphilia fills the larger gallery with colorful works by a range of artists, from 1978 graduate Cary Esser, chair of the ceramics department, to 2014 graduate Joey Watson.

"For each of these artists, color embodies an essential means for them to explore the relationship between art, tradition, and change," Martin writes in the exhibition essay.

In the more intimate gallery space, Chromaphobia presents a collection of more muted objects, including a collaborative brass and porcelain sculpture by Linda Lighton and Mark Southerland.

Honig has this overview: "From three-dimensional printing to silver-plating, this pale shelf composes movement and light with rare beasts and botanicals." 

"It's really accessible for individuals to understand color and non-color," says Schonhoff. But, he adds, that, on taking a closer look, viewers will see the psychology and the depth behind the works, and the layers that can be peeled back.

Chromaphobia/Chromaphilia opens April 1, 5-9 p.m., KCAI Gallery, 1819 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.