art exhibitions 

American Soil In the elegant and subtle new Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, architect Kyu Sung Woo has designed a light-filled space whose primary duty is to showcase art, not itself. Inaugurating the first-floor galleries is an exhibition in which diverse images suggest landscape in its broadest possible sense. Los Angeles artist Tomory Dodge creates monumental and unknowable landscapes that examine the sometimes real and sometimes fictional places on society's outer edge. New York artist Brad Kahlhamer's large works on paper resonate with multiple ideologies: In "Waqui Totem USA," Kahlhamer piles skulls, stylized totem figures, eagle heads and a small painted scene from The Searchers into a densely packed image. Chicago artist Angelina Gualdoni paints buildings in precarious and sometimes creepy settings; her gorgeous, liquid treatment of the paint heightens the decaying impact on once-utopian buildings and places. In her focused mapping, Brooklyn-based Nicola Lopez suggests the fractured nature of attempts to plot out urban areas, which can change almost overnight, or to map ourselves into any one place. Through Jan. 27 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 12345 College Boulevard in Overland Park, 913-469-2344. (Dana Self)

Charlotte Street Foundation Awards Exhibition James Trotter's exuberant installation includes multiple drawings in his cartooning style and a site-specific piece involving a wooden platform and dozens of plastic toys, decorations, Mr. Peanut plastic banks, vintage games and similar items. The piece suggests the intense interest that we have in things. Jessica Kincaid's small, beaded tapestries similarly emerge from a personal tradition — she collected beads as a child. Cody Critcheloe's video incorporates components of punk, dance, MTV and other significant cultural markers; despite its deliberate flamboyance, the piece has a humanizing earnestness to it. A quiet and steady counterpoint to the visual and likable cacophony of Critcheloe's and Trotter's pieces is Emily Sall's large wall installation, "BOOM-BURG," made from adhesive vinyl attached to the wall. Deceptively simple in appearance, the piece is a complex approach to spatial relationships. Each artist's strength is illuminated by proximity to the others; each piece tends to dominate the space but doesn't overpower or crowd the others. Through Jan. 19 at Grand Arts, 1819 Grand, 816-421-6887. (Dana Self)

Looking West This exhibition could have been an eloquent disquisition on the uneven American cultural fascination with "the West" — its history and politics, ideas of American expansionism, racism, colonialism and American Indian rights. Instead, work in the exhibition seems to have been chosen simply because it in some way visually refers to cowboys, Indians and some western landscapes. Precious few of the artists here evoke the important issues or simply make interesting work. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's prints combine iconic images of mythical animals and humans, drawn with a deliberately naïve hand to form a pastiche of personal and political commentary on issues facing American Indians as well as the environment. Appropriating images from TV and movies, Gordon McConnell suggests a mythic ideology that popular culture embraced — and often still does — about Manifest Destiny. Photographers Larry Schwarm and Wes Lyle document the beauty of the Kansas prairies and the lives of those who populate the Midwest, respectively. Through Feb. 1 at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut, 816-474-3250. (Dana Self)

Past, Present, Future Perfect: Selections From the Ovitz Family Collection It's interesting to see what powerful and moneyed art enthusiasts collect. Creative Artists Agency co-founder and former Disney president Michael Ovitz and his wife, Judy, began collecting art in the 1970s. Their Ovitz Family Collection is based in Los Angeles. The H&R Block Artspace doesn't provide this sort of context, which would help viewers understand the Ovitzes' intent and vision. Of particular note are a monumental Jules de Balincourt painting in the front gallery and some Julie Mehretu paintings, but here's an insider tip: Go upstairs for Dan Flavin's seminal fluorescent-light sculptures. There, colors wash over the wall, showing off Flavin's devotion to the properties and aesthetic possibilities of light. Like Marcel Duchamp before him, Flavin declared that an ordinary object — in this case, a light tube — could stand on its own as a work of art. Through Feb. 2 at the H&R Block Artspace (by appointment only Dec. 15-Jan. 5), 816-561-5563. (Dana Self)

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