The Nelson-Atkins Press Release
Museum Announces Five Exhibitions

Nelson-Atkins Announces Vibrant Line-up of Exhibitions

June Show to Feature African American Artists Collective

Kansas City, MO, April 13, 2021 – During the months of upheaval caused by the pandemic, when the art world shifted away from traveling exhibitions and international loans, curators at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art used the time to look deeply at the museum’s collection of more than 42,000 works of art. They uncovered treasures stored for many years and imagined a sweep of upcoming exhibitions that would focus on the museum’s holdings. The result is a lineup referred to as Past, Present, Future, because the exhibitions will encompass a vast period of time, featuring works that range from an ancient brick made in Mesopotamia to contemporary art created in Kansas City.

Also during recent months, staff members worked with community partners to strengthen common goals and to explore possible projects. The museum was honored to extend an invitation to artists from the Kansas City-based African American Artists Collective to exhibit their dynamic works.

Together, the exhibitions will fill Bloch Building galleries from June 2021 through March 2022, giving visitors a cascading calendar of openings for five exhibitions. The first show, Testimony: African American Artists Collective, will open June 5. That will be followed by Castles, Cottages, and Crime, opening July 10; Origins: Collecting to Create the Nelson-Atkins, opening Aug. 14; Weaving Splendor: Treasures of Asian Textiles, opening Sept. 25; and Art of Illusion: Photography and Perceptual Play, opening Oct. 22.

“This past year was very difficult for the museum, as it was for people around the world,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-A tkins. “Nevertheless, our teams showed tremendous thoughtfulness and resiliency. It was a time for reflection on our own history as a museum, our role in social justice issues, and how we can respond to the many important shifts in our culture.”

The pandemic greatly affected the traditional work of curators and other staff members, who are often charged with organizing large-scale exhibitions and researching scholarly publications. At the Nelson-Atkins, team members pivoted to an examination of art and culture in their midst, all with the goal of presenting relevant exhibitions to visitors.

“I watched our teams reach new heights of both empathy and creativity,” Zugazagoitia said. “I am delighted that we have new exhibitions that will celebrate our collection and also will showcase talent here in Kansas City.”

He attributed the fresh approach to the arrival of William Keyse Rudolph, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, who accepted the new post in February 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, and moved to Kansas City in May. Rudolph is the former Chief Curator and Co-Interim Director at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).

“William energized and focused the curators on the museum’s collection, and they literally uncovered treasures that have not been seen in years,” Zugazagoitia said. “They also attracted important new gifts to the collection.”

The focus gave curators the opportunity to dive deeply into the collection and to also showcase their years of research and conservation work. They considered how to display some of the museum’s most important works, including stunning, light-sensitive Asian textiles and costumes. They also explored unique stories about how the collection was assembled, with a fascinating exploration of how the earliest founders, policies, and collecting decisions shaped the Nelson-Atkins. The overall effort was supported by the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation and by Paul DeBruce and Linda Woodsmall-DeBruce.

“Art is at the heart of the museum,” Rudolph said. “In the coming months, we are shifting our focus to the nearly limitless possibilities found in the Nelson-Atkins collection and in our community.”

In September, the museum also will open the Creativity Studio, in conjunction with the Asian textiles exhibition, giving visitors an opportunity for experiential reflection and artmaking. The museum’s Education Department worked closely with curators on the delivery of the sweep of exhibitions.

“Through our reflection during the past year, we have increased our commitment to creating a welcoming space for all people,” said Anne Manning, Deputy Director, Education and Interpretation. “These exhibitions and related programs will offer diverse opportunities for visitors to experience the power of human creativity.”

The exhibitions are listed below in order of their opening dates.

Testimony: African American Artists Collective
June 5, 2021 to March 27, 2022, Gallery L8

Testimony embodies the power of speaking one’s own truth and of being called to stand in witness. This exhibition will feature the “testimonies” of nearly 40 artists through their paintings, textiles, poems, sculptures, music, film, jewelry, and dance. The museum was honored to extend an invitation to AAAC members to participate in this inaugural project celebrating local artists. AAAC was formed in 2014 and actively advocates for artists, builds networks, and engages in social justice movements. Many of AAAC’s nearly 150 members have served as partners with the museum in past years.

