kansas city museums roll out the all-star red carpet

Major League Baseball’s 2012 All-Star Game has descended upon Kansas City and the festivities officially kick off today. Considering the last time this game was played in my hometown I was but a mere fetus, this is a big deal.

Kansas City has a long and impressive baseball history and I’m proud of my family’s place in it. I attended my first (and only) All-Star game in 1986 in Houston, Texas. My father, Frank White, Jr., was second baseman for the Kansas City Royals and making his fifth and final All-Star game appearance.

That game has special meaning to me not only because the Royals were defending World Champions but also because my father pinch-hit for Lou Whitaker in the seventh inning and turned an 0-2 pitch into a home run, effectively clinching victory for the American League.

What, you didn’t know I was a baseball nerd too? 😉

All-Star Summer is Kansas City’s opportunity to show the world that while it’s known for fountains, jazz and BBQ, there are so many amazing things that make it a great place to call home, including a diverse array of museums, some of which have sports-themed events and exhibitions marking the occasion:

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

  • “They Were All Stars” (through August 31, 2012), an exhibition honoring Hispanic and African-American Negro Leagues players who transitioned to Major League Baseball and were selected as All-Stars. Other All-Star events include a town hall-style meet and greet with some of the players featured in the exhibition on July 8 from Noon – 1:30 p.m. and a discussion and book signing on July 7 at Noon with author Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

National World War I Museum

  • “World War I All-Stars: Sports & the Inter-Allied Games” (through December 31, 2012) focuses on the little-known competitive sporting event held in 1919 following the end of World War I in an effort to unify Allied soldiers. American baseball players and other famous athletes who were World War I veterans are also featured.

Kansas City Museum

  • The city’s history museum is offering Kansas City baseball history trolley tours on July 7 & 9. Departing from Union Station, the tours feature stories about well-known players who made their homes and living in Kansas City and visits to sites of historic baseball significance.

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

  • Considering the 2012 All-Star Game is being played in Kauffman Stadium, located at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, it makes sense that the Library & Museum offers “Presidential Pitch: Harry Truman and Baseball” (through July 15), an exhibition that features baseball-related artifacts and documents from the Truman Administration. For a closer examination, check out archivist Randy Sowell’s presentation, “Truman and Baseball: A Presidential Pastime” on July 7 from 11:00 a.m. – Noon.

Visitors: If you want to know where to go and what to do during your stay or have trouble deciphering whether you’re in Kansas or Missouri, tweet your questions with the #KC hashtag so the kind folks at the Social Media Command Center can help you out.

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art break: monet’s water lilies

This week’s art break involved saying a final farewell to Monet’s Water Lilies which unites the three panels of Claude Monet’s water lily triptych owned by Saint Louis Art Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

At last count, over 85,000 people have visted the Nelson-Atkins exhibition, 61,000+ in July alone!

Despite the exhaustion that many of us feel at the end of the workday, it is an astonishing thing to witness so many people galvanized and transformed by seeing remarkable works of art in person.  The Museum is filled with visitors of every stripe, and a buzzy hum of activity can be heard throughout the buildings.

buy & print tickets online to bypass this queue

What has been especially satisfying is how the exhibition kick-starts related artistic experiences.  Visitors ask where they can find other Impressionist works in the Collection, how they can learn more about conservation science, if there are any resources available that delve deeper into Monet’s life and work, or for paper and pencils so they can sketch in the galleries.  It’s also inspired my own artistic leanings.

thanks to Tate Kids for the coloring sheets

Monet’s Water Lilies closes at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on August 7, 2011.  Next stop is the Saint Louis Art Museum from October 2, 2011 – January 22, 2012 and finally wrapping up at The Cleveland Museum of Art in 2015 (exact dates to be announced.)

meet the scumak wrangler

I have been fascinated by Roxy Paine’s Scumak No. 2, part of the installation Scumaks and Dendroids, since it took residence in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Bloch Building Lobby.

visitors check out scumak no. 2. personal photo by adrianne russell.

The first question upon seeing it is “What is that?”  Coffee maker? Meat grinder? Soft-serve machine?

From the museum’s website:   “Scumak No. 2 mimics the factory assembly line. A computer program controls the process as colored polyethylene beads are heated. Molten plastic is dispensed and collects on a conveyor belt and, the resultant layered sculptures are then displayed on pedestals.   Computer-operated sculpture-making machines, or Scumaks, address automation and computerization in contemporary life and spark dialogue about the purpose of art and the artist.”

