Photos by Libby Wilson
With college looming next fall, I feel pressured to absorb as much KC as I can before it’s gone. I’ve definitely grown to take for granted all that KC offers, so I am trying to look at local landmarks with fresh eyes – and that includes the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Yelp rates the museum the best in the U.S., but the last time I was there was probably sixth grade during the annual field trip. With a sudden case of FOMO — “fear of missing out” — I figured a Saturday afternoon at the Nelson would be a good way to catch up with the marble columns.
After looking over their exhibits on the website, I decided to honor my grade school reverence for Asian art by visiting the “Emperors, Scholars and Temples: Tastemakers of China’s Ming and Qing Dynasties.” The exhibit opened last year on Aug. 16 and will be at the Nelson until July 9.
It was incredible. From miniscule earrings to carved dragons, the spread of art was impressive, and I agreed with Yelp – the Nelson totally deserves its rankings.
I will say, it took my mom and I a little while to find to the exhibit. We kept getting turned around, and I started to wonder if we should’ve taken up the greeter’s offer of a map. But we finally landed upon the Asian hall, and a docent told us the specific exhibit we were looking for was at the end of the hall. I was disappointed to hear it was only one room – not the full spread I’m used to. But after walking through, it made the pieces feel more prized, as they were the ones that made the special cut, not just everything thrown together in several rooms.
On our way to the exhibit, we dallied in the Asian hall, weaving our way in and out of the many rooms. They featured furniture, sculptures and even pieces of a Hindu temple from China and Southeast Asia. Somehow each time I was surprised at the level of detail in each figurine, no matter how many I inspected.
The recreated Hindu temple was beautiful. The temple was originally in Southeast Asia, but now its stone panels covered the walls of the small room. And the best part I almost didn’t even notice. As I left the room I glanced up to see intricate carvings in little squares, lining the top as a border. I could not imagine perfectly scratching out one of those, let alone the whole collection – major kudos.
I felt calm the second I walked into the “Emperors, Scholars and Temples” exhibit. I’m not one to usually remember paint colors, but the soothing neutral gray was the perfect complement to the vibrant artwork. The exhibit itself consists of a variety of painted bowls, jewelry, sculptures, calligraphy and even a coat. At first thought the collection seems random, but the flow from jewelry to bowls to calligraphy was surprisingly cohesive.
I felt immediately drawn to the coat, right near the entrance. Coats to me are thick, dark and heavy, but the brocade cover made me wonder why I didn’t have waves embroidered on my own jackets.
Following the natural flow of the room, I then moved to the glass cases on the right to look at the jewelry. The museum was considerate enough to provide magnifying glasses. So it was helpful to see just how precisely the opal and jade were placed in the impressive chandelier earrings, even if I did feel like an elderly man bent over the glass.
The delicate painting of watercolor mountains accompanied by gorgeous calligraphy inspired me so much that I currently have a tab for a Chinese brushwork class open on my laptop. In fact, all the artwork inspired me to the point that I was tempted to stop by the library on the way home to check out some books about the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Overall, I would highly recommend stopping by the Nelson next weekend to load up on Asian artwork. It was a meaningful way to spend a few hours on an afternoon too cold to do anything outside. I know I want to return myself and get lost in the history and beauty – and maybe check out the mummy for old times sake.
BONUS: After you’re done absorbing the art, pop over to the Rozelle Court. They have free Wi-Fi which makes it the perfect getaway to crank out an English paper. The soothing fountain keeps you focused while also allowing you to forget you’re still in KC. Plus they have a selection of delicious pastries and snacks – I know I was eyeing that chocolate pots de crème.