Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best & Worst of 2009

Zeitgeist of the year — Dancing at Waterloo

In the midst of the most volatile economy in 75 years, larger than ever crowds consistently turned out for art openings and not just for free wine and cheese. The Des Moines Art Center oversold its wildest expectations for a tent party at the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (PSG) at $500 per couple. One observer compared that gala to the most famous ball in history, that of the Duchess of Richmond on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Painter Shawn Colvin debuted his first art exhibition at another gala, in the Hotel Kirkwood Ballroom. Bachata, a Dominican dance that electrifies the sexual tension of tango, stormed our nightclub culture.

Artist of the year — Matthew J. Clark

This 35-year-old sculptor burst upon the art world like Barack Obama taking the White House. Clark’s “Simulation of the Triumphal Entry of the Christ,” performed on the eve of the Presidential inauguration, was a prelude to his stunning sense of artistic relevance and the unrealistic expectations of these times.

Consider that the day Clark’s Obama/Christ simulated the coming of the new Messiah, the Dow Jones Industrial Average completed its largest ever dive (1,400 points) between a president’s election and inauguration. And yet, most newspapers characterized the country, and economy, that day as “surging with optimism,” even as the Dow began to dive another 1,400 points.

Clark began to visualize his 2009 works while reading Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation.” That philosophical treatise is popularly known as the inspiration for “The Matrix” films (though Baudrillard claims it was completely misapplied). “I started thinking about the hyperreal and how it relates to reality and to the existence of objects of hope,” Clark explained. His summer studio show revealed hyperrealist, silicone sculptures further reflecting on displaced faith. “Our Little Jimmy Can Do Anything If He Puts His Mind To It,” “Took $1.37 from the Offering Plate,” and “No You May Not Borrow a Cup of Sugar” all dared to reveal that prevailing, empirical wisdom was dressed in invisible clothes.

Person of the year — Jeff Fleming

The Des Moines Art Center Director edged out John & Mary Pappajohn by shepherding that couple’s largess into the PSG. Fleming’s big year also included bringing to Des Moines both the largest ever retrospective of American Regionalism (including Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”) and also the most cutting edge retrospective (“Tara Donovan”) in America. Fleming had astutely signed Donovan four years ago, anticipating her leap to fame.

Exhibition of the Year

— “Tara Donovan” at the Des Moines Art Center; “Molecules That Changed the World” at the Faulconer.

Gallery — “New Works by Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen,” currently at Moberg

Non-traditional venue — Mathew J. Clark’s “Twisted Words”

Design of the year — Kyle and Sharon Krause house by Thomas Phifer, and Henning Construction
The “architect of light” brought visually spectacular, state of the engineering science, environmental vision to central Iowa, much like the Chipperfield library was supposed to do. Runner-up — Simonson & Associates Headquarters by Simonson & Associates.

New artist of the year — M. Shawn Crahan
Slipknot’s Clown debuted paintings and manipulated Polaroid art that took a Bosch-inspired view of Dante’s hell from the point of view accessed with a rock star’s backstage pass.

Story of the year — The PSG
The PSG became a downtown tourist attraction the moment it came online, greeting eastbound traffic with a contemporary, cosmopolitan first impression of Des Moines. Runners-up — Steven Vail reopens his gallery; Des Moines Social Club opens.

Worst design — Ingersoll Dahl’s

The design for the new Ingersoll Dahl’s brought displaced suburban aesthetics to the inner city, emphasizing wasted space and customer inconveniences in parking, entrances and displays.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Art in Des Moines 4th Quarter 2009


A Season for Contemplation

Des Moines’ art scene is becoming as seasonal as Iowa’s weather. Summer is now dominated by festivals of renown, magnetically attracting itinerant artists from all over the globe. The post-harvest season has become a time of introspection and contemplation, when suddenly naked trees reveal broader perspectives. Artists withdraw into closer-knit circles of community. Three November shows represent this season with: a deep show of respect for nature’s creative cycle, a testimony to a communal Middle American folk art, and a reflection on our place in the universe.

Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen personify Iowa creativity. Like no other Iowans of their generation, the couple lived for their art, sacrificing creature comforts like furniture and furnaces for years. They were digital pioneers years before David Hockney discovered that medium and made it hip. Strohbeen’s single line drawings became as distinctive as the works of any turn-of-the-century Iowa artist. No artists anywhere work more closely with nature’s creative process. The couple has for decades lived in rural Madison County where they can create art that begins with seeds and stewardship. They documented that stage of their art for several years on the PBS television series “The Perennial Gardener with Karen Strohbeen.” That show became so popular that Strohbeen can barely walk around a farmer’s market or garden center without being recognized by fans. Much of the art in their new show at Moberg Gallery fuses garden produce, at various stages of maturity and decomposition, with Karen’s drawings and Bill’s photographs, compressed like a time lapse memory of beauty’s life cycle.

Leeks, dahlias and wild coneflowers star in a heartbreaking evocation of the ephemeral quality of life.

Luchsinger added “cancer survivor” to his résumé last year, and the couple is debuting a collection of cemetery angels they have been working on for decades. Street scenes, beach scenes and 8 foot tall slices of prairie life also feature in this year’s show. In some instances, 360-degree vertical shots are compressed into singular flat prints. “New Works by Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen” opens Friday, Nov. 20 and runs through the rest of 2009.

For the second straight year, Des Moines hosted a major national quilt event in late October, and Olson-Larsen Galleries assembled a complementary state-of-the-art exhibit. A full circle of quilting variety is provided by four Midwest artists. Linda Andeberg contributes still life fiber collages. Priscilla Sage’s shows hand stitched quilts of silver mylar fabrics, rods and Japanese paper. Astrid Bennett’s presents hand painted fabrics, and Debra Smith presents minimalist fabric collages, many stitched from raw and antique Japanese kimono silks. “Quilt Walk” runs through Nov. 28.

At Drake’s Anderson Gallery, Angela Battle’s painting students collaborated with Physics and Astronomy professor Charles Nelson to create art inspired by active galactic nuclei, where powerful energy sources fall into black holes of over a million solar masses. Nelson explained: “This project emphasizes how scientists use their visual senses to aid in interpreting data. Astronomy is inherently visual.” Their exhibit opens Friday, Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 18.

