The Artspace Project Wall, situated on the west-facing façade of the Artspace and facing the intersection of 43rd and Main Streets, is an ongoing site for temporary public art projects by contemporary artists. The Artspace Project Wall features selected and commissioned works by national and regional artists. Since its inauguration, the Artspace Project Wall has received important support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
Artspace Project Wall: Art Miller
Celebrating 20 years of artists, art, and ideas in 2020, the H&R Block Artspace continues its commitment to dynamic and timely public art projects with Art Miller: Boy Scouts of America Statue of Liberty Replica (Strengthening the Art Of Liberty Campaign), Meyer Boulevard and Prospect Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, 2020, a new Artspace Project Wall.
On the cusp of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and in the midst of a profound national reckoning over public space and the legacies and origins of monuments, the Artspace is pleased to present a new Project Wall by Kansas-based photographer Art Miller that examines our current state of democracy.
The image centers on a miniature and locally-sited replica of the world-famous “Liberty Enlightening the World,” commonly known as the Statue of Liberty, designed by French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and presented as a gift to the United States from the people of France on October 28, 1886, just two decades after the end of the American Civil War.
The title of Miller’s image reveals further information about the little-known origins of this simulacrum. This Kansas City version of the sculpture is one of roughly 200 replicas, collectively known as the “Little Sisters of Liberty,” that were commissioned and placed in cities throughout the U.S. from 1949 to 1952 on the occasion of the Boy Scouts of America 40th anniversary, a celebration entitled “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty.”
Dedicated on November 20, 1949, this is one of two replicas sited in Kansas City and one of approximately 100 that remain standing nationwide, while others have been lost to vandalism, neglect, and the elements. The project was originally conceived by Kansas City businessman Jack P. Whitaker, who was serving as the Boy Scouts of America Commissioner of the Kansas City Area Council at that time.
As a steady icon of the nation’s democratic ideals of liberty and enlightenment, the national monument stands tall to remind us of its hopeful origins to serve as a universal symbol of freedom and to represent the country’s abolition of a system of slavery and oppression in favor of a just and democratic society.
Miller’s image instead becomes a portrait of a monument conditioned by its own neglect and a metaphor for these under-realized ideals, held back by centuries of racism and inequity. Within the context of Miller’s photographic works of more than three decades, this image reflects the artist‘s cool documentary approach to subjects. Often, his photographs manage to mine seemingly mundane and overlooked aspects of our built environment in order to reveal what may otherwise remain unnoticed.
Since the 1980s, Miller’s serial approach to subjects, including his Architectural Series, Bears Series, and The Habana Series, has carved a space between the individual and the collective in environments depicted not as fixed states but as liminal, ever-shifting, and open to reinvention. These fluid spaces reveal economies of gentrification and the repurposing of architecture, expressions of gay identity and rituals of gay subculture, and the confluence of belief systems with commerce and modes of communication. By placing Miller’s work about these subjects of human interiority within the social context of a billboard, the artist holds up a mirror to our public sphere that reveals life’s interconnectedness, while implicating our monuments as witnesses to a living history that has yet to catch up to itself.
Art Miller is a Kansas-based artist who holds a BFA in Design and Visual Communication from the University of Kansas. He has exhibited regionally and nationally at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka, KS, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS, and Salina Art Center, Salina, KS. He is a recipient of the Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Award, and works from “The Habana Series” were exhibited in the 2003 Charlotte Street Foundations Awards exhibition at the Artspace. His works are in the permanent collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS, American Century Investors Corporation, Kansas City, MO, Sprint Corporation World Headquarters, Overland Park, KS, and DST Corporation, Kansas City, MO. He is represented by Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO.