Art: Rashid Johnson, Antoine's Organ

I'd never been to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, MO until a friend guided me there on a recent sunny day, the kind of day one shouldn't be in a museum but that my fair skin, intolerance of heat, and ability to competitively sweat found welcome. Wandering around the museum I was struck by a few Francis Bacon's, the out of focus, figurative painter whose work tends to look the way I feel if awake after 1:30am. But it was one piece in the museum that literally stopped me in my slow, gallery paced tracks: Antoine's Organ by Rashid Johnson.

From floor to ceiling, a living, breathing, resonating sculpture beckoned from within the space; an installation combining video, music, horticulture, literature as object and more. A metal grid (think more sturdy garage/dorm shelving) stacked high created spaces for objects to sit and purely exist, waiting for one to come along and infer their meaning. Chunks of shea butter carved into totems, nearby the oily boxes the medium came in, small monitors with early video pieces of Johnson's, large potted plants reaching for the light, neon tubes illuminating, a pristine, shining upright piano slowly becoming visible in the heart of the sculpture as one's eyes start to un-focus through the jumble of symbols. The whole thing was an organism whose identity was sculpted by those around it, whose presence was acknowledged by interaction. It was like I was meeting a new person, trying to uncover the chosen signifiers that they chose to define themselves- my introduction so aptly interrupted by a security guard ("Can I touch that button hanging there that looks like it wants to speak to me?" "No. Thanks for asking."). Seeing museum go-ers engage and uncover was incredible. Seeing this piece in the Midwest was also incredible, a far contextual cry from Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea NYC where it previously exhibited...

This is, literally, a vital work of contemporary art. Its plants produce oxygen. Its piano, music. Its symbols must be put together by a human being trying to understand the overwhelming complexity of the thing they encounter, watching others as they do the same, learning about ones own preconceived ideas in the process. This piece of art is a reminder that there is humanity in understanding, and that this understanding can be found in beauty, history and experience. So rarely does contemporary art face reality in such a stunning, bold, lush vision- it's not merely a must see, it's a must breathe, listen, taste, feel and, most importantly, live. On view until May 21st.

(photo credits, top to bottom: 1, 2, 3)



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.