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Arts & Life

Meet The Kansas City Artists Featured In An Exhibit At Crystal Bridges And The Momentary

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Visitors on opening weekend in February took photos inside The Momentary, a new contemporary art space in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses, schools, and museums, a contemporary art exhibit opened at Crystal Bridges Museum Of American Art and The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas.

What does art look like in the year 2020?

These days, it's hard to say, since many galleries and museums are closed, still fine-tuning re-opening plans in the COVID-19 era.

"It’s a quiet museum since we’re closed to the public right now," said Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in an online video. "But there’s still art, and it needs to be looked at."

Back in February, before stay-at-home orders, “State of the Art 2020” opened in two venues in Bentonville, Arkansas: Crystal Bridges and a new contemporary art space, The Momentary.

Now available as a virtual tour, the exhibition boasts more than 100 artworks by 61 artists, including three Kansas City-based artists.

Jill Downen: "Three Dimensional Sketchbook" (2013 - present)

At The Momentary, visitors explored artist Jill Downen's "Three Dimensional Sketchbook," with the help of docents wearing white gloves. The white-enameled cabinet has 24 drawers and represents Downen's aesthetic toolbox.

Laura Spencer
Jill Downen's cabinet, exploring her artistic process, was included in "State of the Art 2020" at The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Downen, who chairs the sculpture department at the Kansas City Art Institute, described the cabinet as a "work of art that is ever-evolving." She's known for her large site-specific installations, and this is a smaller, more intimate piece.

Each drawer has a keyword label. One drawer with the keyword "embodiment" is full of 24-carat gold leaf, a nod to Downen's father, a retired master craftsman and gold leaf artist.

Jill Downen2.jpg
Laura Spencer
Artist Jill Downen, who chairs the sculpture department at the Kansas City Art Institute, opens one of the drawers inside her cabinet at The Momentary.

"And so this drawer, when you open it, the bottom is a sheet of gold, and you see loose gold leaf just floating through the drawer," she said, "And so a little bit of breath or air current will make that move."

During the opening weekend in February, Downen said, "As an artist working in the Kansas City area, I feel like I've been given an opportunity to share my voice with a broader conversation about what contemporary art is today."

Cory Imig: "Linear Spaces" (2020)

Aritst Cory Imig is known for her collaborations with other artists, including as a founding member of PLUG Projects in the Stockyards District.

When Imig was selected as one of the 61 artists in the exhibition, she visited Bentonville to walk through both Crystal Bridges and The Momentary for a site visit. The curators had picked out six or seven possible locations, and together, they chose one of the glass bridges inside Crystal Bridges.

Laura Spencer
Artist Cory Imig stands inside her West Bottoms studio.

"All of these installations that are made of ribbon are definitely meant to be interacted with, and meant to play off the architecture of a space," Imig said. "So they're all created specifically for where they're going to be installed."

Visitors to the museum walked through the intersecting triangles, made of blue satin ribbons sewn to a ratchet strap.

Laura Spencer
Visitors walk through Imig's work, 'Linear Spaces,' at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

"I want to always play with that line of figuring out how to put in a place that seems natural enough that, you know it's meant to be passed through," she said, "but still has that like, 'Oh, is it an object? Is this pathway blocked?'

Imig added, "And it's usually kids that are the first ones who run through it."

Art Miller: "AT&T Cellular Tower, First Church of the Nazarene, Springdale, Arkansas" (2019) and "AT&T Cellular Tower, First Church of God, Sapulpa, Oklahoma"

In his photography, Art Miller has explored a range of topics, from architecture and the built environment to gay subcultures, such as in The Habana Series, men looking for love at a resort in Oklahoma City.

Laura Spencer
Artist Art Miller stands inside the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas, where he works as an exhibition preparator.

In recent years, he started photographing how former retail spaces were being repurposed as churches, which he described as an "odd marriage of commerce and religion." And a giant cell phone tower in Kansas City, Kansas, in the form of a cross caught his eye.

Art Miller, AT&T Cellular Tower, First Church of the Nazarene, Springdale, Arkansas, 2019, Archival inkjet print mounted on archival board, 45 × 65 × 2 1/8 in., Courtesy of the artist and Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art.

"I've been photographing the cell towers for now almost five years. And I have photographed them in seven states," he said. "In Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico."

Miller has worked as an exhibition preparator at Johnson County Community College since 2002, first at the Gallery of Art, and since 2006, at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary remain closed for now as they explore plans for a phased re-opening.

And if you’re not ready to make the three-hour drive, you can still see the collection and "State of the Art 2020" online.

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