Does it ever! I have overheard fierce debates on Scumak No. 2‘s  validity–or lack thereof–from visitors young, old and in-between.   Reactions range from lamentable (“Oh, please.  I can do that!”) to exuberant (“That’s so awesome!”)

In the first few days of the installation, I noticed Senior Preparator John Laney eyeing it carefully.  The didactic material had yet to be posted, and he seemed to know what was going on, so visitors asked him questions and he generously and adeptly answered them.  I learned a lot in the few minutes that I eavesdropped.  I warned him (as I do all my co-workers) that he ran the risk of being featured on my blog.  Surprisingly, he was fine with that!  So I emailed him a few questions about his involvement with the installation.

completed scumaks in the bloch building lobby. personal photo by adrianne russell.

How were you selected as the caretaker for Scumak No. 2?

On Saturday April 9 and Sunday April 10 I was assisting at the job site for the installation of Roxy Paine’s Ferment dendroid. This involved prepping the job site, supplying tools and materials for the delivery and staging of the stainless steel elements, and acting as a spotter. Through the course of those two days, and the following two days on the 11th and 12th, I was part of the on-site crew that Roxy and his team gained familiarity and trust with.  My supervisor, Chief Preparator Mark Milani, had designated me as the point man for the unpacking, staging and installation of Roxy’s Scumak No. 2 which was to get underway on Wednesday April 13, concurrent with the completion of Ferment.  Our loan agreement with the James Cohan Gallery specified that their technician would work on installation and our art prep department would provide support and assistance as needed. Through the course of the installation, I had been identified by both the gallery and Roxy as a trusted and reliable art handler with the sensibilities to take proper care with the operation and oversight of Scumak No. 2. The unpacking and installation of the machine and its components also made me the default point man on how the machine was operated.

Roxy’s logic was very specific to the effect that he wanted to minimize the number of hands operating and functioning his installation, a logic that makes a great deal of sense to me as it ensures a consistent and uniform process at all stages of the operation, and at all times from day-to-day as well as month-to-month. The operation and care of the installation is not rocket-science, but does require a consistent and disciplined effort.  I do think it is relevant to the work itself that each step of the process is uniform and replicated as exactly as possible. The attention to detail and oversight of the installation are natural extensions of my sensibilities as preparator (or art handler).

What have you learned since the project began? Anything you would do differently knowing what you do now?

One thing that I have learned from the very first week of installation onward is that the reaction of patrons can be extremely unpredictable. Kids seem to love it almost universally, as I think it embodies a sense of wonder that comes naturally to children.  The piece itself is, in my opinion, an ideal installation for the Bloch Lobby: large scale, unusual, contemporary, constantly changing and growing throughout the day and throughout the week.  I don’t believe many visitors walk through the doors of the Bloch Lobby and expects to see the installation, and in my opinion that sense of surprise and intrigue is one of the primary purposes of viewing and experiencing art. Whether a patron loves or hates the installation and the objects created by the piece, I think each person is engaged with the installation and the ambiguity that Roxy has crafted with this machine.   I think strong reactions, both positive and negative, are vital to whatever impact art may have on the public at large – additionally I think it’s important that everyone embrace the fact that their subjective opinion matters, and that no one has to like anything. It’s okay to hate a piece of art!

Are you an artist? If so, has Scumak No. 2 inspired your work?

I do not consider myself an artist. I take photographs, write and conceptualize all sorts of creative projects but I am not an artist.  Scumak No. 2 does initiate a wonderful and important discourse about the nature of the artist and the creative process, time-based art, and conceptual art.  These are matters that I find extremely valuable for us to consider, both as individuals as well as a society and culture at large.

If you could take home any Scumak, which one would it be?

If I could take home any particular Scumak, it would likely be S2-P2-MAR7, the seventh object created. For one thing, it’s a bit smaller and easier to move, and it also has a graceful elegance to its form – almost an “s” curve happening. I think it’s a fun object from a fun installation.

the object of john’s affection. personal photo by adrianne russell.

Thanks to John Laney for answering my nosy questions! Scumaks and Dendroids is on view until August 28, 2011.