Art Dish Steven Vail Gallery recently added exciting new work by Richard Tuttle, Lee Krasner, A.R. Penck, Anthony Gormley and Joe Andoe… Bill Barnes won an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation grant, one of twelve chosen from more than 500 applicants… Tom Moberg (Mercy Medical Center East) sculptures were featured for a second time in the most recent issue of “Health Care” magazine… Sculptor Jesse Small opened a studio in Hong Kong… Painter Mary Kline-Misol revealed the first phase of her new portrait series giving a face to homelessness in Des Moines.


Haute & Low Culture - More Than Coincidence

As the equinox passed, haute and low culture in Des Moines celebrated shining moments on three successive nights. Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (PSG) opened with dignitaries present but the Governor and Mayor conspicuously absent. Shawn Crahan and Frank Hansen opened two nights of joint shows and celebrations with indignities present and bodyguards active.

PSG’s gala tent party oversold its most hopeful estimates, at $500 per couple. Maybe not so coincidentally, the Art Center, who administers the PSG, had just released their 2008 Annual Report. It curiously listed the decreased evaluation of its portfolio as "lost revenue and support." To the tune of nearly $7 million in "investment loss" and "$2.6 million in bottom line "lost revenue and support." Most people I talked to thought it a brilliant move - that it might solicit an opening of checkbooks without having to even make a phone call. It seemed to work on the immediate response to the gala anyway. It was also the last hurrah for the Art Center's extraordinary Development Director Edwina Brandon. She was seduced away by a Long Beach museum where she can be near her Mom, whose health is failing. She will be missed, indeed. Polity ruled the gala night: No one mentioned the more than coincidental closing of Des Moines Art Center’s Downtown Gallery.

Slipknot clown Crahan celebrated his new career as a visual artist (and his 40th birthday) with more raucous crowds at the Azalea Ballroom and Moberg Gallery. Art ruled his more than coincidental joint exhibitions with Hansen. Both artists have synthesized unique personal styles of expressionism.

Crahan’s large canvasses make Bosch-like statements of hellfire and bliss, seemingly fashioned by a seasoned veteran.
Hansen’s new paintings show maturity too, with more heavily layered canvasses and sharper details accompanying his familiar narratives of wry humor and lament.

“Mostly, I have the time to do that now that I’m painting all the time. Plus, I feel like I have to keep producing. I’m have seven paintings at Beneveda, (in Beverly Hills) plus works at Corner House (in Cedar Rapids), Art Biz (in Kansas City) and Icon (in Fairfield). Shawn Crahan wants me to join him in shows this year in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Plus I am doing a clothing line, of ski sweaters, for Neve in Denver and they want to show some of my paintings there for the launch," he explained.

Frank's latest works also use more kinds of media, including old fashioned dial telephones, umbrellas, glitter, antique couch fabric, horse shoes, screen prints, paper weight scorpions, steering wheels, Christmas tree lights, chrom luggage racks and ashtrays. Some commented on the careers of other artists - Crahan and Lee Ann Conlan.

Others, seven others, were self portraits, from different moments in his life that ranged from epiphanies to mid life crises. Hansen relates to the singer song writer Roger Miller, who makes similar comments on life of a farm boy gone to the city.
He considers “Designated Drunken Driver his masterpiece to date. That ten foot long painting is on a scroll mounted as a windshield in an old model car. Viewers can drive the painting with the steerring wheel and the perspective moves from farm to city and around the world, with all modes of transportation moving by - bikes, cars, swimmers, tractors. Boats, airplanes, wheelchairs, roller skates. Many of his paintings are “flipable” - you can turn them upside down and find a whole new story.

Elsewhere it’s a season of very big ideas, the biggest being stated by Faulconer Gallery’s “Molecules That Matter.” That show persuasively demonstrates that just as metals defined human eras into Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages, the non metallic eras began with the 20th century’s Carbon Age.

Celebrating the gallery’s tenth anniversary, “Molecules” gathers scientific and artistic works about ten carbon-based discoveries that rocked our world during each of ten decades in the last century. Life without them is as unimaginable today as life without metal weapons would have been to the Trojans. Yet, one hundred years ago there was no aspirin, gasoline, penicillin, plastic, nylon, DNA, birth control pill, DDT, Prozac or Buckyball. This show also does more to synthesize art and science than anything since Arthur Koestler’s “Act of Creation.”

Artists Tony Cragg, Bryan Crockett and Melissa Gwyn remind us that scientific breakthroughs are served on plates of irony: DDT may have wiped out malaria but it unbalanced ecosystems and created freaks; Gasoline and computing chips shrank the world but at uncertain costs to environments and brotherhoods. “Molecules” runs through December 13.

Des Moines Art Center’s “Return to Function” demonstrates artists working on very specific ideas. Being artists, even their ideas seem embellished. Undaunted, they create: lamps out of kiwi packaging; box cutters out US quarters; post apocalyptic shelters on wheels; homeless shelters out of car covers and Fed Ex packaging; mousetraps from Gucci cases; dresses out of the magnetic tape from discarded cassettes; garden shovels out of pogo sticks;

and coffins from IKEA furniture. The exhibition plays January 10.

Lee Ann Conlan’s big idea is to survive physical abuse. Conlan has long been the reality show of Iowa fine arts. (One Slipknot member bought Conlan’s post hysterectomy uterus art as a birthday gift for Crahan.) At a group show last month, she built a model house and sculpted figures participating in spousal abuse. That house was wallpapered in her drawings of her ex’s mug shots - from a series of such incidents.
She burned that art at the end of that show, on camera, flames ironically engulfing a frightened image in the mug shot art. “Flutter,” her show at Fitch Gallery, opens October 23 and includes the charred remains of that previous creation.
New sculptures and paintings are about her recovery. Every autobiographical piece includes a reference to monarch butterflies or chrysalis. Conlan’s adult head is set on her pre-adolescent body in one series. Her adult body emerges from a black butterfly in another.

