Crowds went wild for this ode to Custer created in Kansas City

Patience frayed like a discarded artist’s brush, L.C. Alexander, owner of the St. James Hotel, wanted his money. The debt was $450, reported the Kansas City Times of March 31, 1884, “in the shape of borrowed money and an unpaid board bill of four years standing.” When skipping town, John Mulvany had left some things behind, including two paintings, “The Old Professor” and “Love’s Mirror,” depicting Venus about to bathe in a brook. A year later, the paintings were auctioned off in a Jackson County sheriff’s sale for less than $450. Fortunately, one canvas, 20 feet wide and 11 feet high, the size of a wall, was beyond the lawman’s reach. That was Mulvany’s masterpiece, “Custer’s Last Rally.” At the time of the auction, it was still on its 17-year, coast-to-coast tour attracting paying and appreciative audiences. Artist John Mulvany painted his masterpiece, “Custer’s Last Rally,” in Kansas City. The Irish-born artist’s depiction of desperation and doom above the Little Bighorn is largely forgotten today. As is the fact that it was quietly dabbed here. “That such a work has been produced in Kansas City shows that art is not neglected even in the midst of a great commercial activity that so distinctively marks this growing metropolis,” noted a Kansas City Daily Journal reporter, given a viewing before the canvas was packed onto a Boston-bound train. When the painting was presented in 1881 in Eastern halls, full orchestras would blast out martial music as it was unveiled. Walt Whitman oohed; Custer’s widow swooned. Before the decade was over, pickle king H.J. Heinz would pay $25,000 for the work, a staggering sum for the time. It’s valued in the millions now. Fame had finally visited Mulvany, who had toiled under photographer Mathew Brady during the Civil War and then trained under masters in Munich and Amsterdam. But by 1906, poor, Continue Reading

New UMKC Chancellor promises ‘something spectacular’ for Kansas City

With a standing ovation and a new victory chant, the University of Missouri Kansas-City community on Friday welcomed new chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal to campus. Agrawal, now vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was named UMKC Chancellor by University of Missouri System President Mun Choi on Tuesday. Friday morning, with his wife of 30 years, Sue, looking on, he addressed students, faculty, administrators, and members of Kansas City government, business community and civic leadership for the first time. Agrawal, who said he came from humble beginnings in his native India, where his parents made immense personal sacrifice to assure that he got the best education, talked about arriving in the United States as a student with only $100 in his pocket, a suitcase full of clothes and “living the American dream.” He pledged to be a bridge that would bring the university and the best of Kansas City together to “make something spectacular” happen during his tenure. When he researched the city, “I nearly fell off my chair,” Agrawal said. “It is on so many top-10 lists, high paying jobs, entrepreneurship, city’s to watch, music scene and yes, barbeque.” Agrawal called Kansas City “a hidden gem,” and said UMKC “has all the elements that it needs to make a great university... The combination of UMKC and Kansas City if put together in a very dynamic, symbiotic partnership can make extraordinary things happen here.” He promised that UMKC’s more than 16,000 students would be the focus of everything he does at the university. “The most important reason for working at a university is to inspire and prepare students,” said Agrawal, who for the first time in his career this year is not teaching an academic course. “You will have a friend in me,” he told UMKC faculty. And the staff, he said, “is the glue that holds the university Continue Reading

