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Images of “America in conflict” in new exhibit at Kauffman Museum (opening Friday night)

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When a curatorial consultant from Wichita realized he’d lived his whole life in “a time of war,” he decided to assemble a collection of related art, to go on display at Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum.

James W. Johnson, director of Rickerby Art Services in Wichita, has gathered art from American experiences of war into “Hot and Cold: Images of America in Conflict.” After spending three weeks at Newman University’s Steckline Gallery before Christmas, the exhibition will open Feb. 20 on the Bethel College campus, remaining through April 19.

There will be an opening dessert reception featuring guest curator Johnson that evening beginning at 7 p.m. Johnson will give a gallery talk about the genesis of the exhibition at 7:30. The public is invited.

“Hot and Cold” features 33 works, ranging from the wood engraving “Kansas Sketches” published in Harper’s Weekly in 1858, to “Iraq Identity Playing Cards” printed in 2003 by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The show emerged when Johnson realized that he had lived all of his 58 years under the cloud of conflict. “First, the Korean ‘police action,’ then the Cold War,” Johnson said, “then Viet Nam, then the Cold War, then Grenada, then Panama, then the Cold War – am I repeating myself? – then Iraq, then Iraq…”

Times of war and conflict produce powerful images within a society. Johnson assembled the exhibition from his personal collection as well as pieces borrowed from artists’ private collections, the Emprise Bank collection and Watermark West collection.

Included in the show are works by artists with regional connections. Printmakers David Bernard and John Boyd spent their careers at Wichita State University, while Bob Regier taught at Bethel College. Joel C. Moss taught and served as department chair at Fort Hays State University. Wichitan Thomas Coleman attained national status while teaching at the University of Nebraska. Laura Gilpin, best known for her photography of the American Southwest, worked at Boeing during the World War II years.

“Hot and Cold” also includes “America is Waiting,” a 1982 work by experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner (1933-2008) who will be recognized posthumously at the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22. Born in McPherson, Conner was raised in Wichita and attended WSU before moving to the University of Nebraska and then San Francisco. Conner is known for his compact and explosive style and has been called “the father of MTV-style editing.” Film critics have suggested viewing the four-minute “America is Waiting” multiple times “to penetrate the layers of interlocking visual connections” set to audio by avant-rock pioneers David Byrne and Brian Eno, including a political rant by an indignant San Francisco radio host.

Said Johnson, “I collected many of these works because I knew and admired the artists. The Vito Acconci is always displayed in my home.” Acconci’s set of etchings, “Three Flags for One Space and Six Regions,” figures prominently in a 1982 portrait of Johnson painted by James Bartz.

“The spirit of the show is about the images relating to conflicts that surround us,” said Johnson. “The actions of the George W. Bush administration prompted me to make a statement about the value and effects of a policy of conflict.”

On the day the exhibit closes, April 19, art and politics will be the subject of a Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program at Kauffman Museum, beginning at 3:30 pm. Rachel Epp Buller of Newton, an artist, art historian and Bethel College assistant professor of art, will present an illustrated lecture “Looking at Protest Art.”

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its Web site, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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