“Monarchs aren’t as innocent as people think. They are the most poisonous of all insects to non human animals. I want to communicate that ambiguity. That’s why some of my butterflies look like moths and emerge from dreams in the paintings. The Czech word for nightmare is nocimura, literally that’s night moth,” explained an artist who shares Czech heritage with Franz Kafka, more than coincidentally.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall Arts Guide

Art Stop and non stop

In just its third year, artstop has developed into the major cultural event of the central Iowa fall while honoring the memory of an art pioneer.

"It all started at the memorial for Jan Shotwell," Marlene Olson explained of the long time gallery owner who died in 2007.

"We were talking about how much we all owed her, how much she had done for the arts, and (Elements Gallery owner) Sheena Thomas suggested that we might honor her legacy by commissioning a bus that connects the arts districts of town on a continuous run. She was thinking it could run year around, but we started with something more practical, once a year," Olson said.

On Sept. 11 and 12, shuttle buses will run continuously through some of metro Des Moines' artsy neighborhoods. The culturally rich Drake area is conspicuously omitted while Ankeny and Grandview areas are off the route for more understandable geographic reasons. Still, Artstop has created an event that is developing into a tourist attraction like studio tours of Winneshiek and Van Buren counties and art walks in Iowa City and Fairfield have.

Several galleries are honoring Artstop this year by holding big events. Anthony Pontius' entire available catalogue shows at Moberg Gallery after the artist's successful shows this year in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Seattle. Mary Kline-Misol will sign books, Chris Vance will teach drawing and the Des Moines Chorro Ensemble will play at Moberg during the event.

Olson-Larsen Galleries will open a show of new works by three popular artists including magical realist Michael Brangoccio,
who will deliver a gallery talk, Richard Black and Dan Mason. That gallery will also offer do-it-yourself animation stations and acoustic rock music. Steven Vail Fine Arts opens "Jan Frank; Kissinger & the Ladies" with folk-pop-rock. East Village Art Coalition debuts "The Seditionist Art Project" with a reconstructed classical music mosaic. From Our Hands Gallery has convinced Linda Andeberg to open a fiber show. Susan Noland Gallery has a reception planned for woodworker Dave Grieve. 2Au will present "meet the artist" events with Judy Whipple and live dance performances. Des Moines Social Club opens "Brent Houzenga's Me & My Army" and the artist will give painting demonstrations along with Michelle Holly, Chris Roberts and others.

Other fall highlights start with the Des Moines Art Center's "Return to Function" another big anthology show which explores functionality through the eyes of artists like Jules De Balincourt, Davide Balula, Ralph Borland, Claire Fontaine, Mark Hosking, Fabrice Hyber, Huong Ngo, Lucy Orta, Jorge Pardo and Andrea Zittel. Valley Junction's second annual Quilt Walk will keep October in stitches.
Frank Hansen's latest pictorials on human frailty will attract the artist's enthusiastic throng to Moberg where Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen will deck the holiday season out with their latest meditations on life on the prairie. A Fred Truck retrospective brings deadly serious humor to Heritage Gallery. Kemlyn Tan Bappe's spiritual takes on water soothe eyes at Ankeny Art Center.

A short drive away, highlights begin with a Faulconer Gallery exhibition on "Molecules that Changed History" including aspirin, Prozac, nylon and DDT. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art debuts a Norman Rockwell show while University of Northern Iowa museums offer two stellar outdoor photographers' works.

( APT indicates a special Art Pimp tout)

Recurring Events & Family Attractions

Thursday Night Art Walks in downtown Newton
First Friday Art Walks, Fairfield Town Square

Special Events ~ Festivals

Sept. 11-12 Artstop (,
Oct. 29 "Quilt Walk" in Valley Junction
Galleries ~ Ongoing

Art Dive (1417 Walnut St., Des Moines alternative gallery plans alternative exhibitions. Be surprised.

2AU (200 Fifth, West Des Moines) Pearls reign this fall in Au's effort to provide Art Deco comforts in a troubled year.

Des Moines Social Club (1408 Locust, Ave. Circus, wrestling, tai chi, akido, theater, belly dancing and other acts of sociability make the club's Instinct Gallery the most non traditional in town.

Susan Noland Studio Gallery (902 42nd St.) The psychological properties of gems are front and center in this master goldsmith's repertoire.

Special Exhibitions

Olson-Larsen Galleries (203 Fifth, West Des Moines,

Sept. 11 through Oct. 10 "New Works by Michael Brangoccio, Richard Black and Dan Mason." Brangoccio's excursions into magical realism are highlights of any season. APT

Oct. 16 through Nov. 28 "Thomas Jewel-Vitale," "Pastels" by John Preston. APT

Oct. 29 "Quilt Walk" Featuring works of Linda Andeberg, Priscilla Sage and Debra Smith.

Dec. 4 through Jan. 16, 2010 "Susan Chrysler White," "Anthology Show" with Bill Barnes, Dick Brewer, Barbara Fedeler, Carlos Ferguson, Dave Gordinier, Sarah Grant, Scott Charles Ross and Ken Peterson. APT

Moberg Art Gallery (2921 Ingersoll Ave., )

Through Sept. 19 "Anthony Pontius' Casual Calamity" In Pontius' hands, technique becomes symbolic. Moberg curators included Pontius' preliminary sketches with his paintings showing how the artist reworks a concept. APT

"New Artist Exhibit" Shows off bright, gypsy abstractions from Therès Murdza, Heather Brammeier and Diane Henk, sunny realism of Larassa Kabel and the dark wonderland of Mary Kline-Misol.

