Major Works by Polly Apfelbaum, Betty Blayton, Angel Otero, and Summer Wheat Added to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art Highlights the Museum’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Major Works by Polly Apfelbaum, Betty Blayton, Angel Otero, and Summer Wheat Added to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art Highlights the Museum’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI––(October 23, 2020)–– Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art announced today the acquisitions of four major works of art by Polly Apfelbaum, Betty Blayton, Angel Otero, and Summer Wheat—all have been presented in exhibitions at the Museum over the past three years.

Betty Blayton’s (American, 1937–2016) Dream Forms #3 (1984) was presented for the first time in 2017 alongside forty-one works by twenty-one women artists of color in the groundbreaking traveling exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today. A longtime New York artist, activist, and educator, Blayton’s brightly colorful monoprint was selected for the exhibition from a larger series she made at the prestigious Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York. Blayton described her inspiration for this work as having stemmed from an art project developed at the Harlem Children’s Art Carnival (CAC), a non-profit arts education center she founded, in which children were instructed to cut out shapes, ink them, and create patterns on paper. Her practice in abstraction she noted in an interview for the exhibition with curators Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina, “grew out of what was in [her] head. And the inspiration that [she] was trying to demonstrate [was to] somehow project feeling as it relates to metaphysical ideas and thoughts [she] was having, and not so much [artistic] tradition,” which gave her freedom to push her concepts into complexly layered compositions. In a statement of the Lifetime Trust of Betty Blayton regarding the acquisitions they express, “We are extremely pleased that the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has honored Betty by acquiring Dream Forms #3, recognizing her talent and lifelong pursuit of excellence as an artist. We are certain that adding this work to their collection will further the museum’s goal of enriching lives through the experience of contemporary art. Through Dream Forms #3, we are certain that guests of the Kemper will experience the joy, creativity and spiritual energy that Betty wished to share with the world.” 

Betty Blayton (American, 1937–2016)
Betty Blayton earned a BFA in painting and illustration from Syracuse University in 1959. She was a longtime educator and cofounder of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and served on its board from 1965 to 1977; cofounder with Victor D’Amico and executive director from 1969 to 1998 of the Harlem Children’s Art Carnival, where a young Jean-Michel Basquiat studied; cofounder and board member of Harlem Textile Works; and she served on the board of the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York. From 1968 to 1994, Blayton was a consultant for the Board of Education of the City of New York and was instrumental in developing arts education curriculum. Blayton is featured in the 1971 documentary film Five, which sketches the lives and works of five African American artists: Betty Blayton, Barbara Chase-Riboud (also part of Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection), Romare Bearden (also part of Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection), Charles White, and Richard Hunt.

Kemper Museum kicked off its twenty-fifth anniversary year in 2019 with the major solo exhibition Polly Apfelbaum: Waiting for the UFOs (a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers) featuring new work by New York-based artist Polly Apfelbaum (American, born 1955). The large-scale colorful rug work Squiggles (2018) joins an earlier work, Split (1998), a favorite of Kemper Museum Permanent Collection amongst visitors. The two side-by-side rectangle rugs that make up Squiggles recall the undulating curves of designer Verner Paton’s (Danish, 1926–1998) futuristic curvilinear lines and wild colors or resemble the late wall drawings of artist Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007) and emphasize Apfelbaum’s broad fields of influence and connection in fine art and design. Complicating the perceived boundaries where fine art and craft merge and evolve, Apfelbaum’s works also permeate aspects of important political movements, in this instance the rainbow colors explicitly referencing and giving reverence to the pride flag, which debuted over forty years earlier and was originally designed by Gilbert Baker (1951–2017), an openly gay activist who grew up in nearby Parsons, Kansas. Apfelbaum says of the work and its connection to the pride flag that it is, “even more relevant today symbolizing our hopeful journey forward. I couldn’t be happier that the piece based on these colors will live in an institution that prides itself on values true to the stripes’ message of sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, serenity, harmony, and spirit.” Apfelbaum has a beautiful, poetic, and generous way of acknowledging art and cultural histories in her work and this acquisition allows Kemper Museum to continue that significant tradition.

Polly Apfelbaum (American, born 1955)
Polly Apfelbaum attended SUNY Purchase College in New York and in 1978 earned a BFA from Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania. Apfelbaum has exhibited internationally since her first solo show in New York City in 1986. Her oeuvre is distinguished by a hybridized aesthetic that encompasses traditions of sculpture, painting, craft, and installation. Color is the key element in her work, both visually and structurally. Apfelbaum’s 2004 major mid-career survey exhibition Polly Apfelbaum was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and traveled to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1998, Apfelbaum was awarded the prestigious Anonymous Was A Woman Grant followed by the Joan Mitchell Grant in 1999, the Rome Prize in 2012–13, a Creative Capital Award and Pew Projects Grant in 2019, among many others.

The 2019 Kemper Museum Atrium Project, Diario by Puerto Rican-born, New York-based artist Angel Otero is the fifth of this major commissioned project series. This massive-scale tapestry-like painting is made from thousands of cut painted pieces (often reused from earlier paintings the artist considered failed) of canvas combined to create a signature collaged work. Otero combines the history of painting and abstraction, some in this work inspired by works in Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection such as Grace Hartigan’s Massacre (1952), with elements of great personal importance, such as objects sourced from antique shops in Kansas City that resemble specific furniture, materials, and patterns from his childhood. Otero notes, ”Although Diario took me a little over a year to complete, one of the most relevant moments during the process was my trips to Kansas City, Missouri. I visited many antique shops trying to find objects or elements that resonated with me and my past, and my memories of growing up in Puerto Rico in some way. Added to that, my engagement with the community of the Kemper Museum, the staff, and everyone involved within the institution is in some way transmitted through the work as well. I think at the end a special bridge evolved between me, the city, and the museum from this process and I truly think that's the most significant element of Diario.” Diario continues Kemper Museum’s initiative to celebrate and give visibility to contemporary Latinx artists.

Angel Otero (b. 1981, Santurce, Puerto Rico; lives and works in Brooklyn, New York)
Angel Otero earned a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007 followed by an MFA from SAIC in 2009. His works has been presented at such institutions as the Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, NC (2012), SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA (2013), Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2016), and the Bronx Museum of the Arts (2017). Otero is the recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Visual Arts. His work is in numerous public and private collections including the Berezdivin Collection, Puerto Rico; Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY; DePaul University Museum, Chicago, IL; Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, Turkey; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; Margulies Collection, Miami, FL; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC; UBS Art Collection, Chicago, IL; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears organized by Kemper Museum debuted ten new works made special for the exhibition, and that align with the museums aims of presenting works by artists who engender change and take on distinctly historical viewpoints with the impetus to correct and give focus to underrepresented people throughout the ages. Wheat’s focus on representing the hard work, inventiveness, and exuberance of women is forefront in Watermelon Seeds (2019), one of the most recent additions to Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection. In this large work, Wheat employs her unique technique of pushing paint through the back of mesh screens showing a female figure  in repose being bathed in watermelon seeds by a community of female figures. Wheat shares the story she heard that if you put a watermelon seed in your mouth and then plant it, as the plant grows it will retain the DNA of that person. In the essay “Feminist Vitality and Wiggling Bodies,” written by Nina Bozicnik for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition she notes that Wheat “makes the hungry woman her subject. The prone figure, with breasts erect and legs akimbo, eagerly and unabashedly guzzles seeds that spill across the picture plane. This luxurious act of insatiable feeding celebrates a woman’s hearty appetite, an inversion of the gendered suppression of hunger - for food but also for pleasure and attention - reproduced across patriarchal society.” Of this acquisition Wheat notes, “It is a great honor to have my painting, Watermelon Seeds, added to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection. My solo exhibition, Blood, Sweat and Tears marked a significant moment in my career. I am thrilled to have a place in the collection alongside a long legacy of important artists who have made great contributions in defining our perceptions of history and culture. In addition, I would like to extend a special thanks to Mary Kemper, Bill and Christy Gautreaux, and Erin Dziedzic for their support of this exhibition. Now more than ever, institutional advocacy is crucial for artists to continue to be a conduit for change.”

Summer Wheat (American, born 1977)
Summer Wheat earned her BA from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005. She has had major solo exhibitions presented at Oklahoma Contemporary (2016), the Henry Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2017), Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY (2018), KMAC Museum, Louisville, KY (2019), Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (2020) and her most recent large-scale installation Foragers is currently at the Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC (2020). Wheat was the recipient of the Artadia NADA award in 2016 and the Northern Trust Prize Purchase, awarded by the Speed Museum of Art at Expo Chicago in 2019. Her works are in major private and public collections including the Dallas Museum of Art, de Young Museum, San Francisco, The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC, and The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY.