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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Explore Kansas City's art scene with these 7 extraordinary exhibits outside the Nelson-Atkins

A collage of paper-based art works pinned to a white wall.
H&R Block Artspace
The 2023 Kansas City Flatfiles & Digitalfiles at H & R Block Artspace features over 250 emerging and established artists from around the region.

Kansas City is lucky to have such a world-class art museum, but don't forget about the many smaller art galleries scattered throughout the metro. We put together a list of seven exhibitions this fall that showcase diverse perspectives and cool corners of the art scene.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

When we speak of Kansas City’s art scene, a few big names immediately come to mind: The Nelson-Atkins, The Kemper, even the Spencer Museum in Lawrence.

While these establishments have brilliant exhibitions throughout the year, it’s worth looking toward the artist-run spaces, independent curators, foundations, and private galleries that invigorate the arts community.

As the season of harvest and fruitfulness approaches, we’re going to challenge you to step away from the old paintings and into interactive installations, multi-media sculptures, photographic narratives, and more.

Here are seven collections to start your journey.

"Return of the River" at Kiosk Gallery

Art work by Levi Walker
S.K. Reed
In the exhibition "Return of the River," artist Levi Walker captures fleeting moments in the shifting landscape with aluminum and plaster castings.

It has been said that you cannot step into the same river twice. Well, curator S.K. Reed and artist Levi Walker dare to disagree.

Opening at Kiosk Gallery inside the Livestock Exchange Building in Kansas City’s Stockyards District, “Return of the River” takes a simultaneous look at the past and the current, navigating through our constantly-changing world.

In this exhibition, Walker captures fleeting moments in the shifting landscape with aluminum and plaster castings. He then writes into the surface his reflections on a landscape, a poem he thought of that day, or a story passed down the family tree.

The landscape becomes frozen as the sculpture cools and solidifies, and so does the artist's thought, story, and reflection at that moment.

As we witness the familiar landscape becoming unfamiliar each day — where old farmhouses were demolished and high-density complexes were built — “Return of the River” peacefully suspends time while urging us to document and archive what is around us.

“Return of the River” runs now through Sept. 7, 2023 at Kiosk Gallery, 1600 Genessee Street, Suite 133, Kansas City, Missouri.

"2023 Kansas City Flatfile & Digitalfile" at H&R Block Artspace

A collage of paper-based art works pinned to a white wall.
H&R Block Artspace
The wall display at 2023 Kansas City Flatfile & Digitalfile, created by community curator Hùng Lê, includes mixed media pieces showcasing artists using embroidery, stitching, textile, and fabric.

If you are wondering where to discover new artists in the Kansas City metro, visit the "2023 Kansas City Flatfile & Digitalfile" at H&R Block Artspace. A long-running tradition in Kansas City, this year’s exhibition features over 250 emerging and established artists working in various media in the region.

Unlike traditional gallery exhibitions, Flatfile & Digitalfile provides the rare opportunity for exhibition visitors to interact with the pieces directly. Each artist provided a portfolio with up to 10 pieces, sitting coyly inside flatfile drawers waiting to be discovered.

Upon arrival, visitors will receive a floor “map” with artist names and their corresponding drawer numbers, and a gallery assistant will go through the portfolio folders per your request.

On the walls, you will find unique narratives from emerging curators, art historians, and art organizations. For example, community curator Hùng Lê created a wall of mixed media pieces showcasing artists using embroidery, stitching, textile, and fabric — including illustrator and architect Jaasiel Duarte-Terrazas, fiber artist and designer Yulie Urano, and papermaker and printmaker Zoe Mayne.

"2023 Kansas City Flatfile & Digitalfile" runs now through Sept. 23, 2023 at H&R Block Artspace, Kansas City Art Institute, 16 W. 43rd Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

"Disconcerting Present...or was it a dream?" at Bunker Center for the Arts

Two blue and white sculptures on a white base.
Will Preman
"Flower Puddle 1 and 2 (2019)” by Will Preman is part of the multi-artist exhibition "Disconcerting Present...or was it a dream?" at the Bunker Center for the Arts.

Presented by Beco Gallery as an off-site exhibition at the Bunker Center for the Arts in the Crossroads, “Disconcerting Present… or was it a dream?” transports visitors from an anxiety-ridden, over-consumed modern reality to a peaceful dreamscape bathed in blue light.

Featuring six Kansas City region artists and one Chicago-based artist, “Disconcerting Present…” is composed of vibrant pieces utilizing various media, including sculptures, paintings, lit ceramics, and a site-specific installation of stuffed vines connecting the reality room and the dream room by Lily Erb.

As its title suggests, the exhibition is fully open to interpretation. Visitors are encouraged to go back and forth between the two rooms as much as they wish and explore at their comfortable pace.

Altogether, the pieces highlight the different versions of reality we create online and offline, and guide the audience down a profound meditation on how we all reside in the space in between.

Look at the piece “I Heard That You Like The Bad Girls Honey,” pictured above, which displays everyday objects on a plinth: an old cellphone, notebooks, a bag of coins, and a personal ID. Sitting peacefully under a translucent silkscreen, the physical objects resemble our daily consumption of pop culture and technology, while the clear image on the wall indicates how our interactions with the world through technologies can lack context.

This is the perfect exhibition for anyone who has been feeling burned out or overwhelmed by the direction our world is heading. Maybe we need to have our anxieties and frustrations, our hopes and projections, laid side by side for us to embrace our reality as is.

