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Arts & Life

Kansas City artists with 'a long life lived in art' are featured at Daum Museum of Contemporary Art

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Courtesy: Daum Museum of Contemporary Art
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Docents join museum director and curator Thomas Piché Jr. to view a tapestry by artist Janet Kuemmerlein.

A new exhibition at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, Missouri, features nine Kansas City artists — all women celebrating family, and tackling environmental issues and social justice.

Donna Bachmann's backyard patio in Roeland Park, Kansas, overlooks a water garden — with a waterfall, lily pads and bright orange goldfish.

This garden has been a refuge, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. And earlier this week, it served as a gathering spot for artists in the collective called RE: Generation.

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Laura Spencer
Artist Donna Bachmann's water garden in Roeland Park, Kansas, has provided a space to relax, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, Missouri, opened a new show on Oct. 1 with work from all nine members of the collective.

"Because, you know, making art is a lonely business, don’t you think?" said Bachmann. "So I’ve been very grateful for that. It's been a really important part of this chapter in my life."

Artist Sharon Hunter-Putsch hatched the idea for RE: Generation after moving back to the Kansas City metro area — renewing graduate school friendships and creating a sense of community.

"I knew that there's always diversity in the group," she said, "of what kind of work we do, whether it's photography, printmaking, painting, and whatever."

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Laura Spencer
Artist Sharon Hunter-Putsch creates heirloom paintings, based on photographs.

The title of the Daum exhibition, Unsettled/Settled, explained artist Catherine Vesce, speaks to the uncertainty of the times, as well as the art-making process.

"I think Sharon (Hunter-Putsch) asked me one time how I knew that my paintings were finished," Vesce said, "And I said, 'Well, because they settle, you know?' I just know because everything seems to be done, you know, it feels finished."

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Courtesy: Daum Museum of Contemporary Art
Catherine Vesce's concerns for the environment motivated her to paint this series about pollinators (at left). Her starting place: large drawings of milkweed, a major pollinator for the monarch butterfly.

The members range in age from their sixties to late eighties; the oldest artist turns 90 in a few months. There are shared experiences, as well as career paths as artist-teachers.

"You've got a sisterhood, you know," Vesce said. "It's been stimulating to me to see everybody else's work and to feel, you know, like we're all going in different directions."

According to Bachmann, her recent work at the Daum Museum does go in a different direction: It’s more political.

Sculptural hands in an assemblage reach through chain-link fences, a nod to immigration issues along the Mexico border. And there are lightboxes she’s dubbed "secret gardens."

"They have these glowing interiors that are lit by the LEDs," she said, "kind of minimalist and very Zen, very empty, surrounded by a frame that is referencing whatever ugliness in the world."

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Laura Spencer
Artist Donna Bachmann calls her lightboxes "secret gardens," and they're illuminated by interior LED lights.

The Daum Museum of Contemporary Art is just about an hour and a half drive from Kansas City. Or about a two-hour train ride, as Sedalia is one of the stops along Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner route.

The museum is housed on the campus of State Fair Community College. Dr. Harold Daum, an art collector and retired radiologist, donated his nearly 300-piece art collection and funds to build the museum, which opened to the public in 2002.

Last month, installation was still underway inside the museum’s large gallery. Director and curator Thomas Piché Jr. described the light.

"You know, it changes," he said. "The sun comes up on this side and then it moves over to there. So all day long, it's different light effects as the day goes by."

Piché was familiar with three of the artists with work in the museum's permanent collection — but most in the collective were new to him.

"So it was a surprise," he said. "The range of work, the various styles and media, you know, it's a good round mix."

He added, "They've been artists for a very long time, most of them. And it's a celebration of keeping at it, of a long life lived in art."

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Laura Spencer
Daum Museum of Contemporary Art director and curator Thomas Piché Jr. stands in front of Janet Kuemmerlein's tapestry, which he calls a "tour de force of textile art."

Some of the works in the exhibition include Janet Kuemmerlein's large-scale tapestry from the 1970s; Lynn Richardson's graphite drawings of the Notre Dame cathedral; Carol Zastoupil's landscapes with rolling patterned hillsides; and Jane Pronko’s twilight paintings.

"The six (Pronko) paintings give a view of that moment when the sun is just about down and city life begins," Piché described. "She's a painter of city life, primarily automobiles and city street scenes."

Like many other arts institutions, the Daum Museum closed during the pandemic in 2020 for six months. Piché said traffic is not back to normal. But he's hopeful about this show — and the potential draw for Kansas City audiences.

"And we just want people to head East," he said. "It's a nice ride."

He joked, "You can have barbecue here too."

RE: Generation Unsettled/Settled runs through Dec. 19, 2021, at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art on the State Fair Community College Campus, 3201 W. 16th St., Sedalia, Missouri.

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