by Pete Schulte
The Kansas Focus Gallery at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, initially announced in July 2014, is opening its doors on Feb. 4. The gallery aims to showcase the talent of artists associated with Kansas.
The space utilized on the first floor for the gallery was once the museum’s gift shop and has been under construction for much of 2015. Original museum architect Kyu Sung Woo designed the gallery, with Executive Director of the Nerman Bruce Hartman stating that maintaining Woo’s initial vision of the museum was paramount to the gallery, citing this as the reason for the delay in the gallery, which was initially expected to open in late 2014.
The project was initiated with a $700,000 donation from Leawood art collector and museum donor Mary Davidson of the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust. In addition, Davidson also donated her personal collection of nearly 200 works of art which she and her late husband acquired throughout the years.
“My late husband Barton Cohen and I, for I guess 15 years at least, collected Kansas art. Needless to say, I have a lot,” Davidson said. “Our intention was always to donate it someplace where it would be shown and would remind people who came to see it that there are many, many talented people that have worked in Kansas, were born in Kansas, that have produced and are producing lovely art in Kansas.”
Hartman said the donation not only went toward renovations, but also to the museum’s endowment and to acquire works of art from Kansas-associated artists for the museum’s permanent collection.
The inaugural exhibit for the gallery features six large-scale photographs imagining a post-apocalyptic world by artist Lori Nix. Nix, born in Norton, Kansas, works with her partner Kathleen to create dioramas and photograph the finished products, re-imagining and creating the scene in her work. The dioramas have taken upwards of 15 months to create and photograph, and Nix’s current series, “The City,” will be on display at the Nerman, inviting guests to immerse themselves in her post-apocalyptic vision.
“It’s incredibly special. … The very fact that I’m their inaugural artist for this space dedicated to artists connected to Kansas is amazing because I haven’t been living in Kansas since, oh God, junior high,” Nix laughed. “So the very idea that I’m still remembered is phenomenal.”
Hartman said he is thrilled to open the gallery with Nix.
“We really wanted to open with the show by an artist who has gained fame, a lot of recognition for their achievement and yet had a very deep connection with this state,” said Hartman.
In addition to Nix’s exhibition in the gallery, the museum’s McCaffree Gallery and mezzanine on the second floor will also showcasing works from Kansas-associated artists Davin Watne, Robert Bingaman, Wilbur Niewald, Keith Jacobshagen, Lisa Grossman, Michael Krueger, Birger Sandzen, Art Miller, Albert Bloch and Paulina Everitt.
Hartman and Davidson are both hoping that by highlighting Kansas artists, the existing museum audience will be joined by new visitors.
“We hope that this gallery brings a whole new audience to the Nerman Museum. Many people are interested in a sense of place,” Hartman said. “Many people take pride being Kansans and being from Johnson County. This is a gallery that is really going to emphasize the history of this state through art.”
The inaugural reception of the Kansas Focus Gallery is at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4. The event, free and open to the public, will also feature a book signing by artist Robert Zakanitch, for the closing of his exhibit. For more information and for museum hours, visit www.nermanmuseum.org, or call 913-469-3000.
Video by JCAV-TV: Heather Foley, Executive Producer; TJ Kimbrough-French, Camera; Anthony Graham & Seth Elliott, Editors; Caleb Wayne, Graphics.