Wichita: A place for serious art

Art on display beginning Friday at the River City Biennale might seem familiar to some. After all, the exhibition's eight artists live and work in Wichita. Most show here regularly.

But, organizers say, the context of the Biennale makes it different from many local gallery openings and Final Friday shows.

The River City Biennale opens Friday at Project, Fisch Haus and the Kansas African American Museum. Participating artists are Sarah Kephart (sculpture and drawing); Joey Capadona (performance art/video); Larry Schwarm (photography); Monika Meler (prints); Derrick Stanley (robotic drawing); Kristin Beal-DeGrandmont (video installation/performance art); Lisa Rundstrom (mixed media/installation/ performance art); and Marc Durfee (found object sculpture).

The exhibit runs through June 18, with art lectures, a critics roundtable and a patrons dinner scheduled during its run. The hope is to encourage art lovers, collectors, curators and critics from outside Wichita to focus attention on the contemporary art being made here.

"Every time we go outside the region, people get the glaze if you tell them you are from Kansas — if you are in New York City, for example," said Elizabeth Stevenson, co-organizer of the exhibit. "Nobody takes Kansas seriously at all.

"So our point was to encourage people to come to Wichita and show them, prove to them, that this is a place to be taken seriously. And in so doing, hopefully forge relationships that would not have been otherwise."

To start the process, a guest curator, Hesse McGraw from the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, was invited to select works. About 30 Wichita-area artists applied to participate. McGraw made studio visits to some, then selected eight for inclusion in the show.

Juried and curated exhibitions are held often at the Wichita Art Museum, the Ulrich Museum, Wichita Center for the Arts, CityArts and other local institutions. But those shows don't always feature cutting-edge contemporary artwork.

"This is decidedly less-commercial work," said Ann Resnick, the other organizer of the Biennale. "New York, L.A., Houston — this is work that would not be out of place in any of those cities, work that tends to be more conceptual.

"For instance, in this show there is virtually no painting."

Stevenson and Resnick founded River City Biennale and organized its first exhibit in 2008. (Biennale, pronounced bee-uh nal-ay, means every two years.)

Wichita's Arts Council made $225 grants to each artist this year to help defray the costs of creating new work.

As the famous Venice Biennale helps establish critical dialogue in worldwide contemporary art — who's hot, what style is in, what materials are in vogue, what statements are being made — the River City Biennale hopes to encourage new thinking about Wichita's contemporary art scene.

"In larger art markets there is a lot more criticism available, and creative discourse," Stevenson said. "It is time for us to move in that direction.

"If people are engaged and people are talking about art, it can elevate art so it is a part of your everyday activities. You think about art, you talk about art, you watch, you notice. That's what we're hoping this will bring."

If you go

River City Biennale

What: Exhibitions by eight Wichita contemporary artists

Where: Project, 1712 E. Douglas; Fisch Haus, 524 S. Commerce; Kansas African American Museum, 601 N. Water

When: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at all three venues

How much: Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.rivercitybiennale.com or call 316-265-7137.