Expanding the tradition of artist-designed “chapels”, the American artist Summer Wheat has been commissioned to create a $3m shrine-like enclosure at the Kansas City Museum in Missouri. JewelHouse will be housed within a converted Beaux Arts building on the museum’s campus that last functioned as a planetarium before it was abandoned in the 1970s. The approximately 600 sq. ft architectural intervention will feature a kaleidoscopic arrangement of stained glass elements and sculptures with cosmic motifs—including references to the Water Bearer, an Aquarian figure recurrent in the artist’s work that symbolises healing and cleansing.
Wheat, best known as a painter, worked with Mary Kemper Wolf, the chair of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, to conceive of the project following Wheat's 2020 solo exhibition at the museum, Blood, Sweat and Tears—curtailed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We thought about how to translate my work into a public art project, or something that someone could physically experience,” Wheat says. “Those conversations started during the pandemic, so we considered the fact that we would have endured several years of turmoil whenever this piece were to come to fruition. With the current climate, there’s even more turmoil that we’re dealing with as people. I wanted this space to symbolise an entry point into purification. I would like for this site to be a refuge for people who want to find a safe space to look within, to recognise their differences and to have a space for meditation and contemplation.”
Wheat will collaborate with the artist Tyler Kimball to create the stained glass elements, and with International Architects Atelier (IAA), a Kansas City-based firm that has worked on other cultural projects in the region, to complete the work. The firm is also working with the museum to realise a Skyspace by James Turrell in a converted cooling tower that will open in 2026.
“I liked the idea of someone being able to go into the Skyspace and think about their relationship to the cosmos, and then JewelHouse becomes a space where they themselves become a jewel and go into an inner space,” Wheat says. “It’s meant to provoke meditation and contemplation from within.”
Similar to the Rothko Chapel and Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, JewelHouse will be activated with continuous community-minded public programmes and performances.
“Art and meditation and contemplation will come together for people to consider their lives and communities in deeper ways,” Wheat says. “We don’t want to necessarily call it a ‘chapel’, because we don’t want religious connotations associated with the work. We want to provide people with a space to explore their inner world.”