June Show to Feature African American Artists Collective at Nelson-Atkins Museum

During the months of upheaval caused by the pandemic, when the art world shifted away from traveling exhibitions and international loans, curators at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art used the time to look deeply at the museum’s collection of more than 42,000 works of art. They uncovered treasures stored for many years and imagined a sweep of upcoming exhibitions that would focus on the museum’s holdings. The result is a lineup referred to as Past, Present, Future, because the exhibitions will encompass a vast period of time, featuring works that range from an ancient brick made in Mesopotamia to contemporary art created in Kansas City.

Also during recent months, staff members worked with community partners to strengthen common goals and to explore possible projects. The museum was honored to extend an invitation to artists from the Kansas City-based African American Artists Collective to exhibit their dynamic works.

Together, the exhibitions will fill Bloch Building galleries from June 2021 through March 2022, giving visitors a cascading calendar of openings for five exhibitions. The first show, Testimony: African American Artists Collective, will open June 5. That will be followed by Castles, Cottages, and Crime, opening July 10; Origins: Collecting to Create the Nelson-Atkins, opening Aug. 14; Weaving Splendor: Treasures of Asian Textiles, opening Sept. 25; and Art of Illusion: Photography and Perceptual Play, opening Oct. 22.

“This past year was very difficult for the museum, as it was for people around the world,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Nevertheless, our teams showed tremendous thoughtfulness and resiliency. It was a time for reflection on our own history as a museum, our role in social justice issues, and how we can respond to the many important shifts in our culture.”

The pandemic greatly affected the traditional work of curators and other staff members, who are often charged with organizing large-scale exhibitions and researching scholarly publications. At the Nelson-Atkins, team members pivoted to an examination of art and culture in their midst, all with the goal of presenting relevant exhibitions to visitors.

“I watched our teams reach new heights of both empathy and creativity,” Zugazagoitia said. “I am delighted that we have new exhibitions that will celebrate our collection and also will showcase talent here in Kansas City.”

He attributed the fresh approach to the arrival of William Keyse Rudolph, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, who accepted the new post in February 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, and moved to Kansas City in May. Rudolph is the former Chief Curator and Co-Interim Director at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).


“William energized and focused the curators on the museum’s collection, and they literally uncovered treasures that have not been seen in years,” Zugazagoitia said. “They also attracted important new gifts to the collection.”

The focus gave curators the opportunity to dive deeply into the collection and to also showcase their years of research and conservation work. They considered how to display some of the museum’s most important works, including stunning, light-sensitive Asian textiles and costumes. They also explored unique stories about how the collection was assembled, with a fascinating exploration of how the earliest founders, policies, and collecting decisions shaped the Nelson-Atkins. The overall effort was supported by the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation and by Paul DeBruce and Linda Woodsmall-DeBruce.

“Art is at the heart of the museum,” Rudolph said. “In the coming months, we are shifting our focus to the nearly limitless possibilities found in the Nelson-Atkins collection and in our community.”

In September, the museum also will open the Creativity Studio, in conjunction with the Asian textiles exhibition, giving visitors an opportunity for experiential reflection and artmaking. The museum’s Education Department worked closely with curators on the delivery of the sweep of exhibitions.

“Through our reflection during the past year, we have increased our commitment to creating a welcoming space for all people,” said Anne Manning, Deputy Director, Education and Interpretation. “These exhibitions and related programs will offer diverse opportunities for visitors to experience the power of human creativity.”

Testimony: African American Artists Collective
June 5, 2021 to March 27, 2022, Gallery L8

Friday night blues by Harold Smith

Testimony embodies the power of speaking one’s own truth and of being called to stand in witness. This exhibition will feature the “testimonies” of nearly 40 artists through their paintings, textiles, poems, sculptures, music, film, jewelry, and dance. The museum was honored to extend an invitation to AAAC members to participate in this inaugural project celebrating local artists. AAAC was formed in 2014 and actively advocates for artists, builds networks, and engages in social justice movements. Many of AAAC’s nearly 150 members have served as partners with the museum in past years.