Sept. 18 through Nov. 16 "Frank Hansen" Hansen's exhibition are Des Moines most raucously attended each year as a wide range of folks respond to the artist's blue collar wit. Last year's exhibit featured over 60 new works and a movie premier. APT

Nov. 20 - January 2010 "New Works by Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen." Creating their first prints in 1970, Karen and Bill were among the nation's digital print making pioneers, even before David Hockney made it cool. The exhibit will showcase new work on paper, canvas, and ceramic tile. APT

Heritage Art Gallery (111 Court Ave.,

Through Sept. 18 "Fred Truck - Ten Year Sandwich." Takes on corporate images, individualism, war and terror all intertwine in this exploration of identity and its dissolution. APT

Instinct Gallery at Des Moines Social Club (1408 Locust St.,

Through August "Animal Nature" Anthropomorphic animals (Christopher Umana, Rudy Fig), parasitic insects (John Stuart Berger), teddy bears on crack (Chris Bent), mythological hybrids (Jeremiah Kettner) and Kafkaesque nightmares (Jason Scott Hoffman) hang their hats on the same rack as more traditional artists like Vanja Borcic and Jamie Fales.

September "Me & My Army" Brent Houzenga. The artist's largest solo show to date.

October "Creepy Crawlies" DMSC's first annual Halloween themed show.

November "The Lost Diary of Capt. Malcom Chang"? Installation by Van Holmgren in the main gallery. Veronica Hubbard and Zech Ward in the Side Galleries.

Steven Vail fine Arts (2880 Grand Ave., 309-2763, )

Through October "Jan Frank and Robert Stanley" Jan Frank's heavily worked, subtle abstractions and Robert Stanley brassy photo-realist nudes share a certain fascination with the female body. APT


Des Moines Art Center (4700 Grand Ave.,

Through Sept. 13 "Tara Donovan" Sculptor Donovan starred in a previous group show at DMAC and returns for her first solo exhibition of eye-fooling installations that transform large quantities of mass-produces items - toothpicks, adhesive tape, drinking straws, buttons, straight pins, plastic drinking cups, and Mylar - into stunning spectacles that defy expectations. APT

Through Sept. 6 "Before Anime" Prints from the Japanese imagination.

Oct. 2 through Jan. 10, 2010 "Return to Function" An artistic exploration of functional objects from vehicles to clothing, lighting and mobile architecture by Jules De Balincourt, Davide Balula, Ralph Borland, Claire Fontaine, Mark Hosking, Fabrice Hyber, Huong Ngo, Lucy Orta, Jorge Pardo, and Andrea Zittel, and others. APT

DMAC Downtown (8th and Walnut St.)

Through Sept. 13 "Tara Donovan" The first show so big and mind boggling it requires both DMAC buildings to hold it. This is also the downtown gallery's final show.

Ankeny Art Center (1520 S.W. Ordnance Rd. )

Through Oct. 10 "Beyond The Sea" Iowan artist's love for water creatures in a variety of media: acrylic, mixed media, watercolor and ink, pencils and silk dyes. APT
"Diversify Your Bonds" Brings together over thirty different Iowa artists from wildly different backgrounds.

Brunnier Museum of Art (University Museums, 290 Scheman Bldg., Ames, 515.294.3342,

Through Dec. 31 "Artists Visions: Prints, Paintings and Drawings from the Permanent Collection" 60 prints, paintings and sculptures from the University Museums' permanent collection, including works by Marvin Cone, Grant Wood, Dorthea Tomlinson and their contemporaries.

"N. C. Wyeth: America in the Making" Beloved Saturday Evening Post illustrator from the golden era of that medium.

Through Dec. 18 "HOT and COOL: Contemporary Studio Glass Sculpture from the Permanent Collection.

Through Feb 26, 2010 "All the Evils...Christian Petersen and the Art of War."

The Vesterheim (523 W. Water St., Decorah,

Through September 26 "Woven Women: Representations of the Female in Norwegian Weaving."

Through Oct. 11 "Knitting along the Viking Trail" Knitwear designed by Elsebeth Lavold with intertwining and runic motifs from the Viking Age.

Through February 21 "Sacred Symbols" Explores the pre-Christian function of symbols in textiles: good luck, fertility, protection and the spiritual world.

Through Spring 2010 "Sami" Artifacts and images from the Sami people.

Faulconer Gallery (Grinnell College,

Through Sept. 6 "Below the Surface: A 21st-Century Look at the Prairie" Contemporary views of our place in the world and its natural history, infused with overtones of the cultures that now live on this former sea of grass.

Sept. 25 - Dec. 13 "Molecules That Matter" An exhibition exploring 10 significant molecules of the 20th century: aspirin, isooctane, penicillin, polyethylene, nylon, DNA, progestin, DDT, prozac, and the buckminsterfullerene/nanotube. APT

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (410 Third Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids),

Till further notice "Malvina Hoffman: Rodin's Last Student." "Mauricio Lasansky Master Printmaker" Lasansky combines a spectrum of graphic techniques including etching, drypoint, aquatint, and engraving.

"Art in Roman Life" More than 50 works, including 21 Roman portrait busts.

Sept. 12 through Jan. 3, 2010 ?"Norman Rockwell - Fact & Fiction" In the 65 years since his visit, numerous anecdotes and stories have arisen about the artist's time in Cedar Rapids and the creation of this work.

University Museum (3219 Hudson Road, Cedar Falls),

Through Oct. 24 "The Irreplaceable Wild - Fragile Nature" National Geographic photographer Joel Sartori.

Nov. 2 through Dec. 23 "The Irreplaceable Wild - Touch the Sky" The photography of Jim Brandenburg.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2009 3rd Quarter

September 09

Just as the equinox passed, and eggs stood on end to defy common wisdom on that subject, Des Moines watched high and low culture show off without clashing as the town's old and new guards celebrated shining moments, if not generational statements. The PSG opened with dignitaries present. Shawn Crahan and Fank Hansen opened shows and celebrations with indiginitaries rife as clowns at a Slipnot concert.

The PSG Brands Des Moines

Des Moines’ Pappajohn Sculpture Garden opens next Sunday like a methamphetamine injection of civic pride. Asked if anything like it exists elsewhere, Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) Director Jeff Fleming cited Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Those are not hyperbolic comparisons. By one measure or another - value of sculptures, acreage of park, renown of the works - the Des Moines park can stand with each of those. In fact, “The PSG” kicks Minneapolis’ butt by all measures.

