Youth trend on display in ‘Twenty Something’ at City Arts Project


From left to right: Erika Lynne Hason "System for Observing the Temporal: 2" Cory Imig "Squeezing Information for Materials Under Extreme Pressure" Mattheus Leonhard "Bull's Eye" Image by EG Schempf

Five wooden boards lean toward a white wall of the City Arts Project gallery, balanced at an angle, one on top of each other like a tilted house of cards.

This stack of wood pins a red balloon against the wall. The pressure of the boards’ weight serves as the only force holding the balloon in place. The boards would crash to the ground if one shifted slightly or if the balloon burst beneath them.

The potential energy stored in Cory Imig’s precariously balanced sculpture inadvertently reflects its surroundings. City Arts Project, a new exhibition and studio space spearheaded by longtime Kansas City curator Sean Kelley, seems poised and ready to burst into the local art scene.

From left to right: Andrew Lyles "Sight Landscape #3", S. Clifford Proksi "Blobs (primary)" and "Blobs (secondary)", Amanda Martinez "Act Drop" Image by EG Schempf

With City Arts Project, Kelley seeks to build community and encourage critical dialogue among artists. According to Kelley, hosting “Twenty Something,” an exhibition organized by recent Kansas City Art Institute graduates Matt Jacobs and David Rhoads, gave him a chance to introduce himself to emerging artists in Kansas City.

“Twenty Something” is the first in a series of exhibitions titled “30 Below” held in the handsomely refurbished freezer room of a building that housed the long-defunct City Ice. Jacobs’ and Rhoads’ selections remain on view until the end of the month. After that, Kelley will add and remove works through Dec. 3.

At the moment, the exhibition features works by nine artists younger than 30 who have all lived and worked in Kansas City at some point in their careers.

Jacobs and Rhoads made smart curatorial decisions.

Instead of filling the high-ceilinged space with lots of small works by many artists, the young curators selected a small number of large works by a few artists. Jacobs, a sculptor, and Rhoads, who creates freestanding, sculptural paintings, chose works that resemble their own — assemblage sculpture made of found objects and colorful, gestural paintings that focus on surface texture.

For his “Sight Landscape #3,” Andrew Lyles attached fluorescent lights to the exterior of a row of recycling bins with wheels on the bottom. Brook Hsu’s brushy oil paintings of abstracted body parts are a throwback to Philip Guston’s cartoonish work of the early 1970s and the New Image movement that followed. But, unlike her predecessors, Hsu builds wooden shelves and tables to display her work, expanding her paintings into three dimensions.

Various oil paintings by Brook Hsu. Image by EG Schempf.

Although Jacobs and Rhoads chose works that share commonalities with their own, they managed to sidestep a common pitfall of artist-curated exhibitions organized around a loose theme. “Twenty Something” is not a haphazard arrangement of submissions by the artists’ buddies. The works are given space to breathe and are installed in a way that encourages visual dialogue.

As exemplified by Imig’s board sculpture, titled “Squeezing Information for Materials Under Extreme Pressure,” the exhibition’s installation activates the space, playing off the walls and ceilings.

“Horizon,” a video by artistic duo Jay & Jae, is projected onto a screen wedged between two walls of a triangular shaped hallway leading to the bathroom.

With its oddly angled walls, the hallway strengthens the video’s aesthetic focus. Two figures stand on opposite ends of the screen against a barren landscape. They each have a cord or rope attached to their midsections, and the figures alternately pull away, sometimes falling, sometimes managing to raise the cord flush to the horizon behind them.

Imig’s sculpture is not the only work where gravity plays a critical role. Erika Lynne Hanson’s “System for Observing the Temporal: 2” is an installation comprising a seemingly random bunch of objects: one of the artists’ weavings, stacks of cut-up two-by-fours, string and a potted jade plant. The weaving is propped against the wall by two long boards. Joined by a length of string, the stacks of boards and the potted plant sit on a ledge atop opposite walls.

If there’s a flaw in this well-thought-out exhibition of ambitious artwork by promising young artists, Hanson’s work illustrates it beautifully. The cerebral nature of the work manages to overshadow its strong physical and somewhat playful and corporeal sense.

Although the installation of Hanson’s sculpture embodies a sense of chance and playfulness — the work consists of the same objects each time but is arranged in a different manner as a response to the gallery space — the work comes across as dry and off-putting.

Can the physicality of its installation and the richness and complexity of the work be communicated to viewers in a more successful manner?

If anyone can solve that problem, no doubt it’s Jacobs and Rhoads.

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About Matt Jacobs

Matt Jacobs is an artist and writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a BFA in Sculpture and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work has been exhibited internationally in Iceland and Italy as well as throughout the U.S. including Texas, California, and New York. In addition to maintaining a studio practice, Jacobs also pursues critical activities such as writing and curating. He has curated several exhibitions in the Kansas City area including “Twenty Something” at City Arts Project and at the H+R Block Artspace’s Biennial Flatfile exhibition. His writing has appeared in Art Tattler, Review Magazine, and Glasstire.
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