Prepare for a lesson in wonder when you visit Spiva Center for the Art’s Main Gallery exhibit The Reins: Paintings of Juan Kelly.

“Few times have you been disturbed from your slumber by horses and cows and lionesses. Walk with us as we experience wonder in The Reins by Juan Kelly.”



How to Experience Art: The Reins by Juan Kelly and Wonder


More so than many exhibits,   stands out as art you can experience. Larger than life canvases feature mythological characters in ridiculous circumstances, immediately signaling there’s more than meets the eye. Bright but soft colors and familiar subjects please your sense of sight while the defiance of reality jolts you. One can’t help but relate the images to the unrestricted imaginations of our youngest humans.

Embrace it. Few times have you been disturbed from your slumber by horses and cows and lionesses. Walk with us as we experience wonder in The Reins: Paintings of Juan Kelly.


Dreams and Art


The connection between dreams and art is obvious in The Reins: Paintings of Juan Kelly. The moment you see animals adorning themselves with one another  or floating over a black hole-like, metallic sphere in the ocean , you know you’re in one of those kinds of exhibits. The kind that just doesn’t make any sense. But let’s go deeper into the connection between dreams and Kelly’s works.



Dreams defy our rational world. They break our rules of physics and storytelling and space and knowing and identity and truth. We can be two people at once, interacting with each as the other. We can climb oceans and swim through mountains. We eat sunshine and snap a giant olive out of existence.

While our eyes and bodies rest, our brain takes us on an adventure, allowing for experiences we couldn’t possibly have in our real world.

Some dreams terrify us. Some give us hope. Some tell the future. Some illuminate the past.

Some dreams elude us. And the more we try to figure it out, to give it meaning, to put it in our world, the farther away we get from it. Then waking becomes another kind of sleep.

The best dreams are the ones that linger, never quite captured in our understanding. But they stay with us, haunting the sidelines of our lives. A distant doorway to a world in which we lived, but may never return.

Juan Kelly’s portals are not unlike the access to the worlds we visit in our dreams. And just as we can never capture our dreams, we can never truly capture art.

We can look at the pictures and explain it away through technique and explanation. We can learn all about Kelly’s own origins and motivations. We can interpret symbolism and tell a story. But we will never satiate our need to contain it all in our heads.

And as we explain it away to find meaning, we withdraw back into our worldly slumber. Our other-worldly senses are muffled, and we no longer remember.

So when you visit Spiva ’s Main Gallery, live in the world you see on the walls around you.

Need help getting started? Try this:

Stand from a distance so you can take it all in without moving your head. Take in all the easy things you see: colors, size, images. You’re going to do it anyway, so explain it away. Get it over with. Then stop. Wonder. Get through your day-to-day reality and let art take you to another world with new rules.

Now move closer. Closer. Closer. Don’t touch it! But get as close as you can so that all you see is a small space in front of your nose. Let it possess you, overcome your small stature. Be inside this art as you would into a gently approaching dream. Dream in The Reins.


Walk with a Child, as a Child


The Reins: Paintings of Juan Kelly in the Main Gallery and Exquisite Miniatures by Wes & Rachelle Siegrist in the Regional Gallery are perfect for children. Kelly’s paintings feature larger-than-life animals doing crazy stuff, and the details of Siegrists’ itty bitty are so small you have to view them with a magnifying glass .

But they aren’t children’s art. They appeal to the mature thinker who identifies metaphor and symbolism. They exemplify mastery in composition and technique. They are intended for an adult audience.

But, in truth, children may be the experts here. Because they don’t know all the real-life rules. Because they aren’t constrained by what should and shouldn’t be. Because they know nothing about formal art evaluation. Because they don’t even know how to properly behave in a museum!

In fact, if you were to stop by the museum during one of our school visits, you’d see a very different Spiva. It’s noisy, a little chaotic with lots of movement and sometimes “irreverent” interaction. Kids making up stories that may or may not have anything to do with the painting, laughing at the silly animals, and tumbling to the floor as they pose with the characters .

And that, dear adult, is the most wonderful way to experience this collection.

Some of us have forgotten how to do this. So here’s what you do. Find a child. A crazy one if you can. They can be a relative or family friend. Invite them (and their adults) to the museum or register to share with them the Midwest Regional Ballet Performance in the Main Gallery on January 28 or February 18.

Then just follow their lead. Listen to them. Mimic them. See what they see, and do what they do. As you walk into the Main Gallery, you’ll find clipboards and worksheets and pencils. Take one up (whether you have a child with you or not). Ask your child friend their answers, how they feel about the art, and why they feel that way.

Do away with all you know regarding right and wrong in an art museum. Be childlike. And learn to appreciate the wonder in art as a child.

Spiva Center for the Arts loves children in the museum. They keep the wonder alive, and we get to help them better understand their world.

We provide classes  for ages 3-18 as well as programming specifically for them. One of our favorite time of the year is when we welcome over 1,400 3rd graders from Southwest Missouri. Thanks to the General Mills Foundation and local Walmart stores, Spiva is able to provide a positive art and museum experience many of these curious nine and ten year olds have never had.

This year we’ve taken great pains to develop an interactive, engaging curriculum to help kids develop an understanding and appreciation for art, not to mention an experience that helps them feel Spiva is theirs. If you have one of our third grader in your circle of influence, ask them about their experience. Better yet, ask them to give you a tour of the exhibit!


Tara Cloud Clark, Spiva Member