“These are all blue chip artists and each of these pieces are amongst the most important works of each sculptor,” Fleming explained.
With sculptures bearing $31.5 million of appraised value, 24 hour security and the most conspicuous venue of any such park in America, the PSG also fulfills a Princeton professor’s 17 year old vision with a remarkable touch of irony. Mario Gandelsonas, controversially asked to create a vision plan for Des Moines back in 1992, has become known in theoretical architecture as the disciple of “unplanned urban dynamism.” Yet his original suggestions for Des Moines’ future have been dogmatically followed - riverfront development, airport improvements, Fleur Drive beautification and the creation of Gateway West. Gandelsonas’ firm was even made the principle architect for the installation of the sculpture garden in Gateway West Park. The actual sculptures are a rare unplanned dynamic, given to the city and DMAC by John and Mary Pappajohn.

Wild enthusiasm is as hard to hold down as a fiber glass frame. Fleming thinks the PSG will become a civic brand like the Gateway Arch or the Golden Gate Bridge. At a time when anyone with a cell phone becomes a photojournalist, this garden park has instant branding potential, multiplied by the power of tweet. Fleming says Catalan artist Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade” could become iconic. Underground artists entertain similar expectations for Martin Puryear’s “Decoy.”

Barry Flanagan’s “Thinker on a Rock” is already the most popular piece in the park. That pensive rabbit, precariously perched on a sharp edge, suggests defiance of the wind-blown laws of dynamics. That is still Gandelsonas’ point.

Breaking Laws Like Gravity

If sculptors were not compelled to obey laws that govern gravity and thermodynamics, Michael Brangoccio would likely be one. His paintings are all about grand scale and magnificent effort.

On his web site, “Default” even looks like an epic sculpture. Brangoccio’s magical realism instills a sense of wonder and grandeur rarely seen outside the special effects labs these days. His subjects, things like floating elephants, defy laws like gravity.

“Floating is nearly always about grace - that unearned quality that just happens if you are in the right state,” he explained.

His new work is being shown at Olson-Larsen Gallery, along with new works by Dan Mason and Richard Black, through October 10.
Frank Hansen openings always flirt with lawlessness. This year his show will feature a painting that needs to be driven like a car.

“I am a moment-to-moment artist. “Charlie Button's Hobo Dude Ranch” happened because (The Mansion owner) Ted Irvine gave me a whole buffalo hide. So I learned how to paint with a branding iron and here we are. My brother was junking a car and he gave me a steering wheel. I thought it would be cool to build a painting that could be driven and unveiled itself to the driver like a highway,” Hansen explained.
“Frank Hansen New Works” premieres Sept. 25 and plays through November 14 at Moberg Gallery.

Art Skin

John Sayles is closing the design firm that bears his name and will pursue a fine arts career, debuting a line of paper mache sculptures soon… Chris Vance signed for a one man show in Denver and for a two person show with John Phillip Davis at Sioux Falls’ Washington Pavilion… The Very Reverend Cathleen Bascom of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul recently delivered a sermon based on her impressions of the Tara Donovan exhibit at DMAC. Dean Bascom sees deep spirituality in Donovan’s manipulations of disposable commodities.

August 09
Taking Comfort in Pearls and Bombs

The programmers of Des Moines’ art scene are now working in Metamorphic Code. Just look what they’ve done to August. During its first 150 Augusts, the arts communities in this city shut down like a French bureaucracy. One art critic wrote that the Iowa State Fair was the only cultural thing happening here between the opera season and the fall. Just a few years ago, Iowa galleries didn’t bother opening new exhibitions between mid July and September. This year, six smashing new shows have reinterpreted August and the local art scene.

Fred Truck is a thoughtful iconoclast whose work is deadly serious humor. “Ten Year Sandwich,” at Heritage Gallery through September 18, includes some of his best takes on corporate images, individualism, war and terror. All intertwine in his exploration of identity and its dissolution. In a bomb series, Truck arranged sculptures in a medicine cabinet — because “terrorists believe that a bomb can make everything well.” The artist noted while observing the Enola Gay and Big Boy exhibition at the Smithsonian, that early atom bombs were quite imperfect showing hammer dents on their skin.“They were just handmade items — they were a lot like art,” Truck said.

Former Des Moines painter Anthony Pontius is another original stylist who meditates on war and the way it’s perceived. His “Casual Calamity” at Moberg Gallery includes “every available painting in America” by the artist after his successful exhibitions in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington D.C. this year. In Pontius’ hands, technique becomes symbolic. He lays “fat paint over lean paint, intentionally painting badly” in his words — so that his paint will chip prematurely, effecting an Old Master’s look on which he scribbles, doodles and assaults with green shoots, sun rays, Mardi Gras streamers and other statements of youthful hope. Moberg curators included Pontius’ preliminary sketches with his paintings showing how the artist reworks a concept. On landscapes, which almost always look like battlefields or concentration camps,

“Bubble Gum Cowards” morph into piles of amputated limbs and the Statue of Liberty’s torch changes into Medusa’s severed head.

“I really don’t mean to be intentionally ironic. I just can’t help but go there sometimes,” Pontius explained.

Also at Moberg, a “New Artist Exhibit” shows off bright, gypsy abstractions from Therésè Murdza, Heather Brammeier and Diane Henk; sunny realism of Larassa Kabel and the dark wonderland of Mary Kline-Misol. Both Moberg shows play through September 19.

Dan McNamara exhibits his latest Jade Buddha meditations on universes within riverbanks at Olson-Larsen Galleries through Aug. 29.

An out of state museum director once told me that this most stylized of Iowa’s landscape artists possesses “astonishing vision that would dominate an exhibition, if the nature of his vision was not so peaceful.” Om to that. Abstractions from Jeanine Coupe Ryding and animal prints from Paula Schuette Kraemer complement McNamara’s serenity in this current show.

At 2Au, Ann Au explained the subject of her dazzling show “Pearls” playing through August. “They are comforting. They are warm, you can fondle them and they go with everything, with or without color. They become part of the body. I suppose that’s why they were associated with the 1930s and why they are comforting today.”

