February Conduit @ the Kansas City Museum

Howdy Plug enthusiasts,

Despite the snowy weather, our February Conduit Event held at the Kansas City Museum last Saturday was a fruitful experience. In case you haven’t heard of our Conduit program, the events are intended to extend the ideas proposed by the exhibitions at Plug by facilitating public activities in interesting and unusual community spaces. In this case, the venue pertaining to Jill Downen’s Three Dimensional Sketchbook was none other than the Kansas City Museum, located in northeast Kansas City.

Misha greeting partipants at the Visitor Center

On museum grounds, we toured the Corinthian Hall, the 100+ year old home of lumber baron Robert A. Long and his family. The Museum itself is in a state of ongoing renovation, revealing the hidden structure of the architecture as well as remainders of the original form. This juxtaposition created an experience of constant surprise as one would shift from century old furnishing to present renovations with missing gaps between.

Following the tour, we dispersed with materials in hand to make note of structural shifts and moments that commanded our attention. Here are some photographs taken by Leon Jones, one participant of the bunch.

As we walked throughout the halls, I couldn’t help but recall Jill Downen’s constructions in miniature as they appeared behind and between the aged facades. As you may have gathered, the Kansas City Museum is a rather mysterious place of which, I for one, hope to revisit soon.

Here’s an image of the group feats.


Today is the last day to experience Jill Downen’s Three Dimensional Sketchbook, but don’t get too hung up if you couldn’t make it out. Downen has been awarded a space at the Studios Inc Residency in Kansas City for 2013-1015, so be sure to keep an eye out for future opportunities to see her work.

Making with Architecture, a Panel Discussion

This month three Kansas City galleries, Plug Projects, La Esquina, and Grand Arts are hosting shows offering a dialogue on systems of structure within art practice. Thursday, February 28 at 7pm, La Esquina will be hosting a panel discussion Making with Architecture with artists represented in the three shows to cultivate this ongoing discourse.

Jill Downen "Three Dimensional Sketchbook" Photo via The Pitch

These three exhibitions offer differing views of systems of structure within art, further proving this to be a fruitful investigation. Jill Downen’s solo show at Plug Projects provides an intimate view of her Three Dimensional Sketchbook as she exhibits small monochromatic forms of plaster and balsa wood along a long table, as well as a small sketchbook-like cabinet of drawers. These forms allow the spectator to visualize themselves within this world she has established and the objects maintain a similar scale relationship throughout. However, this intimate scale allows for surprises along the way, either through opening a drawer or bending down to see a new perspective. The setting of the gallery mimics that Downen has created and it becomes an all encompassing experience of a micro scale shift.

Anthony Baab, etraphy fore, 2012, inkjet print, photo, E.G. Schempf

Similarly to Three Dimensional sketchbook, Anthony Baab’s solo show at Grand Arts, A Strenuous Non-Being commands a focus on scale to operate. This scale created in the work functions differently between each picture plane and is not constant. Baabs video, A Strenuous Nonbeing comes closest to giving us a key, as the cats act as “our only guide, so we should pay close attention and try to learn something useful.”1 We become subjects that submit to this fantastical realm that Baab creates, and spectators are forced to find themselves within this existential soup.

Composite Structures, photo by E.G. Shempf

Composite Structures at La Esquina facilitates a displaced dialogue of structure across America, with artists from the Midwest and Los Angeles. Scott Hocking’s photographs operate on a context that is depicted within the work to create a fantastical structure. Jaclyn Senne’s multi-function backstop guarding courted plates in a complex sporting structure with loose-ends and play cues to point you in the right direction, adversely relies on the gallery for her painted installation, but while doing so displaces the gallery context, giving it a performative, sport playing question of function. In this show, each artist proposes a different solution to systems of structure within art and design, furthering the dialogue both Plug Projects and Grand Arts have proposed. The panel discussion Making with Architecture held this Thursday at 7pm at La Esquina will bring together artists from the three shows and cross pollinate the solutions to structure each gallery has focused on.

