The “Magician of Shadow” opens new exhibit at Wichita Art Museum

With some sleight of hand — or rather sleight of light — artist Kumi Yamashita manipulates solid objects to create shadows that are nothing like the objects on the wall. That’s how the artist has earned the label “The Magician of Shadow.”

Wooden geometric blocks become a child’s profile, squares of colorful origami paper become a woman’s profile, a stainless steel exclamation mark becomes a question mark.

Since last week, Yamashita has been working her magic in Wichita, installing six of her pieces that are part of a special Wichita Art Museum exhibition that opens this weekend and includes an opening party Saturday night, Aug. 3.

Earlier this week and in a neighboring gallery, artist Alyson Shotz was unwrapping packaged strings of beaded wire that would become two massive, net-like sculptures that also use the concept of light and shadows, along with gravity, for their artistic effect.

“It starts out flat and they expand to become super dimensional,” explained Shotz, who strung thousands of the silvered, one-quarter inch glass beads onto tempered stainless steel for the two pieces. Visitors will be able to walk around the two pieces.

“The thing is to see it in person,” Shotz said. “As you move around it, you see how the light hits it.”

Her pieces also play with the element of space — from her taking the beaded skeins from small, flat crates and hanging them from the ceiling to create larger shapes to the concept of how the skeins occupy the space and are in a sense hollow.

“Light & Shadow: Alyson Shotz and Kumi Yamashita” is a loaned exhibition that will be on display through Jan. 5 at WAM. It was guest curated by Vicki Halper, former curator at the Seattle Art Museum who has expertise in craft and glass art.

Besides the use of light and shadow in their work, the artists have something else in common — they are New York-based contemporary artists whose work has been displayed in leading museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. Yamashita’s work also has been exhibited internationally and a commissioned sculpture displayed in Seattle was named one of the top 40 public works in the nation in 2009 by Public Art Network.

“We bring stuff in that’s a big deal and go to bigger cities than ours,” said Tera Hedrick, WAM’s curator.

During a spring outing with curators from other museums to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Hedrick impressed her colleagues when she told them Yamashita, a featured artist in a temporary exhibit there, would be exhibiting at WAM this year. Two of Yamashita’s pieces in the WAM exhibition were displayed at the National Portrait Gallery.

“I felt really proud,” Hedrick said.

Both artists will be at the exhibition’s opening party 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, to answer questions and visit with party-goers. There will also be an original dance performance by the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, accompanied by violist Trevor Stewart. Admission to the party is $10; free to WAM members.

Wichita Art Museum

What: ‘Light & Shadow: Alyson Shotz and Kumi Yamashita’, a new exhibition at the Wichita Art Museum with special opening party 7-9 p.m. Aug. 3

When: Exhibition displayed from Aug. 3-Jan. 5, museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays and major holidays.

Where: Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

Cost: Museum admission is $10 adults, $5 seniors 60 and older, $4 college students with ID and youth ages 3-17, free for children under 5 and WAM members. Free admission for all visitors on Saturdays.

Tickets for the special opening party are $10, free to WAM members; purchase party tickets through the WAM website or the Facebook event page.

More information: www.wichitaartmuseum.org, facebook.com/wichitaartmuseum, 316-268-4921