At Des Moines Social Club (DMSC), Michelle Holly has gathered the most eccentric flock of artists seen here in years for “Animal Nature” through Aug. 29. Several of these artists have professional names befitting an underground venue — Bosko, Macix, Rudy Fig, Netherland, M@r$h, Kettlefart, etc. Some go for double entendre jokes like Macix’s “Shaved Beaver” and others for the shock value of anthropomorphic animals (Christopher Umana, Rudy Fig), parasitic insects (John Stuart Berger), teddy bears on crack (Chris Bent), mythological hybrids (Jeremiah Kettner) and Kafkaesque nightmares (Jason Scott Hoffman). At DMSC they hang their hats on the same rack as more traditional artists like Vanja Borcic and Jamie Fales, who contributed a meticulous triptych of Keane-like girls modeling living hat wear.


Tara Donovan: Don’t ask this woman, “How many?”

The Des Moines Art Center’s (DMAC) “Tara Donovan” exhibition drew the second largest opening fortnight crowds in decades and has been particularly popular with younger audiences. What’s more, those crowds are lingering longer than usual, taking time to check out Donovan’s sculptures from multiple perspectives. That’s exactly what the museum hoped for three years ago when it scheduled Donovan.

Though she was little known at the time, DMAC committed their prime summer season and also, for the first (and last) time in museum history, both there Grand Avenue and Downtown galleries to the same shows. The exhibition’s multiple, untitled sculptures examine everyday objects while restoring both beauty and interpretation to the eye of the beholder. Everyone sees that Styrofoam cups, toothpicks, Mylar sheets, drinking straws, buttons and Scotch tape are the media stars. To different eyes, those same things might become coral reefs, stalagmites, mushroom clouds, sepia tone kaleidoscopes or instruments of torture. Officially, this is Donovan’s first ever “museum survey.”

“‘I think that’s a polite way to say it’s a retrospective without implying that I’m old,” she joked about a career that has taken off faster than even she imagined.

Six years ago, Donovan was in her 13th year working the bar and restaurant business to help support her art. Today, she employs a full-time crew of five people and owns a 1,500-square-foot studio in New York City. Her life changed after a sensational debut show at New York’s Ace Gallery in 2003. That led to bigger gallery representation in New York and London, a one-person show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first ever Alexander Calder Award and a 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a legendary “Genius Grant.”

Because a single sculpture might include hundreds of thousands of identical objects, Donovan dreads quantifying questions.

“How many? How long did it take? Those questions annoy me. I have receipts and I could go through them to supply the answers, but that’s silly and it misses the point. No one asks a painter how many tubes of paint he used, or how many days he spent applying paint. My attraction to materials and to their quantities comes from how they absorb and reflect light. I don’t see a straw; I see a tubular construction that sucks light. I work as much as a scientist as an artist. It’s all a process of experiment and discovery for me,” she explained.

Donovan doesn’t like the words “found object” either. “I don’t call it ‘found art’ because I don’t scavenge. I work with accumulated materials. That has led to this because mass-produced materials are readily available and inexpensive,” she said.

Cheap mass-produced materials are not the easiest media to handle. Everything Donovan creates must be built or rebuilt for each display. The Des Moines show took two weeks to assemble on site after months of pre-assembly in New York. She can never work outdoors — Scotch tape for instance is a “vampire medium” — it turns hard and becomes something else when exposed to daylight, losing the “misty, foggy artistic essence” that attracts her.

“I live in the zone between nature and the plastic realm. Materials do things beyond my control. That’s the mysterious part of the experience — how can one thing become something else? That separation drives me to explore,” she admitted.

Donovan also confessed that everyday materials assist another motivation.

“I like that I make art for guys from Home Depot, guys who don’t think they care about art but find out they appreciate this stuff. They get it. They find a carnal way, a Gestalt way of identifying. I like that breaking down of attitudes of elitism associated with art,” she said.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Arts Guide

Tent Cities in Tall Corn Country

Picasso defined artists as children who never grow up, a metaphor encouraged by the school-like calendar upon which the traditional arts keep time. As if oblivious to the invention of air conditioning, the art world still closes shop and heads for the hills and beaches at the first signs of hot weather. For centuries, summer arts festivals have been held almost exclusively in resorts from Salzburg to Spoleto and Newport to Carmel. In Des Moines, however, national reputations have been built against such winds of tradition.

By sheer force of their personalities, the late Mo Dana and Maestro Robert Larsen created two summer festivals of national repute in Central Iowa. Somehow Dana and Larsen persuaded itinerant artists to pitch their tents in the heat and humidity of the corn belt summer. Then they convinced the locals to support these gypsy artists with endearing enthusiasm. Together they transformed the very image of Iowa summer while inspiring other festivals.

Like a state fair for shoppers, the Des Moines Arts Festival (DMAF) now fills the city’s hotels and restaurants with visitors from near and far. Under Dana’s patronage, DMAF morphed from a sleepy day in Greenwood Park to downtown’s biggest weekend, a three day, 180 vendor, multi-stage, pyrotechnically enhanced carnival flattered of its alternative imitator - ArtFest Midwest.

Like corn itself, Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) thrives in heat and humidity, drawing the tassel of star singers, on summer break from the cultural capitols of the world, to the silk womb of Indianola. This year DMMO’s festival detours its traditional recipe of one tragedy, one comedy and one modern opera with a season of relentless romance in which larger than life harmonies tell three classical tales of love, jealousy and fate. Soprano Carter Scott makes her Iowa debut as the tragic Tosca while DMMO favorites Jane Redding, John Osborn and Jeffrey Springer return in other starring roles.

Those two gypsy festivals have even inspired brick and mortar arts institutions to bump up their summer programs. Des Moines Art Center is riding a hot streak of nearly four years of non-stop record breaking exhibitions. This summer, they bring back Tara Donovan whose eye-stopping sculptures dazzled in earlier group shows. Donovan’s first solo exhibition is so big it will take over both the Grand Avenue and Downtown DMAC museums, the first time that’s ever happened

Des Moines’ gallery scene has grown exponentially since Art Fest began. Only Kavanaugh and Olson-Larsen galleries are still around from those days. The latter provides its annual Summer Landscape show showcasing popular Gary Bowling, Dave Gordinier and Bobbie McKibbon. If Midwestern fields and streams don’t quench your thirst, the gallery follows it up with an exhibition of textile art from Central America.