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Castles, Cottages, and Crime
July 10, 2021 to March 6, 2022, Gallery L15

Hidden in storage for more than 40 years is a collection of small Victorian ceramic buildings, made between 1840 and 1860, by Staffordshire potteries in England’s West Midlands. They would have been found in British homes in the 19th century, perhaps sitting on mantels as decoration or being used as pastille burners, much like incense burners. Smoke would have slipped out of the miniature chimneys and windows, improving the aroma of Victorian homes. Some are cottages from a romanticized rural life, and others represent castles and buildings of the time. A few depict “murder houses” where actual crimes were committed. The collection of buildings was the gift of Richard A. Wood in memory of Virginia Conklin Wood.

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Origins: Collecting to Create the Nelson-Atkins
Aug. 14, 2021 to March 6, 2022, Gallery L13

In the earliest days of the Nelson-Atkins, when the museum was only a vision, curators and founding trustees made choices about what art to purchase and display in Kansas City. The exhibition will showcase those first acquisitions: from archaeological excavations in present-day Iraq (which yielded a Mesopotamia brick), to the first acquisitions Laurence Sickman made in China, to the earliest beginnings of the Native American collections, thanks to a purchase from Kansas City’s own Fred Harvey Company. The exhibition will bring alive the remarkable stories of how a major museum formed in the Depression-era Midwest. It is organized by the Nelson-Atkins and supported by the Marion and Henry Bloch Foundation.

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Weaving Splendor: Treasures of Asian Textiles
Sept. 25, 2021 to March 6, 2022, Gallery L14

For the first time in decades, the Nelson-Atkins will display rarely seen Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Persian clothing, costumes, and textiles. Made with fine materials, exemplary techniques, and artistry, Asian luxury textiles were central to global trade. The sumptuous textiles in this exhibition conveyed the identities, status, and taste of both local and international patrons and consumers. Luxurious costumes of the court performed power, while striking theater robes brought stage characters to life. Sturdy wall hangings and furniture covers transformed palaces, temples, and homes, while shimmering tapestry-woven carpets were created as diplomatic gifts for foreign rulers. The extraordinary stories of these treasures of the collection take visitors on an irreducible journey across continents, from the 1500s to today. This exhibition is supported by Sara and Bill Morgan, and the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts – Commerce Bank, Trustee.

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Art of Illusion: Photography and Perceptual Play
Oct. 22, 2021 to April 25, 2022, Gallery L11

Further enlivening the Bloch Buildings in October, a new exhibition will open in the photography galleries. Art of Illusion explores intriguing images from the museum’s permanent collection, including many recent acquisitions never before on view. The majority of featured artists use a range of non-digital techniques, maneuvering their subjects and camera controls to create visual puzzles that toy with our understanding of space, scale, and distance. Collectively, these works highlight the complex relationship between reality, visual perception, and camera vision. The exhibition is organized by the Nelson-Atkins and supported by the Hall Family Foundation.

View Exhibition

For all upcoming exhibitions, the museum’s Media Partner is The Independent.

Image captions

African American Artists Collective. Photo by Jim Barcus.
Harold Smith, American (born 1962). Friday Night Blues, 2021. Acrylic, spray paint, fabric on canvas. 48 x 60 inches (129.9 x 152.4 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
English, Staffordshire. Pastille Burner in the form of a Cottage, about 1840–1860. Glazed earthenware with polychrome enamel decorations and gilding; 4-3/4 x 4 in. (12.065 x 10.16 cm.)Gift of Richard A. Wood in memory of Virginia Conklin Wood, 2021.5.11.
Raven Mask, ca. 1870. Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl), British Columbia, Canada. Wood, pigment, metal, and cedar bark. 11 1/4 x 11 x 42 inches (28.58 x 27.94 x 106.68 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 31-125/7.
One Hundred Cranes Imperial Robe (detail), Chinese, Late 17th-early 18th century Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Embroidered damask, 57 7/8 x 91 inches. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 35-275.
Lilly McElroy (American, born 1980). I Control the Sun #18, 2016. Inkjet print. 17 1/16 x 17 1/16 inches. Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2020.5.4.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The museum, which strives to be the place where the power of art engages the spirit of community, opens its doors free of charge to people of all backgrounds. The museum is an institution that both challenges and comforts, that both inspires and soothes, and it is a destination for inspiration, reflection and connecting with others.

The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the museum is a key educational resource for the region. In 2017, the Nelson-Atkins celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Bloch Building, a critically acclaimed addition to the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit

For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art