Visual Arts

Issues, activism, humor on the docket for new curator’s exhibits at La Esquina

Updated: 2013-10-20T04:24:45Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

In the coming months, a young curator from Chicago will energize the Kansas City art scene with an infusion of talent and an engaged activist vision.

Picture an enormous sock puppet made by placing a huge athletic sock fitted with eyeballs over a 4,000-pound robotic arm decommissioned from a Detroit auto plant.

That’s just one of the works that Danny Orendorff, 29, will bring for his first show as the Charlotte Street Foundation’s 2013-14 curator-in-residence.

Opening Friday at the foundation’s La Esquina gallery, “We’ll Make Out Better Than Okay” takes a playful look at the human cost of the recession. The show, which takes its title from a line in the theme song from TV’s “Roseanne,” will feature works in a variety of media, including neon signs, embroidery and engraved marble from a failed bank on Chicago’s South Side.

“Over the course of the last year, I’ve paid a lot of attention to absurdities relating to health care and property that reminded me of existential fiction,” Orendorff said in a recent interview at La Esquina. “I began to notice tendencies among artists to address very real and very serious issues, such as debt, minimum wage, unemployment and foreclosed properties.”

The giant sock puppet, created by Chicago-based Mike Simi, moves and talks, complaining about its new status as an artwork after losing its job making cars.

“There’s so much Detroit detritus,” Orendorff said. “I like the way Mike is literally ventriloquizing a piece of failed manufacturing equipment from the auto industry.”

Another artist in the show is New York-based Steve Lambert, whose 5-foot neon sign enjoins viewers to “Give and Give and Give.” The piece follows Lambert’s 2011 “Capitalism Works for Me! True/False.” That piece toured the country registering everyday people’s responses and is now in Times Square.

“I’ve always had a foot in social justice causes,” Orendorff said. “I like artists who do things with street-level language, not the ivory tower. Humor (is) a great entryway to discuss problems.”

The 15 artists in “We’ll Make Out Better” include such well-known names as Theaster Gates, who engraved a bank bond certificate on the piece of marble from the failed Chicago bank. Kansas City is represented by Jennifer Boe, who will show her two-panel embroidery, “Always Save and Phillip Morris” (2007), featuring images of Christ wearing corporate logos.

Orendorff completed his master’s in modern art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May, and he already boasts an impressive list of exhibits at spaces around the country. They include a 2010 exhibit for SF Camerawork Gallery in San Francisco, which explored themes of queer activism and alternative world views.

In June, Chicagomag.com named him one of “Six Young Art Curators You Should Know.”

Aesthetically, Orendorff has a history of gravitating toward do-it-yourself and craft-based works. He honed that tendency during a stint as assistant director of the Renegade Craft Fair, a national art fair focusing on handmade creations, founded in Chicago in 2003.

He will showcase those leanings with a vengeance in his second exhibit for Charlotte Street. The starting point of “The Tyranny of Good Taste” is the idea that “art is useless and a waste of time.”

Featured works will include Utah-based Cara-Lynne Krebs’ unruly constructions incorporating bread, plastic, glass, jelly beans, glitterfoam and carpet padding, and sculptures by Brandon Anschultz from St. Louis.

“He’s a mad scientist,” Orendorff said of Anschultz, who embeds objects in sponges that he dips in different vats of latex paint before slicing them in half.

The exhibit will feature 16 artists who spend vast amounts of time creating works with no regard for conventions of taste or expectations of sales.

“With the fiscal crisis, artists are unemployed and underemployed,” Orendorff said. “Making a choice implies a particular orientation towards capitalism.”

Works by Garry Noland and Jaimie Warren from Kansas City will be part of “The Tyranny of Good Taste,” which will open at Columbia College in Chicago before coming to Kansas City in February.

Orendorff recently learned that his application for a craft research fund grant from the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, in Hendersonville, N.C., was successful. That means he will have $8,000 to spend on his third show, “Loving After Lifetimes of All This.” He said the theme is heritage, and it will explore the use of protest and art to forge intergenerational connections, particularly among disadvantaged populations.

The exhibit will look at the Native American struggle for land rights and ownership and other historical injustices, Orendorff said. One of the artists, Tina Takemoto from San Francisco, is researching the LGBT experience in the Japanese-American internment camps.

“There’s the version of Japanese internment camps written by the American government, and there’s a version written by those interned there,” Orendorff said. “I’m interested in hearing the stories of those that were prisoners.”

Orendorff said his personal “art hook moment” occurred a decade ago, when he saw a video by British artist Gillian Wearing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

“I’d never seen things so bizarre and so important,” he said.

Orendorff has viewed and exhibited a lot of art since then and will further establish his curatorial voice during his months in Kansas City. He will be here until July, teaching courses in arts writing and professional development at University of Missouri-Kansas City (currently) and the Kansas City Art Institute (spring).

He’s loving every moment of it.

“Looking around at all the opportunities for emerging curators, Charlotte Street is the one that offers full authorship of a space and an exhibition program and the chance to bring an unfiltered voice to those projects,” he said. “It’s a dream.”

On exhibit

“We’ll Make Out Better Than Okay,” opens with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday at La Esquina, 1000 W. 25th St., and continues through Dec. 20. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays. For more information, call 816-221-5115 or go to CharlotteStreet.org.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4763 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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