Reflecting a recent run of good fortune, the youthful Moberg Gallery is introducing back gallery shows of “New Artists” and “Small Works” by not so new artists. Those play supporting roles to Ignatius Widiapradja’s meditations on metaphysics, memory and transcendence and to the return of prodigal son Anthony Pontius, back from New York City with his classical takes on similarly deep subjects.

The Cedar River Valley art scene enters post-flood stage this spring when Cedar Rapids Museum of Art reopens some shows postponed from last year simultaneously with new shows. Elsewhere, Grinnell’s Faulconer Museum takes a contemporary look at artistic reflections on the prairie while Decorah’s Vesterheim takes an historic approach to the same subject.

(*APT* indicates a special Art Pimp tout)

Recurring Events and Family Attractions

Thursday Night Art Walks in downtown Newton

First Friday Art Walks, Fairfield Town Square

Special Events


Des Moines Metro Opera Festival (Simpson College, Indianola,

May 29
Cabernet Night Live
An evening of standards and show tunes mixed with musical favorites from Broadway and American opera presented by DMMO’s talented Apprentice Artists. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks round out this evening of great entertainment at the Temple for Performing Arts. $50 ( 50 % reduction)

June 10
Threads & Trills Costume Show and Luncheon 12 p.m. Holiday Inn & Suites, Jordan Creek
A sneak peek at the costumes from the upcoming season’s operas while enjoying arias and duets sung by principal artists from each show. Lunch is included with the purchase of a $40 ticket.

June 11 & 13
Peanut Butter & Puccini Family Opera Adventure
Kids and adults take backstage tour of the opera. Learn about wig and makeup application, lighting, etc. $10 includes lunch. *APT*

June 19 - Ju1y 12
The 2008 Season *APT*

“Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini (June 19, 26, July 1 & 4, plus matinees on June 21 & July 12)
In love with the young painter Cavaradossi but desired by the ruthless Chief of Police the beautiful and tempestuous Floria Tosca finds herself caught in a web of jealousy and intrigue.

“Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber (performances June 20, July 3, 7 & 11 plus a matinee on June 28)
From its famous overture to its stunning conclusion, music plays harmony in this classical fantasy that married the devil and birthed German opera.

“The Barber of Seville” by Gioacchino Rossini (performances June 27, 30, July 8 & 10 plus a matinee on July 5)
DMMO favorites coloratura Jane Redding and tenor John Osborn return to reprise the misadventures of the world’s most famous barber.

July 9
“Stars of Tomorrow” Concert, (Sheslow Auditorium, Drake University). *APT*
DMMO's Apprentice Artists perform arias and ensembles at Sheslow Auditorium. $20 and $10

May 31, June 3, 6, 11, 13, 20, 24, 27, July 2, 4, 7, 9
“Apprentice Artist Program Performances,” times vary (Lekberg Hall, Des Moines Social Club, Sheslow Auditorium)
The troupe performs scenes and entire acts from both popular operas and rarely seen works. Most performances are free!

June 13-14
Iowa Sculpture Festival (Maytag Park, Newton,
The 7th annual event brings big bronze and steel art to Maytag Park for a hands-on experience of meeting artists, picnicking, swimming and watching comedians, magicians, balloon animal makers, etc. $1 and $2.

Des Moines Arts Festival (Gateway West, June 26 - 28
The only festival grand enough to inspire copycats, critics and loyalists, plus national rankings. We’re Number 5! And, yes, someone does actually rank art festivals, according to sales. The three day, free event brings national artists of all media to the river banks of downtown Des Moines, with all the food and music that a festival needs to turn shopping into a mega-event and source of civic pride.

ArtFest Midwest (Varied Industries Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, )

June 27 - 28
Piggybacking on the big shoulders of DMAF, the sixth annual “Other Art Show,” boasts lots of demonstrations ( glassblowing, pastel portraits, lampwork jewelry, pottery etc.) free parking and regional chauvinism. Over 225 artists will be showing, with approximately 40% from Iowa and 90% from the Midwest. The fest is now calling itself the “largest fine art show in Iowa.”

Art Stop
Sept. 11-12
The third annual shuttle bus tour of Central Iowa’s art galleries, studios and museums.



Art Dive (1417 Walnut St., )
Des Moines alternative gallery plans alternative exhibitions. Be surprised.

2AU (200 Fifth, West Des Moines)
Beach boys of Ipanema and mermaids of Tahiti mix it up with Tanzanian gems this summer.

Des Moines Social Club ( 1408 Locust, Ave. )
Circus, wrestling, tai chi, akido, theater, belly dancing and other acts of sociability make the club’s Instinct Gallery the most non traditional in town.

Susan Noland Studio Gallery (902 42nd St.)
The psychological properties of gems are front and center in this master goldsmith‘s repertoire.

Limited Engagements

Olson-Larsen Galleries (203 Fifth, West Des Moines, )

Through June 20
“Landscape Show”
New works by the gallery’s big picture stars Gary Bowling, David Gordiner and Bobbie McKibbon *APT*

“From the Earth”
New works by Michael Brangoccio, Wendy Rolfe, Betsy Margolius and Priscilla Steele

June 25 - July 18, reception June 25
“Textiles of Guatemala: Tapestries & Rugs by Mary Zicafoose”

Des Moines Social Club

Through August 29
"Animal Instincts"
Michelle Holly has gathered the most eccentric flock of artists seen here in years. Several have professional names befitting an underground venue - Bosko, Macix, Rudy Fig, Netherland, M@r$h, Kettlefart, etc. Some go for double entendre jokes like Macix’s “Shaved Beaver” and others for the shock value of anthropomorphic animals (Christopher Umana, Rudy Fig), parasitic insects (John Stuart Berger), teddy bears on crack (Chris Bent), mythological hybrids (Jeremiah Kettner) and Kafkaesque nightmares
(Jason Scott Hoffman). At DMSC they hang their hats on the same rack as more traditional artists like Vanja Borcic and Jamie Fales, who contributed a meticulous triptych of Keane-like girls modeling living hat wear.

