a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"

Get a Raum: curatorial reflections on the weissraum

by Michael Schonhoff

[photo: weissraum entrance].  

Gute Idee – Curatorially, weissraum in The Frontier stems from a studio program I was concurrently working on and inspirations from several artists including Clifford Owens (1) and Christian Haake. (2)  The studio program, KunstraumKC, involves collaborating with another artist and several building owners to provide studio spaces to a variety of creatives in Kansas City. Intending on using one of these spaces for myself, I considered creating an empty white room existing as a container, collecting ideas from others as to what could happen in that space. Let’s say a site for exercising the projection of potential, or a space somewhere between studio and post-studio practice. Concurrently, I saw a image of Christian Haake’s Passage and a Clifford Owens video of himself and others physically breaking down a ‘white cube’ listening to hard core music. These affirmed a re-visitation of creative practices occurring in and out of such a space.

[KunstraumKC under construction]

Don’t Get Foiled Again -Other research shaping my approach to The Frontier project included the public  engagement -artist in residence by Machine Project at LACMA (3), Unrealized Potential (4) at unrealisedprojects.org, and the micro exhibition, Hewing the Mountainside, organized at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institite. The Machine Project at LACMA presented an interesting sidebar strategy to collective artists’ projects assisting an institution working at the edge of its practice and/or fostering growth. The Unrealized Potential project served as affirmation and challenge to my ‘empty white room’ idea in that it provided a degree of contemporary relevance and value, but also confronted how such a concept should uniquely inform the scope of this project. Hewing the Mountainside presented selections from the KCAI Fine Art Collection in response to 2012 Black History Month. The exhibition specifically experimented with the idea of using works as a curatorial ‘foil’ presenting paradoxical characteristics to heighten the effect of other pieces.

[Hewing the Mountainside, installation view]

A Bag of AgendasThe Frontier meshed with my ideas in various ways. In one sense it provided a platform for a ‘pilot’. As one of many curators, The Frontier presented others ideas, agendas, needs, etc. Most importantly it provided really good artists all interested in the overarching concept of The Frontier. And it was these artists’ agendas, and approaches to their practice that imperatively directed curatorial decision-making.

[weissraum in The Frontier]

Fearless Leaders -As a curator, it is important to respond to what artists are making and thinking about in their studio practice. Conversely, effective exhibitions can be made that give artists a platform from which to make work. I welcome a discussion of these various approaches, but save that for another blog entry or class discussion. Either way, within this project, I was in a position to be mindful of both so my engagements with artists were transparent and dialogic. As much as my ego was connected to my initial ideas and approaches, the artists practice trumped all. Empowering them to pursue their best work interested me. This assumed their best work has not been made and that a degree of risk must happen to create a platform for this ‘other’ result. That degree can happen in the spectrum of form, material, subject matter, scale, sense, time, etc.  Shaping a space where this is possible was my role, especially within the conceptual framework of The Frontier.

[Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II]

The Watchtower – Inviting other discussion streams into the conversation was also important so while
meeting with artists, curators, and administrators, any current announcements, articles, exhibitions or sidebar projects that offered relevance or interesting tangential connections were shared with all stakeholders. This included:

  • Unrealized Projects, A project by Sam Ely & Lynn Harris.
  • Developments in securing an entry door to the weissraum.
  • A curatorial presentation for BREAD KC. (5)
  • Unfinished Journeys, an exhibition at the Nasjonalmuseet, Norway.(6)
  • work by artist, Berndnaut Smilde. (7)
  • Nigel Cooke, exhibition at The Goss-Michael Foundation, Britain. (8)
  • “Tinnitus”, a symposium on Art and Rock & Roll. (9)
  • delanceyplace.com, excerpts from, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. (10)

[Jaclyn Senne, Stationary Absence of a Corner Kick]

TEAM – Meetings occurred individually with Ricky Allman (11), Katie Ford (12), Lee Piechocki (13), Charlie Mylie (14), Jaclyn Senne (15), Matt Jacobs (16), David Overholt (17), Kate Hackman and Pat Alexander (18). As conceptual collaborators, these visits shaped the decision-making informing how artists were exhibiting ‘actual works’ in the space, providing ‘unrealized works,’ or simply contributing by their willingness to meet and discuss exhibition concepts and potential. It was in these visits when the project reached it most expansive existence. Within each meeting I introduced my idea of constructing a “leer weissraum” (empty white room) within the gallery holding ‘unrealized works’ written as descriptions on sheets of paper. Having a viewer confront an empty space and effectively project artists’ intentions into that space was intriguing and appropriate for The Frontier project. But that was my agenda; the real question became which ideas the artists responded to or didn’t and what other concepts/approaches they brought to the table. An array of historical and practical suggestions grew from the meetings including post-colonial thoughts, views from the ‘other side’ of the Frontier, keeping walls unfinished and see thru, examining the nuances of barriers associated with ‘frontier’ speak, and ‘call and response’ methodologies for any ‘unrealized works’ submitted. Challenges and limitations  to overcome included limited lead time, limited resources, pure chaos, and finding resolution for creating an empty space filled with ‘unrealized works’ on paper and artists wanting to make ‘actual works’ in the space. Given these sets of circumstances my ‘achievability sensor’ was greater in this exhibition than most, curatorially speaking, and leer weissraum became simply weissraum (white room).

