Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 64: Kansas City, MO to Lincoln, NE

Kansas City to St. Joseph, MO—55 mi; 1 hr
The Albrecht-Kemper Museum in St. Joseph
St. Joseph to Lincoln—143 mi; 2:19 hrs

This was a day of dramatic contrasts. Our major objective was to get from Kansas City to Lincoln, Nebraska, but on the way we planned to have lunch and take in a little art at the Albrect-Kemper Museum in St. Joseph. The temperature was pleasant; the sky was overcast but bright.

The Albrecht-Kemper is like a ladies' club with an art collection. When we purchased our tickets, we were advised to make our lunch reservation, and while we were looking at art, ladies came streaming in for the Kiwanis meeting and the Mah Jong luncheon, treating the staff like their own. The building even looks like a club, with parquet floors in the meeting areas, designer hanging lamps, and carved plaster ceiling medallions. When we went in for lunch, a table was reserved for us in a very large dining room. We both had the chicken caesar salad, which was better than average.

Entrance to the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art

This description sounds much like the description I wrote of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and it is interesting to note that the major funder of both museums is R. Crosby Kemper, a wealthy art philanthropist. The St. Joseph museum was originally the Albrecht Museum, a struggling affair with a small art collection that was started by a dozen ladies several decades ago in a fancy private residence. Kemper took it under his wing, financed an enlargement, and added his name.

During lunch, a paunchy fellow who looked a bit like a tavern-keeper, came in to greet the Mah Jong club, which occupied a large table at a little distance from ours. After joshing with the ladies for awhile, he came by our table. He didn't introduce himself, but he talked like the curator. He said that he was proud of a new acquisition by Jamie Wyeth. He said that five years ago he had pointed out to Mr. Kemper that they had works by N.C., Andrew, and Henriette Wyeth, and what they needed was something by Jamie to complete the set. Kemper had come up with this one.

The museum did have a nice little set of works by the Wyeth family. I appreciate that Kemper collects Henriette Wyeth, Andrew's sister; the Kemper Contemporary in Kansas City also had one on show. She is not as talented as the famous Andrew, but her works are sensitive.

Henriette Wyeth, 1907-1997
Dutch Iris and Hyacinth, c. 1948

Another woman lesser-known woman artist painted a work that appealed to me in a personal way. Emily Dubowski is a contemporary photo-realist who advertises heavily on the internet, and some of her work seems self-consciously commercial. However, in the 1970s, when this work was painted, I used to visit an aging aunt who looked very like this, and she would greet me on her rickety front porch.

Emily Dubowski, contemporary
Sunday Visit, 1972

R. Crosby Kemper also seems to like my favorite female artist, Janet Fish. Great paintings by this artist were displayed in both of his museums. In this one, I love the reflection of the cow—or is the cow seen through the pitcher—and the texture of the cloth, and the energetic sky. It doesn't get much better than this.

Janet Fish, b. 1938
Cows, 1990

The museum also paid a nod to women sculptors, with a small work by the most collected woman sculptor in the country, Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield models horses using natural materials, such as twigs and banana leaves, and then casts them in bronze. A special patina gives them a natural look.

Deborah Butterfield, b. 1949
Untitled, 1992

Of course, art by men dominated the galleries. The collection seems rather haphazard, but it definitely has some stars. Here is a subtly humorous work by a California hero, Wayne Thiebaud.

Wayne Thiebaud, b. 1920
Man Sitting—Back View, 1964

Here's a blatantly humorous piece by Red Grooms. Grooms is another artist whose work was on display at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City. He did a long series of works that caricatured other artists. The humor is blatant if you know a little about art. Robert Rauschenberg liked to make combines—wall art that combined paint with real objects. One of his most famous pieces has an unmade bed as its apparent subject.

Robert Rauschenberg's "Bed" (1955)
Museum of Modern Art
Internet grab
Grooms referred to this and other works by Rauschenberg in his caricature of the artist.

Red Grooms, b. 1937
Bedtime for Rauschenberg, 1991

At least half of the museum's exhibit space was devoted to large shows by a few local artists who held no interest for us.

We got under way around 2 o'clock, driving through nondescript farm country in northern Missouri. Before it passes into Nebraska, the Interstate highway makes a brief dip into Iowa. About that time the sky grew darker and a wind came up. By 2:45 the rain was pelting the windshield so hard that I made a movie of it on my iPad. During a let-up, we pulled off the highway for a rest break at Wendy's. When we came out, the wind and rain were so strong we could hardly get in the car. We started to pull out of the parking lot, but at 3:30—I checked my watch—the day turned to night and rain blew in thick sheets. The wind nearly toppled the stop sign at the nearby intersection. Suddenly there was no traffic on the road. Everyone had got off the road at the same time, filling several parking lots that ran together. We decided to stay put, and Dan re-parked the car. We had some dark and scary thoughts, but the storm lasted only 15 minutes. Then the light returned and the rain gradually lessened, so we got back on the road, feeling like we had survived some terrible danger.

After we were in Nebraska a short while, the sky turned blue and put on a show of buttermilk clouds.

So we viewed a lady-like boutique museum in the morning, and in the afternoon, we waited out a blinding thunderstorm.

In Lincoln, our Comfort Suites Motel turned out to be a long way from downtown, which is not what we had expected, and that made us cranky. We have a nice big room and a bathroom with a big counter.

Across the parking lot are two restaurants, a Mexican place and a pizza pub. We went for Mexican. La Paz turned out to be quite good. Dan got a steak with rice and beans, a perfect combination in his mind. I had a chicken tostada.