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I don't love WAM's new 'Living History' piece. But you should decide for yourself

"Living History," a commissioned piece by artist Beth Lipman, hangs in the foyer of the Wichita Art Museum.
Curt Clonts
"Living History," a commissioned piece by artist Beth Lipman, hangs in the foyer of the Wichita Art Museum.

The Wichita Art Museum commissioned a new sculpture from well-known artist Beth Lipman several years back. The piece, titled "Living History," has arrived at WAM and was recently unveiled. The work is a behemoth, weighing in at 3000 pounds, it is now in its place, suspended from the ceiling in the foyer at the museum.

Lipman, who is known for her grand sculptures rendered entirely in clear glass chose to create WAM's “Living History” sculpture in glass, white wood, ceramic, and metal. This work features renderings of prairie grass, rock, and what looks like white, wood barber poles, jutting out at odd angles both on top and below.

Aside from the grass and the rock I fail to see how the work represents an intended living history of our region. But that's not as important as the aesthetics of the work. I suppose the piece would look much richer had it been rendered entirely in clear glass, but the addition of the white wood poles steals my eyes away from the glass completely and confuses the focus.

I'm left marveling at only the sheer size of this work rather than the content or its meaning. I've spent time with this piece—hours—viewing it from all angles. I want to like it. I want it to show me something I can embrace, but I can't.

Now, as an artist who accepts commissions, I understand that the process sometimes yields a work different than an artist’s typical work created with no expectations. To me, “Living History” just feels forced. This work simply does not represent Beth Lipman and her usual gorgeous body of work.

Curt Clonts is a Wichita-born artist who volunteers as KMUW's art reviewer. When Curt isn’t working in his College Hill studio he is usually spending time with his wife, kids, and grandkids. He also spends the spring and summer months kayaking and camping.