AnticKS & MOdels + My theater to your eyes: Kahlil Robert Irving

On view Feb. 9-Jul. 7, 2024


painting by Kahlil Robert Irving

Kahlil Robert Irving, Antiks + MO (EyeMinded View) Many Ghosts, Oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches (182.88 x 121.92 cm), Image courtesy of the artist.

AnticKS & MOdels + My theater to your eyes: Kahlil Robert Irving marks the artist’s first institutional exhibition in Kansas and a return to the central Midwest. This year, Irving has two simultaneous solo exhibitions at major institutions: the Nerman Museum, representing the Kansas City metro region, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis. At the Nerman Museum, Irving’s work engages with the current post-industrial landscape and grapples with how tools and technology challenge perceptions of what we see and how we understand information. Irving is interested in using materials to engage abstract ideas around perception and legibility. Growing up in St. Louis, a city that has experienced a sharp population decline in recent years, the artist is constantly learning stories about places that need to be memorialized, and not forgotten—places that continue to go unrecognized and unappreciated for their significance.

Irving critically engages the Nerman Museum’s architecture by trespassing its gallery divisions and boundaries. Starting with the title, Irving uses words that incorporate the acronym for both Kansas (KS in AnticKS) and Missouri (MO in MOdels). Visitors enter the galleries through a slightly inclined accessible ramp leading to a raised plywood walkway—a stage. This built environment references immersive theater, construction scaffolding, archeological excavations, and bridges that cross rivers throughout the United States. The viewer is guided to encounter objects from a distance determined by the artist. This physical separation controls the movement of the audience, as well as demonstrates challenges to accessibility and how close anyone can get to an object.

As visitors navigate the walkway, they encounter sculptures of ceramic, painted foam, fabric, granite, marble, wood, in addition to artifacts, and discovered objects drawn from the artist’s personal collection. An enormous faux boulder, a metal light post and whimsical ceramic dog figurines share the stage with items of profound significance, such as a storage jar by David Drake, or “Dave the Potter,” a 19th-century Black American potter who was enslaved until his death in 1865. By incorporating these objects, Irving assumes the role similar to a stage director, developing a stage for these varying objects to be displayed and reflected upon. Irving’s layered and compressed ceramic sculptures make use of illusion, or trompe-l'oeil. With AnticKS & MOdels, the artist’s goal is both to fool the eye and the opposite: to make space for viewers to experience more. Irving uses material culture to reflect his own life and memorialize the present.

This exhibition is sponsored by The Lighton Fund.