‘Astounding’ World War I painting on loan from UK coming to Kansas City

The painting is so large the museum had to build a special exhibit space for it. The 9-foot-by-21-foot painting on loan from the United Kingdom will be the first exhibit in the new Wylie Gallery at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City from Feb. 23 to June 3. “Gassed,” by American artist John Singer Sargent, depicts British soldiers blinded by a gas attack on the Western Front, hands on the shoulder of the man in front as they are guided to a medical station. “This is a pretty astounding thing for us to be able to have it here on loan and on exhibition,” said Doran Cart, senior curator at the museum at Liberty Memorial. “We’re highly regarded by the Imperial War Museums” in England. “Their director general is on our international advisory board, and she’s been here.” Sargent witnessed this scene in the aftermath of a mustard gas attack near Arras, France, in August 1918, just weeks before the Armistice ended the war. Scenes like this had become routine, which explains why other soldiers can be seen playing soccer in the background. “‘Gassed’ is a national treasure in the United Kingdom, and bringing this magnificent painting to the National World War I Museum and Memorial stands as one of the most important achievements in our history,” museum President Matthew Naylor said. Bringing it is no simple task. Officials here had this painting in mind when they designed a new 3,500-square-foot Wylie Gallery in previously empty space beneath the deck of the Liberty Memorial. Oversize doors from a loading dock were necessary to fit the painting inside. It will occupy nearly the entire center wall of the new space. Because the work, in oil on canvas, cannot be rolled or folded, it has to be shipped within a crate as big as it is, weighing about a ton. The painting will travel here from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville in a climate-controlled truck and Continue Reading

Kansas City’s streetcar, which began service in 2016, is considered a success. Could it work in Omaha?

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in November, people filled a shiny streetcar as it hummed through downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Most of the 38 blue plastic seats were occupied. Several dozen more people stood. They held onto stainless steel poles, or to loops dangling from bars connected to the ceiling. Office workers talked about their lunch plans. Field-tripping high school students chattered. Retirees Ona Ashley and her real-bearded Santa Claus husband, Roy Poe, took it all in as they stood in the middle of the crowd. They had driven in from the suburbs to try Kansas City’s new RideKC streetcar. They smiled through their glide through a revived downtown. “It’s wonderful,” Ashley said. “We would have loved to have this when we worked downtown,” Poe said. “It feels,” Ashley said, “like we are progressing.” Cities across the nation are similarly trying to go back to the future with a streetcar. The K.C. streetcar began running May 6, 2016. It joined about 20 other U.S. cities that have launched streetcar lines since Portland, Oregon, began the recent trend in 2001. Streetcars are under construction in four more cities, including Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and St. Louis in the Midwest. More than 20 other cities are planning or considering streetcars. Omaha is among them. The proposals are controversial, nationally as well as locally. Some of the new streetcars have struggled with ridership, service and finances, notably in Cincinnati. In Omaha, the streetcar is far from a done deal. No formal plan has been proposed to the City Council or the public. A consultant is working on a federally subsidized engineering and cost study for the City of Omaha and Metro transit agency. A report is expected by the end of December. It’s expected to update and provide more detail to a previous cost estimate of $156 million to build a downtown-midtown streetcar line, and $7.5 million a year to Continue Reading

Kansas City sicko kept detailed diary, photos of sex torture, bondage and murder

On April 2, 1988, Christopher Bryson, 22, leaped from the second story of a house on Charlotte St. in Kansas City and ran for his life. He was wearing a dog collar and nothing else. Bryson told police a tale of four days of torture, sodomy and terror at the hands of the man who lived there, Robert Berdella, 39. Although bruised, drugged and abused, Bryson was luckier than six other “guests” of a monster who would soon be known as the “Butcher of Kansas City.” Those young men left the premises stuffed into dog-food bags that were dumped in the garbage. All had been chopped into small pieces. Berdella’s corpse disposal method was so creative he might have gotten away with the murders, except for one thing. He kept detailed notes — a torture diary, illustrated with more than 350 Polaroid photographs of his victims. Entries were brief, clinical and in shorthand. “EK,” for example, was Berdella’s way of noting that he had subjected his victim to electro-shock with a 7,700-volt neon-sign transformer he kept in a bedroom. “CP” was his abbreviation for chlorpromazine, one of the drugs he used to control his hostages. Berdella owned and bred Chow Chow dogs and obtained sedatives usually used on animals through veterinary supply sources. There were notations on sexual positions and reactions, methods of punishing his victims like injecting drain cleaner into the voice box or caulking ears shut, as well as details of the physical condition of his subjects, whether they were awake, snoring or unresponsive. A final notation for one victim was simply “86.” Berdella, born on Jan. 31, 1949, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, showed no early signs of a budding serial sex slayer. Problems emerged in the mid-1960s, after his father died and his mother remarried. The boy became increasingly withdrawn, absorbed by stamp and coin collections and letter writing to pen pals. It was around this time he saw Continue Reading