“Disconcerting Present…or was it a dream?" runs now thru Sept. 30, 2023 at Bunker Center for the Arts, 1014 E. 19th Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

"Potential Futures: Prototypes" at Charlotte Street Foundation Gallery

People surround a two story house that is covered with splashes of color.
Mikal Floyd-Pruitt
“Splash!”, an installation project by Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, co-founder of "HomeWorks: Bronzeville" in Milwaukee. Floyd-Priutt is one of the artists for Charlotte Street Foundation's "Potential Futures: Prototypes."

What is art without its community? Reimagining what our communities can be, “Potential Futures: Prototypes” invites every resident to participate in this city-wide conversation on possibilities and directly shape the future with their hands.

For this exhibition, Charlotte Street Foundation invites five artists from different parts of the KC metro area and two from our neighboring states. The artists then create site-specific projects, like a house with paint splashed all over it or an environmental installation in a community garden.

Another project, created by Sydney Pursel, offers seedbomb vending machines where, in exchange for a quarter, you’re given a seed concealed in dried soil, ready to be planted in your backyard.

To “view” the exhibition, you’ll start at the Charlotte Street Foundation campus on Wyoming Street, where you will receive a fold-out map created by Astringent Press’ Zach Frazier guiding you through the city. By inviting exhibition visitors as co-creators, Charlotte Street Foundation highlights how small actions will lead to impactful changes we’ve all hoped for. Every giant tree had to begin as a seed, after all.

“Potential Futures: Prototypes” now through Sept. 23, 2023 at Charlotte Street Foundation, 3333 Wyoming Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

"The Coldest Hour" at United Colors

A painting of two women in tones of black, purple and blue.
Arianne "October" Garner
Arianne "October" Garner’s oil paintings are an eloquent combination of surrealism and classic Baroque style.

Formerly known as Curiouser KC, United Colors will present its first exhibition under the new identity this September. “The Coldest Hour,” whose title emerged from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” is a solo exhibition featuring Chicago-based oil painter Arianne “October” Garner.

Turning to her African American and Persian heritage for inspiration, Garner’s oil paintings are an eloquent combination of surrealism and classic Baroque style. If you loved “The Addams Family” or “Coraline,” you will surely enjoy Garner’s painting, with accents of bright pink gliding across darker blue hues.

But “The Coldest Hour” is much more than a pre-Halloween show, as these paintings also touch upon feminine identity, spiritual explorations, and the beauty of the Black body. Whether using Baroque techniques to paint Black characters, or depicting two Black women under a blood crescent moon, the artist raises cunning questions about our familiar mythological motifs and cultural references.

We can’t spoil the secrets. You’ll need to check it out yourself.

“The Coldest Hour” runs Sept. 8 - Oct. 31, 2023 at United Colors (formerly Curiouser KC), 609 N. 6th Street, Kansas City, Kansas.

Lilly McElroy Solo Exhibition at Studios, Inc.

A landscape of a hill with palm trees silhouetted against a setting sun.
Lilly McElroy
Lilly McElroy's images depict the artist’s complicated relationship with the American West and how her existence is simultaneously meaningful and insignificant to the grand landscape.

Serving as a cultural incubator, Studios, Inc. is a robust art hub that brings mid-career artists across the nation to Kansas City with a three-to-five-year residency. This fall, Studios, Inc. is holding a solo exhibition from one of its resident artists, Lilly McElroy.

McElroy translates clichés from growing up in southern Arizona into epic photographs: cowboys, howling coyotes, moonlit deserts, flaming sunsets, and vicious brawls. These images shape the narrative around what it means to be American in the 21st century.

These images also depict the artist’s complicated relationship with the American West, specifically, how her existence is simultaneously meaningful and insignificant to the grand landscape.

In some pieces, McElroy inserts themselves into the landscape, engaging directly with the viewer and the American landscape, as if to say, “Be aware of me!” In others, she raises her hand and plays with the sun, the shadows, and other elements.

Thinking back, haven’t we all kicked a rock or run across waist-high weeds at least once in our life, demanding this world to take notice of our existence? Visit McElroy’s exhibition and reimagine the possibilities between yourself and the land we live on.

Lilly McElroy Solo Exhibition runs from Sept. 8 - Oct. 21, 2023, at Studios, Inc., 1708 Campbell Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

"Unintended Beauty" at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art

A view of a limestone quarry sight.
Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art
Michael Schultz' exhibition "Unintended Beauty" features images of giant silos and quarry sites, finding inspiration in unlikely places.

Opening at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art in the Crossroads, “Unintended Beauty” is a solo exhibition by photographer Michael Schultz featuring images of quarry sites and giant silos — two concepts we more closely associate with the dullness and indifference of industrial manufacturing.

However, an artist is capable of finding inspiration in unlikely places. In his exhibition statement, Schultz explained: “Photography, for all its innate documentation, has the potential to carry us into a place where reality begins to border on another realm, where the unintended beauty of the subject becomes something very special.” Schultz uses his lenses to show us the geometric, abstract, and textural aesthetics that these structures possess.

This exhibition should resonate a lot with Kansas City audiences — after all, our beloved West Bottoms was once a vacant, abandoned industrial quarter. For years, businesses and architects have tried to breathe new life into industrial spaces, reimagining these structures with new meanings and functions while preserving their culture and history.

“Unintended Beauty” runs Sept. 1-Oct. 21, 2023 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City

Originally from China, Xiao daCunha covers arts and culture happenings in the Midwest, specifically focusing on the Kansas City metro and Chicagoland. She has written for KCUR, The Pitch, Sixty Inches from Center, and BRIDGE Chicago, and spent three years as Managing Editor at a Chicago digital publication, UrbanMatter. A practicing visual artist herself, Xiao combines her artistic talent with her writing to contribute to public art education and explores topics relevant to BIPOC artists, gender identity, and diasporic identity. You can reach her on Instagram and Twitter.
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