[Ricky Allman, weissraum riposte]

It Isweissraum is in effect mapping the terrain of an incomplete and completing future space. It became the container for selected artists exploring interpretations of ‘frontier’ including the invisible (or unseen), projection, speculation, failure, non-action and push-back. The resolution was twofold: 1) Actual works within the weissraum by artists Ricky Allman, Jaclyn Senne, and Matt Jacobs;  2) A display of works by Ricky Allman and Nicole Mauser (19) responding to a call for ‘unrealized works’. Viewers arrived at a closed door with a porthole view into the weissraum. To enter into the weissraum viewers were invited to register their ‘party name’ and ‘number’ on a clipboard. The ‘register’ concept was a response to the rosters of wagon trains and pioneer companies during America’s westward expansion and historical sits like Register Rock (20) in Idaho.

[Matt Jacobs, I Want It All]

Staking Claims – Ricky Allman’s weissraum riposte introduced a studio experiment of working off the canvas directly on the walls. Still working with his subconscious landscape process and imagery, his expression responded to the space with wall drawing, painting and subtle construction reliefs using building materials. An initial white on white palette responded to the weissraum construct and the unseeable character of a frontier. Allman’s work evolved to a crescendo of constructed buttresses on the walls, splattering dark paint filling the entire room and a video piece (produced by Carie Musick Allman)(21) introducing the figurative image into Allman’s work and the weissraum. All these seemingly emulate a ‘westward expansion’ occurrence in the weissraum, or perhaps a response to Jacobs incessant request..appeal..I mean demand.

Allman achieves with marvelous irreverence, as a lunging and parrying conversation with the other artists (and curator). Matt Jacobs I Want It All inserts a lesser-known element of his sculptural practice, sound. In particular, pop culture tunes. In more particular:

“I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, I want it now.”

Artfully presented with Jacob’s thoughtful attention to the nuances of materials existing in space, the looped cut emits from a new fuchsia boom box plugged into the wall with a series of new surge protecting strips. The room filling sound waves heighten the subversive element to the exhibition, claiming airwaves while  audio sculpting the room. Jaclyn Senne’s Stationary Absence of A Corner Kick presents an unflappable constant within the room. Within the back exit nook she projected a video examining the tangents of her practice, unseen elements surrounding her painting practice, made visible. The 10-second loop holds a figureless corner of a soccer field resting in the evening. Car lights provide subtle movement across the nightlit background. The immovable corner flag with two soccer goals facing each other actualize Senne’s stake to the furthest corner of the weissraum. Also working outside her normal studio practice Senne parlays risk into a captivating video space inviting of game, speculation, and action/non-action. Two ‘unrealized works’ were presented in the context of the weissraum. Ricky Allman’s Rocky Mtn. High and Nicole Mauser’s Untitled (Navajo rug + Agnes Martin experience) initially resided on the wall, by the door, outside the space. At the conclusion of the exhibition, they were moved into the weissraum interior space.

[weissraum, interior view]

Danke Schon – I wish to extend a heartfelt thanks to The Charlotte Street Foundation (22) for providing the opportunity to realize such a project (with a hearty congratulations on their 15th year Anniversary), BREAD KC for allowing me to present this idea in a public forum, all the artists, the other curators (Nicole for participating), Kate Hackman, Pat Alexander, Molly Kaderka (23), Ashley Lucas and all the patrons who ‘logged’ in as adventurers. Also, I must thank Raechell Smith and Beverly Ahern at the Artspace (24) for supporting this sidebar curatorial endeavor.

– Michael Schonhoff

[Ricky Allman (with Carie Musick Allman), weissraum riposte video component]

1. Clifford Owens, http://onstellarrays.com/exhibitions/2011-2012/2008-2009/clifford-owens/
2. Christian Haake, http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=11&int_new=47564&int_modo=1
3. Machine Project at LACMA, http://machineproject.com/files/pdf/MP0806_LACMA_Final.lo-res.pdf
4. Unrealized Potential, http://www.unrealisedprojects.org/volume-6/about/
5. BREAD KC, http://breadkc.wordpress.com/
6. Unfinished Journeys, http://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/module=EventCalendar;action=Event.publicOpen;ID=789;template=exhibitionView_en
7. Berndnaut Smilde, http://www.berndnaut.nl/works.htm
8. Nigel Cooke, http://www.gossmichaelfoundation.org/upcoming-exhibitions/nigel-cooke/
9. Tinnitus, http://haa.tinnitus.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do
10. Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/29/books/review/Momaday.t.html?pagewanted=all & http://delanceyplace.com/
11. Ricky Allman, http://www.rickyallman.com/
12. Katie Ford, http://katiefordstudio.com/about
13. Lee Piechocki, http://www.leepiechocki.com/
14. Charlie Mylie, http://www.blogger.com/profile/05026566910031996398
15. Jaclyn Senne, http://www.jaclynsenne.com/
16. Matt Jacobs, http://thatmattjacobs.wordpress.com/author/thatmattjacobs/
17. David Overholt, http://www.davidoverholt.com/portfolio/
18. Pat Alexander, http://patrickalexanderart.com/home.html
19. Nicole Mauser, http://www.nicolemauser.com/
20. Register Rock, http://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/massacrerocks.aspx
21. Carie Musick Allman, http://www.cariemusick.com/
22. The Charlotte Street Foundation, http://www.charlottestreet.org/
23. Molly Kaderka, http://mollykaderka.com/
24. H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, http://www.kcai.edu/artspace

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This entry was posted on May 28, 2012 by in Artists & artworks, Exhibition, Exhibition/Project Documentation, weissraum.
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