Ashley Lindeman, Emerging Curator 2022 at Plug Gallery, stands in front of a mural by Jake Merten, curated by SpraySeeMO at 2023 Washington Blvd.
(Photo by Jim Barcus)
Three young talents bring their ideas to showcasing art from KC and beyond
As anyone familiar with Kansas City’s cultural milieu knows, the community is extremely fortunate to boast such a diverse and talented pool of visual artists. And while these creators deserve their well-deserved credit, what happens behind the mirrors at every gallery opening or museum exhibit remains more elusive and mysterious to the public. It is therefore important to reflect on the energy and work that the city’s curatorial teams put into presenting the work of their artists. In 2022, despite the strains of a pandemic and economic malaise, there is a cohort of relatively new curators doing incredible things by bringing art to the people.
While it would be foolish to suggest that the city’s corps of budding curators was cast from the same mold, there are undoubtedly some common values that inform their approach. Ashley Lindeman, Kimberly Kitada, and Andrew Ordonez are not only relatively young in the field, but have all made contributions to the regional arts community that reflect a commitment to inclusivity and interdisciplinary programs. As a microcosm of broader trends in the professional world, it is also notable that each of these individuals has worked in a variety of settings and institutions, rather than perpetuating themselves in a single gallery or museum. This diversity and breadth of experiences brings a richness to what’s happening in the Kansas City art world that benefits artists, scholars, and visitors alike.
“I believe an art curator is someone who helps other viewers find meaning in art,” says Ashley Lindeman, Ph.D. Modern Art candidate at Florida State University. Just as a local guide can help enhance and enrich the experience when visiting a foreign city, curators are responsible for collecting and displaying artworks in a way that empowers people to explore their own meanings and messages. Lindeman notes that the traditional perception of art curators as elite gatekeepers is quickly becoming an anachronism. It is important that the exhibitions they create “appeal to a wide range of audiences, including those from marginalized communities. . . It should be a place where everyone can feel inspired and comfortable to learn about other cultures, time periods and perspectives.”
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Lindeman earned a BFA in art history and visual communication from the University of Kansas and an MA in modern art from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2016, while she was President of the Graduate Art History Association (GAHA) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she and her colleagues created the Body-Mind Entente exhibit that opened at the UMKC Gallery of Art. Fusing art and neuroscience, the project invited audiences to reflect on how their sense of identity is shaped by other people and the artworks that surround them.
By describing the myriad tasks involved in staging her exhibition—applying for grants, visiting studios, organizing a panel discussion, creating promotional material, preparing the space, and physically installing the work—Lindeman illustrates the complex and varied nature of the role an art curator really is. She was also proud that “Body-Mind Entente” featured artists from Kansas City such as Anne Austin Pearce, Diana Heise, Jim Sajovic, Maret Miller, Miles Neidinger and Hong Chun Zhang.
In the spring of 2022, Lindeman was named the 2022 Emerging Curator of the Plug Gallery in Kansas City. This opportunity will allow her to work with a mentor to plan and launch her own exhibition, tentatively titled Muralism: Inside Out, which is set to open on October 21st. Lindeman seeks to “merge the worlds of public art and private gallery space by focusing on the murals of Kansas City.” -Community, Black Lives Matter, immigration and indigenous peoples are relevant.
“The curator often points out art-historical moments, socio-political contexts and other artists who get into conversation with a certain work.”
Another local institution serving as a training laboratory for emerging curators is the Charlotte Street Foundation, which welcomed Kimberly Kitada as a 2020 Curatorial Fellow of the Jedel Family Foundation. Kitada earned a BA in Art History and Classics from Bucknell University and an MA in Museum Studies from New York University. Before arriving in Kansas City, she worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles and at Independent Curators International in New York.
Giving people the opportunity to engage with artworks and ideas is a central part of Kitada’s self-image. Curators need to “work closely with artists,” she says, to bring their work to the public in an engaging and accessible way.” She also emphasizes the importance of viewing her work through an educational lens. “The curator often points out art-historical moments, socio-political contexts and other artists who get into conversation with a certain work.”
While Kitada believes in the importance of the academic, theoretical aspect of curating, she is quick to emphasize the value of hands-on experience and advises aspiring curators to “organize exhibitions in alternative or DIY spaces.” She remembers working on her first exhibition, which was held at an alternative gallery in New York called TEMP Art Space. The physical challenges of installing artwork in an unconventional setting “is something you have to learn by doing,” she said.
In 2019, while working on the exhibition “Xu Zhen: In Just a Blink of an Eye” at MOCA, Los Angeles, Kitada applied her ingenuity and adaptability to the challenge of integrating 20 professional dancers into a performance art project. “Museum staff are typically trained to work with object-based artworks, so the constant needs of the performers in the space led to some new dialogue and problem-solving.”
Kitada’s current project, Handiwork: Art, Craft, and The Space Between, is slated to open at the Charlotte Street Foundation in August and will involve artists from Kansas City, New York, Dallas, and Chicago. She describes the exhibition as one that “dissolves conventional boundaries around notions of ‘art’ and ‘craft’ while at the same time questioning notions of work, gender and social constructs”.
“(The curator is) the coordinator, organizer, presenter and host for a really long time.”
The Charlotte Street Foundation also supports opportunities for practicing artists to serve in curatorial roles. In spring 2022, Andrew Ordonez, a Charlotte Street studio resident, curated the exhibition Sweeping the Chimney Through the Mantle of the Earth. (Visit www.kcstudio.org to read Neil Thrun’s review of the show.)
Ordonez graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute with a BFA in painting in 2013 and has lived in the city ever since. And although he has been painting and sculpting for many years, Sweeping the Chimney was his curatorial debut. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.
He describes the exhibition as a metaphor for how the human body behaves with nature in emergency situations; It invites viewers to consider the day’s socio-political issues through the lens of nature, visibility and the earth. Ordonez explained that the process of developing and staging the exhibition took seven or eight months and that one of the most rewarding parts of the experience was helping local artists get the recognition they deserve and “putting them on this project.” to represent”. Participating Kansas City artists included Pia Bakala, Kevin Demery, Jada Patterson, Donald Pruitt and Fred Vorder-Bruegge. Ordonez also spoke fondly of collaborating with artists of national and international standing and incorporating their work and perspectives into the project.
Much like his contemporaries in the curatorial field, Ordonez speaks openly about the challenges of organizing a successful art exhibition. “It was a learning process. You’ve been a coordinator, organizer, facilitator and host for a very long time.” Ordonez’s perspective of curator-host offers an insightful and relatable way for people to better understand a curator’s mission. It involves far more than just hanging paintings on the wall; Successful curators must create a comfortable environment in which a dialogue can take place between artists, their work and the public.
Thanks to his educational background, Ordonez is able to facilitate these conversations. He taught portfolio preparation classes to art students and worked on a day program for artists with disabilities. In the fall of 2022, he will attend Yale University to pursue an MFA in sculpture, which he hopes will position him to teach in a higher education position.
With an experienced and dedicated cadre of new curatorial talent beginning to make their mark on the Kansas City arts scene, residents and visitors can look forward to great things in the years to come. Even the best art does not speak for itself; it takes real collaboration between artists, curators and audience for ideas to be heard.