Nick Cave Soundsuits invade Cranbrook — and Detroit

When Nick Cave arrived at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1987, he was the only African American in his class. He felt as out of place on the idyllic suburban campus in Bloomfield Hills as a penguin on the prairie.Cave escaped as often as he could to Detroit, where he was able to reaffirm his cultural identity within the rich texture of black life in the city, especially the dance and music scenes."That was the first time I had to look at myself as a black male, and it was a struggle to find my place," said the 56-year-old Chicago-based artist. "Detroit allowed Cranbrook to work for me, to find a balance."Nearly 30 years later, Cave returns to Cranbrook as an art-world star, best known for his innovative, wearable Soundsuits that connect the dots between sculpture, fashion design, performance art and the politics of race. About 40 of them comprise the core of Cave's major solo exhibition, "Here Hear," that opens Saturday at the Cranbrook Art Museum. Related: Artist Nick Cave launches ambitious projects in DetroitBut Cave has also never forgotten the strength he drew from Detroit. To repay the debt he insisted that his exhibition be accompanied by a broader presence in the city. The result is a series of artistic collaborations through October — Cave calls them "invasions" — that will bring his Soundsuits, dance-infused performances and more into the marrow of the city. These include Sunday afternoon's kick-off celebration in the Brightmoor neighborhood in northwest Detroit."I want to be a change agent," Cave said. "We're working with groups of musicians and dancers. I want to help the collective, to be an instigator. I'm trying to bring the diversity together instead of segregation, boundaries and division."The invasions began earlier in the spring. On a Friday morning in May, Cave boogied to the syncopated industrial beat of a clanging assembly line at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne while dressed in a suit so weird and wonderful that it Continue Reading

How New York can become a genius magnet: The art of engineering a 21st century science center

Mayor Bloomberg - looking for a bold project to secure his legacy - is offering up a treasure chest of free land and $100 million in new infrastructure to lure a top university to create a world-class applied science campus in New York City. Now the speed-dating begins for the city to find a life partner to build this campus. In the process, New York City should not settle for an incremental upgrade to the college campus. This is a historic opportunity to draw on new ideas to build a true science and technology institution of the future. Here are seven elements that New York City officials should look for in considering its proposals: 1. Put entrepreneurs at the center. As obvious as this may seem, this rarely occurs in American higher education. Only a handful of universities in the U.S. give tenure credit for entrepreneurship activities. In New York, the Center for an Urban Future has extensively documented the tendency of our local universities to license discoveries rather than spin off startups, reducing the number of local jobs created. The new campus needs to teach scientists and engineers how to be entrepreneurs by including or partnering with a business school. 2. Open up technology transfer. The current system used by most universities to license research discoveries slows down the process of turning laboratory breakthroughs into products and services. An intriguing proposal by Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation to introduce competition to the process - allowing faculty to choose licensing agents of their own - demands serious consideration if the Bloomberg administration truly hopes for a large and rapid economic impact. 3. Connect it to an art or design school. There are deep connections between art and science. In New York, we've seen this synergy most recently at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where in recent years a nexus of artists and computer experts have churned out startups like Foursquare and MegaPhone Labs - which are turning New Continue Reading

Controversial painting ‘La Belle Ferronniere’, once thought to be a da Vinci, sells for $1.5M

A painting by a follower of Leonardo da Vinci, which was once thought to be done by the Renaissance master himself, sold at auction for $1.5 million, three tmes its estimate price. Sotheby's said the work, "La Belle Ferronniere," which was the subject of a slander trial in the 1920s, two books and which had been locked away in a vault for decades, sparked spirited bidding during the auction of Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture that totaled $61,599,250. "Everybody was interested in its history ... The fact is, at the end of the day it was beautiful. It shone through everything to be just a very potent, moving picture and the buyer had no interest in the speculation or in whom the artist was," George Wachter, Sotheby's co-chairman of the Old Master Painting Worldwide, said in an interview. "He just loved the painting. He thought it was a powerful, beautiful work of art," he added about the private collector who bought the portrait thought to be of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Another version of the painting, which experts and scholars believe was done by Leonardo da Vinci, hangs in the Louvre in Paris. The painting was given to Harry Hahn, an American serviceman during World War One and his French bride as a wedding present. It was thought to have been done by Leonardo and authenticated by a French art expert. After he returned to the United States in 1920 and tried to sell the painting to the Kansas City Art Institute, a leading art dealer, Joseph Duveen, said it was a fake and the deal fell through. Hahn's wife sued Duveen for slander in a case that riveted the art world. The jury failed to reach a verdict and Duveen eventually settled out of court, paying $60,000. Experts believe the portrait must date before 1750 because it contains lead-tin yellow, a color that was used in paintings up until the late 17th century. "It was about wanting the painting, not about speculation," said Wachter, Continue Reading

