Kansas City museums are all in this summer with remarkable exhibitions targeted at specific interests. The magnificently restored Union Station (the nation’s second-largest train terminal after Grand Central in New York) has partnered with the National Football League Hall of Fame to present the same shows as that Ohio museum. The history of America’s most popular sport is shown through equipment, coaches’ notes, playbooks, film and interactive displays. The station’s Pierpont’s restaurant is a museum-quality experience in its own rite. Two kinds of marble, leather, wood, brass, prime aged steaks and a 400 bottle wine list evoke the testosterone-driven glory of the early 20th century.
Next door to the station, the National Archives is hosting “Preserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive.” Saddam Hussein had 700 years of historic relics and documents removed from the nation’s synagogues and stored in the basement of his Intelligence Headquarters. Before the Allied forces took Bagdad, Saddam’s men flooded that basement. This exhibition shows the remarkable preservation of moldy history. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from a Venetian Hebrew Bible written in 1524. The show reveals that Jews coexisted in the area with everyone from the Talmudic Age Sassanians through the Ottoman Empire. Then Nazi rhetoric inspired anti-Jewish sentiments. The Jewish population of Bagdad was reduced from 120,000 to 50,000 in a few years.
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s “American Montage” is epical. Brooklyn-based artist Adam Cvijanovic’s giant paintings merge influences from 19th-century American landscape painting with early 20th-century cinema. He paints on Tyvek, that white stuff one sees as insulation at construction sites. It also resembles a movie screen. Some of the paintings in this show are constructed on panels that wrap around three walls like Cinemascope. One, the spectacular “Belshazzar’s Feast,” is painted on nine different panels, all 16 feet high. It recreates in lurid detail the climactic orgy scene from D.W. Griffith’s legendary silent film “Intolerance.”
“Hollywood, 1915” is a dreamy landscape of the 20 blocks of houses that comprised Hollywood a century ago. They are surrounded by completely undeveloped hills for as far as one can see. In their midst, at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, is Griffith’s gargantuan, decaying set for “Intolerance.” Another painting shows that intersection today, also in a state of decay. The artist finds inspiration at Buster Keaton’s childhood home, in the majestic “Flint Hills,” on the Isle of Capri and in prehistoric history. Mostly though, this show is a loving homage to the movies.
Because Kansas City is home to the World War I Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has mounted a centennial exhibition “World War I and the Rise of Modernism.” The show is a chronology of the intermingled destinies of the war and the artists who created modern art. It begins with the effects of pre-war industrialization, then demonstrates how international artists moved from being friends to enemies. We learn that Max Beckmann and Oskar Kokoschka both suffered breakdowns, documented here in their portrayals of hell. After the war, we see artists turn to the cynicism and sarcasm of Surrealism and Dadaism and to the practicality of German Bauhaus.
The Nelson-Atkins also has added some temporary sculptures to their marvelous sculpture garden. Philip Haas created four monumental portrait busts titled “The Four Seasons.” These are 15-foot-tall, three-dimensional interpretations of the Italian Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portrait series of the same name. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.