Lewis and Sue Nerman are prominent art collectors and now, some rarely seen artwork from their home is on display at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) Gallery in the “All Things Being Equal” exhibit featuring artists of color.

The free exhibit, which began Sept. 9 and runs through Oct. 17, is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and highlights 16 pieces of artwork created by 12 artists of color.

The show features a portion of the Nermans’ last 20 years of collecting paintings, drawings, sculptures and a unique work that requires a flashlight to reveal the piece. The Nermans are longtime supporters of KCAI and believe in the importance of sharing and making artwork available to the community. So, they loaned the gallery some of their artwork for the exhibit.

The pieces in “All Things Being Equal” fall in line with themes including empowerment, reframing history, identity, love, the Black experience and resistance.

“The idea of the arc that King (Martin Luther King, Jr.) talks about, that's what we're thinking about with this exhibit and what we’re after,” said Michael Schonhoff, director at the KCAI Gallery who helped curate the exhibit with the Nermans.

Schonhoff is referring to the King quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change takes a long time, but it does happen. “That's what these artists are reflecting on and hopefully this sort of thing can inspire people and move in that direction,” said Schonhoff.

While the exhibit features artists from all over, there are some local ties. The exhibit features Kansas City painter Harold Smith whose “Pain and Privilege” paintings are featured in the show.

A 1982 KCAI alum from Fulton, MO, Nick Cave’s beaded, hand sewn Soundsuit is also featured in the exhibit. The Soundsuit is a costume that completely covers the body, camouflaging the body and concealing the race, gender and class of the wearer, forcing the viewer to look without judgement.

Cave created the Soundsuits originally in response to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and since his days at KCAI, has become an internationally acclaimed artist.  

Another piece, the “Jerome Project” touches on the criminal justice system. Artist Titus Kaphar from Kalamazoo, MI used asphalt and chalk to create portraits all from mugshots of 97 Black men who shared his estranged father’s first and last names and layered them to create the piece.

Once viewers understand the artist’s story, Schonhoff said the piece inspires conversations about the prison industrial complex. 

“That's one of the beautiful things that art does -- it doesn't always do it gently, but usually there's an access to a conversation once you unlock the pieces a little bit,” Schonhoff said. “Everyone still can have their own viewpoint of the piece, but when you look at where the artist was inspired and why they're making this work, let's talk about that and see what happens.”

Other artists featured in the show are Rashid Johnson, Simone Leigh, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

The KCAI Gallery is located at 4415 Warwick, Kansas City, MO.  Although entry to the exhibit is free, to protect the well-being of visitors and the KCAI community, the Gallery will limit the number of guests by issuing free timed-entry tickets. For exhibit tickets, register here:https://kcai.edu/kcai-gallery/

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