Robert Rauschenberg, pop art innovator, dies at age 82

TAMPA, Fla. - Robert Rauschenberg, whose use of odd and everyday articles earned him a reputation as a pioneer in pop art but whose talents spanned the worlds of painting, sculpture and dance, has died, his gallery representative said Tuesday. He was 82. Rauschenberg died Monday, said Jennifer Joy, his representative at Pace Wildensteins. Rauschenberg, who first gained fame in the 1950s, didn't mine popular culture wholesale as Andy Warhol did with Campbell's soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein did with comic books. Instead, his "combines," incongruous combinations of three-dimensional objects and paint, shared pop's blurring of art and objects from modern life. He also responded to his pop colleagues and began incorporating up-to-the-minute photographed images in his works in the 1960s, including, memorably, pictures of John F. Kennedy. Among Rauschenberg's most famous works was "Bed," created after he woke up in the mood to paint but had no money for a canvas. His solution was to take the quilt off his bed and use paint, toothpaste and fingernail polish. Not to be limited by paint, Rauschenberg was a sculptor and choreographer and even won a 1984 Grammy Award for best album package for the Talking Heads album "Speaking in Tongues." "I'm curious," he said in 1997 in one of the few interviews he granted in later years. "It's very rewarding. I'm still discovering things every day." Rauschenberg's more than 50 years in art produced a varied and prolific collection that that filled both Manhattan locations of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum during a 1998 retrospective. Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes, in his book "American Visions," called Rauschenberg "a protean genius who showed America that all of life could be open to art. ... Rauschenberg didn't give a fig for consistency, or curating his reputation; his taste was always facile, omnivorous, and hit-or-miss, yet he had a bigness of soul and a richness of temperament that recalled Walt Continue Reading

Top 21 arts events in April: ‘Peter Pan’ sequel for kids, ‘Wonderland Wives’ for their parents

John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella, adapted for the stage by the author, tells the tragic story of two itinerant works in Depression-era California. Arizona Theatre Company’s production follows on a stellar production of another classic about the limits of the American Dream, August Wilson’s “Fences.Details: Through Sunday, April 17. Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix. $28-$73. 602-256-6995, ever after? Not for Cinderella, Snow White and Alice in Wonderland, who deal with philandering husbands, thickening middles and substance abuse in this comedy that might have been called “Real Housewives of Fairy Tale Land.” Buddy Thomas’ play is getting its world premiere at Nearly Naked Theatre Company, which produced his ’50s sci-fi spoof “Devil Boys From Beyond” in 2011.Details: Saturday, April 2, through Saturday, April 23. Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road. $19-$24 (subject to demand pricing). 602-254-2151, Phoenix Art Museum boasts one of the most important fashion-design collections in the world of fine arts. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Arizona Costume Institute, a volunteer support organization for the museum, this exhibit spotlights famed designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel as well as historical pieces dating back to the 17th century. And on the cutting edge of design is a couture dress made with a 3-D printer.Details: Saturday, April 2, through Sunday, Aug. 7. Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. $15 (discounts for seniors, students and children). 602-257-1222, to ASU Gammage in its latest national tour is Broadway’s love letter to itself, “42nd Street.” Based on the 1933 Busby Berkeley film, this quintessential tap-dance extravaganza tells the story of a small-town girl who becomes an overnight sensation on the Great White Way and features the songs Continue Reading