Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lincoln in Kansas (City) Day, Um.... [Museums and Such]

So you may have noticed that I didn't post anything for the past two days despite being in Kansas. Simply, nothing remotely bloggable happened -- I met with my clients for 8 or more hours, then retreated to the hotel room to catch up on email &c. I did find a local BBQ Place that's pretty good, and some more localized chains -- all within walking distance of the hotel; for some reason I really like walking. Aside from that it's been pretty quiet.

This morning with some loose ends tied up I found myself with a day more-or-less free to explore. Everything that I had thrown into Google (Kansas City Art Museum, &c.) pointed to the other Kansas City -- i.e. Missouri, or KCMO -- as being the place to be.

So I ventured over there. #1 on my list (of one item) was the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. While I was researching the Nelson-Atkins, I discovered that they're mounting an exhibition of Monet's Triptych Water Lilies, reuniting the three panels for the first time in decades. One of those three panels is owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition doesn't open to the public until this weekend and I figured that I would miss it. But after I arrived at the museum, I discovered that this was the exhibition's Member's Preview Days.

I approached the information desk, showed my CMA membership card ("Fellow" level; I never leave home without it)... and I asked if I could sneak in. Moments later I had a ticket in hand, and they were even kind enough to validate my parking (since Nelson-Atkins members always park for free, a nice perk if I do say so myself). I wasn't sure what to expect for a single-artwork exhibition: It opens with some background information on Monet and his works. Rounding the corner to see the three panels for the first time it was spine tingling. I'm rather familiar with the Cleveland Museum of Art's portion of the triptych -- the left most panel, it turns out -- but completely unfamiliar with the entire work.

While each panel is substantial on its own, the three together create an amazing panorama. The exhibition includes quite a bit of information about the structure of the works including paint layering, a photo of the work in progress and more. Another highlight on display at the Nelson-Atkins is James Naismith's original, type-written 1891 rules for the game of "Basket Ball" -- yes, the original 13 type-written rules that still, to a large extent define the sport evolved to be Basketball. I'm not much (ok, any) of a sports fan, but seeing a document that has survived for 120 years and is still relevent was amazing.

The museum's collection is comprehensive and of high quality. I was particularly drawn to their photographic holdings, which include the entirety of the former Hallmark Photography Collection and spans the entire history of photography from the early 1800s to the present.

In their contemporary galleries I was amused by the presence of Donald Judd's "Large Stack", continuing the tradition of every museum I've attended with a contemporary collection having one of Mr. Judd's collection of boxes -- I don't think any two are identical, but they are instantly recognizable as Mr. Judd's work. On an opposite wall was Mr. Judd's Untitled (Progression), which I think is the first work by that artist that didn't involve a stack of identical boxes, and I found it much more visually intriguing.

After wandering through the majority of the galleries, I took a break for fresh air and stepped outside the Kansas City Sculpture Park. If the general Beaux Arts design of the museum's 1933 Building, the terraced (in this case with grass rather than marble) step down to a large open space (in this case a large lawn with jumbo badminton shuttlecocks rather than a fountain and Wade Lagoon) wasn't enough to conjure a connection to the Cleveland Museum of Art the presence of one of a casting of Rodin's Thinker on the terrace has to cement it.

While waiting for my lunch (yeah, I know I'm breaking chronological order), I figured I'd read the Wikipedia article for Nelson-Atkins... and clarity instantly came with "The building's classical beaux-arts architecture style was modeled on the Cleveland Museum of Art..." (I really encourage you read the History section of the Wikipedia article). Another wonderful similarity between CMA and the Nelson-Atkins Museum are both offer free admission every day that they're open.

Getting back to chronological order, after wandering through the sculpture garden and decrying the on-site restaurant's menu as too frou-frou (I've never found an art museum with a cafe serving food I'm actually interested in eating) I figured I'd explore Kansas City a bit on food. No maps. No plans. No destination. I wound up in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza which strikes me a as a fairly organic up-scale shopping district limning both sides of Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard. The only food options I initially noticed were all universally high end chain restaurants.

On the way back, by chance I zigged onto a side street and found "Blanc Burgers+Bottles". I talked myself out of an alcoholic beverage but had a pretty good stuffed blue cheese burger and fries (served in a miniature shopping cart). I loved the decor -- clean lines, white, orange, and mirrors ruled the day -- and it ranks among the most contemporary places I've eaten. I wish there were more places like this (that I knew of) in Cleveland, where dark seems to rule the day. Following lunch I waked back through the sculpture garden but detoured to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art -- also free to the public -- with an impromptu tour of the perimeter of the Kansas City Art Institute campus along the way.

The Kemper is pretty small with relatively few (mostly large-scale) works on display, but the quality and visual intrigue is high. I stopped by the gift shop on the way out, and a very cute robot made out of re-purposed household items (including a band-aid box for the torso and forks for the limbs) reminded me of the paper crafts of a friend. I really...really... wanted to take it home with me. It's just that cute. But at $242 I need to think about it a bit. The good news is I'll be back in Kansas in another week so if I can talk myself into it between now and then at least I have that option.

It had started to rain heavily while I was in the Kemper so I made the straight line (fortunately...remember no maps... I was navigating solely by gut) back to Nelson-Atkins, finished my way through the galleries... took a few minutes to meditate on a bench... and left. I tried visiting Union Terminal -- home to a model railroad exhibit and the Kansas City Rail Experience, but as apparently all of the attractions in the building close at 4:00 and I arrived at trains for me (on this trip). The building, though, is a magnificent edifice to what the glory of transportation used to be -- soaring and decorated ceilings, wide open spaces. I fly home tomorrow. Though this trip has actually gone much better than I expected, I am once again looking forward to returning to my own bed.


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