1 Stephen Lichty, Anthony Baab: A Strenuous Nonbeing Exhibition Catalog, Grand Arts 2013.

Paul Heaston, Urban Sketcher

posted in: Architecture, Art, Artists, Blog | 0

Paul Heaston is a Texan (living in Denver) who loves to grow a big beard, eat some In and Out Burgers, and meticulously record his surroundings.  Paul’s work for the past four years has focused on observational drawings in his Moleskin sketchbooks, and he has become a significant figure in the Urban Sketchers network.  This group of artists spans the globe and can be found in every city drawing the architecture, activities and interactions of urban life.  Recently, a book was compiled by Gabriel Campanario titled, The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location Around the World and features Paul’s work on the cover.  Paul is an active blogger and regularly posts Moleskin updates that keep his audience informed about his travels and recent projects.

Paul’s initial investigations of panoramic drawings of cities started when he lived in Bozeman, Montana.  His drawings of the Western downtown buildings ignited his interest in accurately capturing significant and subtle interactions happening in these settings.

Downtown Bozeman, MT. Ink in Moleskin sketchbook

After returning to Texas following graduate school, Paul embarked on increasing the scale and complexity to these works.  In the conversation about architecture, Paul’s panoramic drawings of San Antonio are astonishing examples of his ability to record urban environments and their compact, structural spaces.  He is engaged in the process of drawing to pay homage to the structures in his cities of residence and to the history of urban planning.  As an Urban Sketcher, Paul finds validation by existing amongst his subject matter, and his work recreates a point-of-view experience to these structures.  Describing his process for these panoramic works on his blog, Heaston states:

“It took long enough (3 months) but I finally filled my Urban Sketchers folding Moleskine with San Antonio.  It’s actually four separate panos, all of which I drew on site in downtown San Antonio. The first is a 180 degree sketch of Houston Street just north of Alamo Plaza. The second pano is of Navarro Street and the Nix Hospital. The third is on Commerce Street and features the Aztec Theater. The fourth pano is only 90 degrees (I ran out of room) and was done in front of the old San Antonio Courthouse.  They are all stitched together by means of a transitional device I borrowed from Urban Sketcher Pete Scully—  a light pole or street sign is used as a divider between panoramas, and fortunately I was able to use what was already there. “

Here are multiple images and details of this single work…

A stacked image of Paul's panoramic depictions of San Antonio. His drawings feel like contemporary responses of Canaletto's paintings of Venice.

The panoramic work can be broken down into multiple dynamic compositions. These details demonstrate Paul's keen eye.
And here is the man hard at work. His studio always has a view.

This post barely covers the range of drawings that Paul Heaston produces on a daily basis.  His awareness of urban environments and there relationship to observed experiences becomes most apparent by visiting his flickr page, so dig in and enjoy.


posted in: Architecture, Blog, Site Visit, Superstruct | 1

This past April (while on a road trip from NJ to KC), I had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s domestic commission, Fallingwater, nestled in the woods of Pennsylvania just outside Pittsburg.

Fallingwater: Initial Approach

What is immediately clear upon approach is that Lloyd knows his architectural history. It would appear that Wright synthesized certain principles of design from across a spectrum of cultures and histories. These principles of balance and grace were clarified, and then combined to achieve a new harmony. Clean lines, flawless integration with its natural surroundings, and modular domestic amenities inside and out are reminiscent of Japanese architecture.  Every square inch of space, overlap and point of contact is considered.

One of the most glaring differences between experiencing this home and contemporary homes are that the proportions of everything- thresholds, to rooms and windows, planters and the pool- each one is so contentious.

Frankly, I was shocked to see Wright use an ochre color of paint applied to concrete shaped into soft round, repeating curves. When I think of Wright’s style, angular bricks in squat midwest prairie iterations spring to mind. In my humble opinion, Falling Water also references Adobe abodes, so characteristic to the American Southwest.

Pueblos de Taos, New Mexico

The ochre body with red window trim made the home both pop and recede into the foliage depending on the strength of the sun through the clouds that day. I overheard a passing guide mention the color was derived from the underside of a fallen, dead leaf.

