Return the Gaze focuses on the resurgence of the figure in contemporary art by artists of color who are investigating traditional genres like portraiture, representational painting and landscape to reveal new possibilities and approaches to creating expanded and more inclusive narratives. Drawn from visionary, purpose-driven collections of contemporary art, these works evoke intimacy, kinship and family, community, memory, cultural symbols and traditions, landscape and place, and scenes of contemporary life and the Black experience.

Expanding upon these narratives, the artists in Return the Gaze mine the history of painting, activate the influence of photography and other technologies, respond to the cultural climate of the present moment as well as the African diaspora, and attract the thoughtful attention of collectors, curators, and collecting institutions.

From the local to the global, the renewed enthusiasm for figurative painting and its place at the core of contemporary art practice is reflected in some of the most adventurous private art collections. The Artspace is extremely grateful to the passionate collectors and lenders whose generous support of these artists makes this exhibition possible: Bill and Christy Gautreaux Collection, Kansas City, MO; the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art, New York, NY; Collection of Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman Family, NY, Courtesy of the Flag Art Foundation; and White Cube Ltd, London. Special thanks to Owen Martin and Matt Wycoff, KCAI alumni, and Catherine Futter for their conversation, support and encouragement.

Return the Gaze is organized for the Artspace by Raechell Smith, Director & Curator, H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Public Events

Opening Reception 
Wednesday, February 8
6–8 p.m.

Press Release

About the H&R Block Artspace

Dedicated to artists, art, and ideas since 1999, the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute presents innovative exhibitions, public programs, and commissioned projects to engage and inspire the next generation of artists, designers, and culture workers.

The Artspace receives support for its programs from the Missouri Arts Council – a state agency, H&R Block Foundation, The Stanley H. Durwood Foundation, the Jesse Howard Fund at KCAI, and from private contributions

The Artspace is open and free to all. Public hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 12–5 p.m.