Siah Armajani: Dialogue With Democracy One of this nation's most important public-art figures, Siah Armajani was born in Iran in 1939 but is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. In commissioned work all over the country, he typically suggests the ideals of a society that encourage open dialogue among its citizenry. His sculptures emerge from a love for the language of architecture: Houses, gazebos, doors and windows become sites of convergence that underline his devotion to democratic ideals. Often described as neighborly, his work allows the interplay of humans by walking across a bridge or by gathering within a structure or a site (such as the plaza in New York City's Battery Park). From the Atlanta Olympics Torch to a lighthouse and bridge on Staten Island, Armajani's works are connective tissue linking us physically and metaphorically. This exhibition from the Nelson's permanent collection, including photos, hand-built maquettes and a couple of large-scale sculptures, gives viewers an excellent opportunity to place Armajani's work in context. "Backdoor — Frontdoor," for example, is a redwood structure whose access and egress — or lack thereof, because there are no handles or knobs, and nothing moves — introduces broader ideas about who has access to certain rights and who doesn't. This politically effective exhibition confirms that enthusiasm for Jeffersonian democracy isn't always homegrown. Through Sept. 21 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4545 Oak, 816-751-1278.
Human Nature: Recent European Landscape Photography Leave it to Northern Europeans, with their deeply satisfying landscape tradition, to create luminous photographs of the land. Of the 10 photographers in this exhibition, it's the Belgians, Dutch and Germans who provide the most emotive and even mystical images. Belgian artist Bart Michiels focuses his gaze on the death fields of World War I. In "Passchendaele, 1917, Goudberg," beautiful pumpkins dot the earth in a showy gesture of fecundity. Yet here, more than 1.5 million men lost their lives. Michiels' image is charged with the burden of history, but his cheery orange gourds suggest that while lives are temporal, the land endures and thrives. On the other hand, Italian artist Massimo Vitale's scenes are peopled with tourists who compromise the land, changing its shape and purpose. And German Peter Bialobrzeski captures monumental panoramic views. Rendered in multiple shades of white, "Heimat 27, Bayerischer Wald" depicts a snow-covered mountaintop surrounded by fantastical snow-drenched conifers. Far from dominating the landscape as they do in Vitale's photographs, the tiny figures here serve to magnify the natural world and amplify our magical relationship with its perfection. Through Oct. 5 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278.