Falling Water's cantaliever

Paint Colors: Wright’s desire to create a unified and organic composition limited the color palette at Fallingwater. Only two colors were used throughout:  a light ochre for the concrete and his signature Cherokee red for the steel (PPG Pittsburgh Paints). –Fallingwater Facts

Even though this home was built in 1936, its vision and clarity resonates today. I wonder what kind of lives were enriched by existing amidst nature mingling with these walls. Fallingwater is a fantastic specimen of “superstruct,” the original foundation here literally being nature and conceptually being a myriad of architectural histories/principles that are built upon. It is a structure quietly ahead of its time.


Fallingwater is anchored seamlessly into natural rock. (extra points if you spot my mother)
We even admired the patio furniture; the raised center design takes into account the position of lounging legs and feet.


Peter Volkous sculpture signed '58 spotted by the spring-fed pool

The Gold Dome – an Oklahoma City landmark

posted in: Architecture, Blog, Superstruct | 0

Over the past few months I have been participating in an Art Writing and Curatorial Fellowship program based out of Oklahoma City. I have had the opportunity to spend the occasional weekend exploring the city while in town for the fellowship. I have found the architecture of the city to be incredibly diverse and interesting. While driving to breakfast with our host, Julia Kirt, she started to tell us a story about one of the more peculiar looking buildings we passed.

The building, simply referred to as The Gold Dome, was built in 1958. Using the geodesic dome design patented by famous architect, Buckminster Fuller, the dome was constructed on the intersection of North West 23rd Street and North Classen Boulevard, The fifth geodesic dome in the world and the first built with the sole intention to function as a bank.

In 1998, the Oklahoma City Government rezoned the 23rd Street to protect the architecture and commercialization of the developing area. There were new laws in place which meant property owners had to have permission to demolish any building within the established boundaries. In the early 2000’s, the owners of the Gold Dome, Bank One, decided it was time for reconstruction and began seeking permission to demolish the dome.

A handful of citizens stood up to the bank and fought for the preservation of the building; they realized the importance and unique character the Gold Dome brought to their city. The owner of the bank reconsidered his demolition request and offered to sell the building to someone who was willing to put the money into refurbishing it (which was estimated to cost 1.7 million) or he would sell the land to Walgreens. The “Citizens for the Golden Dome”, the organized group whose mission was to save the dome, came together to hold marches and protests in an effort to save the building. Still no one was stepping forward to purchase the building and the bank owner’s patience was running thin. Sonic Drive-In restaurants donated a billboard across the street from the dome for the citizens to inform the public on the importance of saving the historical building. An ownership group was formed to buy the building, and in 2012 the Oklahoma City council voted to take over the responsibility of paying the loan. Now the building operates as a cultural center, a home to several small businesses and an event space.

Our urban environment acts as an archive of what has come before us. It gives our everyday landscape something unique, especially in a time where large corporations are taking over our street corners and turning our cities into an exact replicas of one another. In Kansas City, as well as many other cities around the country, we are lucky to have a society dedicated to preserving these important historical sites. From what I learned from Julia, Oklahoma City might not have that infrastructure in place yet which puts them at risk of losing their architecturally diverse personality.

Grant Miller

posted in: Architecture, Art, Artists, Blog, Uncategorized | 0

In Grant Miller‘s work, layers of paint build upon architectural interiors into obsessively constructed abstract forms. Grant uses the interior spaces that be begins with as framework for the final painting, which reveals little of its skeletal underpinnings. There is apparent dedication to a diligent additive process. The sometimes transparent layers allowing a peek through to the incremental layers, providing the viewer with a sort of labyrinth of structural beams and right angles interrupted intermittently with organic marbling and colorful pattern.

Evidence of Grant’s very streamlined and systematic approach can be found in the close knit relationships from one painting to the next. One wonders if his current work will become a skeleton for some other system eventually, giving way to another layer built over his current methodical, colorful blueprints.

Grant Miller currently has an online exhibition at Byron Cohen Gallery.

Kansas City Architecture Tour

posted in: Architecture, Art, Blog | 0

A trip to the symphony last week at the Kaufman Center’s amazing new Performing Arts Building inspired me to search for a tour of Kansas City’s architectural highlights. I found this city guide on Arch Daily‘s website. They highlight 12 of KC’s more striking buildings (several of which, I would note, are art centers of some kind.) It’s also somehow satisfying to note how many of these buildings are fairly new to the skyline…a handful having opened their doors in the past 5 years or so.