KMUW 89.1FM 2016 Archive

January 20, 2016

Gordon Parks: A Celebration of Life and Work

January 20, 2016—A round-up of city-wide institutions simultaneously presenting work by seminal photographer Gordon Parks.

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This winter, you have many opportunities to learn more about Kansas photographer Gordon Parks. The Ulrich Museum just opened Visual Justice: The Gordon Parks Photography Collection at WSU. This features a recent acquisition of 125 photographs from The Gordon Parks Foundation.

WSU’s Special Collections Library holds a rich archive of letters, writings, photographs, books and memorabilia collectively called the “Gordon Parks Papers.” Now, with the Ulrich’s new trove of Civil Rights photography, Wichita State is a premier destination for Gordon Parks research.

Curator Karen Haas from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts used WSU’s archive to research her exhibition Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott. It opens at the Wichita Art Museum on January 30. The exhibition presents Parks’ unpublished photo essay for Life magazine on the everyday lives of African Americans in his hometown, Ft. Scott, Kansas. In addition, Back to Fort Scott will open alongside Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle also at WAM.

In 2012, the Ulrich and The Kansas African American Museum had a similar partnership with simultaneous Gordon Parks shows. This time WAM is participating and is co-hosting with the Ulrich a two-day symposium where you can hear from scholars, artists, and curators.

I welcome this celebration of Parks’ life and work, but the focus on important African Americans from Kansas is too narrow. Thankfully, The Kansas African-American Museum recently published an incredible photo essay book called African Americans of Wichita. This survey of local history broadens the spotlight to recognize many important people worthy of celebration.[/expand]

The Ulrich is a Powerful Place to Be This Winter

February 3, 2016—Review of the exhibition Visual Justice: the Gordon Parks Collection at WSU at the Ulrich Museum of Art.

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The Ulrich Museum on WSU campus is featuring several important dialogues on race, history, poverty and suffering this winter.

On the second floor, Visual Justice: the Gordon Parks Collection at WSU is a walk through several photo essays Gordon Parks did for Life magazine as well as his later color photographs, which are more experimental in technique and less original in subject matter. The best reasons to see this exhibition, however, are his Life photo essays, Harlem Gang Leader, Freedom’s Fearful Foe: Poverty, Harlem Family and The White Devil’s Day is Almost Over, where he features Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.

The framed wall texts are nice pauses between photo groups, but the labels did not offer a way to know which photos were published or unpublished. In the two display cases, photos of Harlem Gang Leader and Freedom’s Fearful Foe were in their original context in Life magazine. They were accompanied by words and interrupted by cheery ads for Dial soap.

In the adjacent 2nd floor galleries, Transition and Turmoil: Human Expressions 1900-1945, featured a spotlight on German Expressionist Käthe (KATE-uh) Kollwitz. The exhibition offered a look at another period of suffering, this time in European history. However, in this exhibition, I felt like I’d stepped out of #blacklivesmatter conversation into an #alllivesmatter rebuttal.

Downstairs, the exhibit Julia Brown: The Swim showed a piece of the Civil Rights era about which we rarely hear. Brown’s research-based project examines the “wade-in” — a type of protest used to desegregate public beaches in Florida — and she uses the medium of photography itself to challenge the aesthetics of civil rights photography.

The entire museum seems to encapsulate important contemporary dialogues, which makes the Ulrich a powerful place to be this winter.



The Great Kansas Sea

February 17, 2016—Announcement for “The Great Kansas Sea,” a community drawing led by artist Robyn O’Neil for Harvester Arts.

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Think of a mechanical pencil and the cylinder of graphite peeking out of the end—just a half-millimeter thick. Now, imagine a long, white sheet of paper, unfurled in front of you. Where do you make the first mark? It’s daunting to think about drawing this way, but this is what artist Robyn O’Neil is known for.

O’Neil makes large drawings, primarily with a .5mm mechanical pencil. Her largest drawing is her 14 ft. long triptych HELL. It contains 35,000 collage elements and 65,000 of her iconic sweat suit-clad figures. O’Neil was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial and her work is collected by museums nationwide, including the Ulrich Museum.

You can see O’Neils’ grey-scale drawings come to life in the animated short We, The Masses—a collaborative project based on her graphite drawings and winner of the Spirit Award at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2012.

Her art is unsettling and pensive, but O’Neil herself is far from morose.

You can get to know her through her podcast, Me Reading Stuff, where she shares her passion for poetry.

“…Today is by Mark Halliday. This is called Self Importance… ‘Last night when I washed the dishes, every move I made had a heroic kind of distinction. Do these two forks at once, rinse them swiftly, drop them in the drainer deftly producing that satisfactory clatter. Now do the plates—washing the bottoms as well as the tops. My left hand so acrobatic in its connubial cooperation with my right…Where is Martin Scorsese? Doesn’t he want to get this on film?…’”

She is here in Wichita for a Harvester Arts two-week residency.

O’Neil will create a collaborative drawing, and will ask Wichitans to make grey-scale drawings of water. These will be pieced together to create a Kansas ocean. The more people who participate, the bigger our ocean will be.



Thank You All for Listening

March 2, 2016—Farewell segment as KMUW’s arts commentator.

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Well friends, this is my last segment as KMUW’s arts commentator. Over the past 5 years, it’s been my immense pleasure to take in an incredible array of art exhibitions and meet some of the finest artists I’ve ever known.

When I stepped into this role, I had some very serious questions to ponder. What type of critic was I going to be? What were my ethics? On a scale from Bob Ross to Gordon Ramsey, how mean was I going to be? I like to think I charted a course somewhere in the middle, but I always strived to be informative while also delivering an opinion.

Conveying an opinion is at the heart of the contract between an art critic and their audience. Otherwise, without opinion, you’re writing journalism or art history or something else entirely.

It’s an intimidating thing to share words and thoughts publicly, but I’ve worked hard to craft an informed opinion that, I hoped, would spark conversation. If my words got people talking, then I considered my work a success. I really believe that critical dialogue is the only way to continue to elevate the quality of art we display in this city.

Walt Whitman said, “To have great poets there must be great audiences too.” The same is true for art. We need to be a great audience for art. We cannot afford to get lazy in our pleasantries. We must keep critical, constructive dialogue at the heart of our art scene.

And I am confident that we will as artist Curt Clonts takes over as arts commentator. I am glad that he will be keeping this rare critical space for art alive on KMUW. Thank you Curt for stepping up. Thanks to KMUW for this incredible run. Thank you all for listening.