Moberg Gallery

Through June 19 - August 1 (reception June 19)
“All Is Vanity -Ignatius Widiapradja"
Articulation on multidimensional reality, faith and memory by Des Moines’ existential artist. *APT*

“Small Works Exhibit” by various gallery artists

August 7 - Sept 19 (reception August 7)
“Anthony Pontius”

New York painter returns to Iowa.

“New Artist Exhibit”

Heritage Art Gallery (111 Court Ave.,
June 7 - July 30
“Iowa Exhibited 24”
The best of an annual statewide arts competition.
Through September 18
Fred Truck "Ten Year Sandwich"

The thoughtful inconclast brings his best takes on corporate images, individualism, war and terror. All intertwine in his exploration of identity and its dissolution. In a bomb series, Truck arranged sculptures in a medicine cabinet - because “terrorists believe that a bomb can make everything well.”


Des Moines Art Center (4700 Grand Ave., )
May 30
“Big Hair Ball: The Glamour of Illusion” APT
The Des Moines Biennial Celebration of kitsch in its frizzled, wigged out, bouffant glory.

June 9 - August 14
Summer classes. Day camps and family workshops. Call 271-0306.

June 19 – September 13, reception and preview party June 18
“Tara Donovan” APT
Sculptor Tara Donovan starred in a previous group show at DMAC and returns for her first solo exhibition of eye-fooling installations that transform large quantities of mass-produces items—toothpicks, adhesive tape, drinking straws, buttons, straight pins, plastic drinking cups, and Mylar—into stunning spectacles that defy expectations. Gallery talks on July 9 (Grand Avenue), 16 (downtown).

July 19
“Art Inside Out” (noon - 4 p.m.)
International celebrations of all things arty.

Through Sept. 6
“Before Anime”
Prints from the Japanese imagination.

DMAC Downtown (8th and Walnut St.)
June 19 - Sept. 13, reception and preview party June 18
“Tara Donovan”
The first show so big and mind boggling it requires both DMAC buildings to hold it.

Ankeny Art Center (1520 SW Ordnance Rd. )
June-August in Main Gallery
“Virginia Ocken”

June in Side Gallery
“Art Martinez”

August in Main Gallery
“Kemlyn Tam Bappe”
The Peranakan-American returns to Central Iowa with paintings of faith and inspiration.

Brunnier Museum of Art (University Museums, 290 Scheman Bldg., Ames, 515.294.3342, )

Through August 2010
“Exquisite Balance: Sculptures by Bill Barrett”
Minimalist modernism.

Through August 9
“N. C. Wyeth: America in the Making”
Beloved Saturday Evening Post illustrator from the golden era of that medium.

The Vesterheim (523 W. Water St., Decorah,
Through July 5
“Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905-1920”
Photographs of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island from all over the world.

Through Spring 2010
Artifacts and images from the Sami people.

July 12 - October 11
“Knitting along the Viking Trail”
Knitwear designed by Elsebeth Lavold with intertwining and runic motifs from the Viking Age.

July 23 - August 31
“Flashback: Norwegian Landscapes in Retrospect”
Photographs comparing historic and comtemporary Norwegian landscapes.

July 18-25
“National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition”
A competition and sale of works by contemporary artists in the Norwegian tradition.

Faulconer Gallery (Grinnell College,
June 12 - Sept. 6
“Below the Surface: A 21st-Century Look at the Prairie”
Contemporary views of our place in the world and its natural history, infused with overtones of the cultures that now live on this former sea of grass.

June 12 - August 28
“Small Expressions”
Annual exhibition of small scale works is limited to fiber techniques such as weaving, spinning, basketry, felting, beading, and papermaking.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (410 Third Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids),
May 30 - August 16
“John Buck: Iconography”
An overview of the Iowa-born, Montana-based, John Buck’s 40-year career in printmaking and sculpture

June 20 - August 16
“Under the Big Top”
In celebration of Iowa’s importance in the development of the circus (the Ringling brothers were from McGregor, Iowa), the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will install two galleries of circus imagery from its own collection.

Re-opening May 30 till further notice
“Malvina Hoffman: Rodin's Last Student”
In 1985 and 1986, the CRMA received a large number of plaster and bronze works by Malvina Hoffman. In 2003, Hoffman's magnificent Bacchanale Frieze was permanently installed in the Museum's Carnegie Wing. A substantial exhibition of her work, however, hasn't happened for some time.

“Mauricio Lasansky Master Printmaker”
Lasansky combines a spectrum of graphic techniques including etching, drypoint, aquatint, and engraving.

“Art in Roman Life”
More than 50 works, including 21 Roman portrait busts

University Museum (3219 Hudson Road, Cedar Falls),
June 8 - August 15
“Slow Food to Fast Food” APT
The way America ate and eats.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2nd Quarter 2009

June 2009
The Art of Living Dangerously
Ignatius Widiapradja’s home and studio shelter shards of shattered histories — skulls, taxidermy freaks, body organ models, religious relics, ancient books, Salvation Army dolls and mutilated mannequins. That’s not too unusual for a contemporary painter. After Damien Hirst institutionalized morbid realism (and became the richest living artist in history), young painters began hooking up with existentialism and accessorizing their lives with gothic props. Widiapradja is anything but a poseur in this territory. Like the reptiles and Bible stories that dramatize his paintings, he is himself transformational. Even his name is an adaptation.

“I was 5 years old in 1965, ‘the year of living dangerously.’ The Suharno government fell to a coup that managed to blame the Chinese. There were horrible reprisals everyday. Fortunately, a powerful village leader gave my father an Indonesian name to protect our family. That’s when I became Widiapradja,” he said.
“The Year of Living Dangerously” is an Oscar-winning Peter Weir film about 1965 in Indonesia. Made in 1982, it identified the CIA, not the Chinese, as masterminds of the 1965 coup. In America, it’s known as probably the best work ever by actors Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt. For a 5-year-old ethnic Chinese boy in West Java, “The Year of Living Dangerously” was an ironic understatement. It lasted much longer than a year, abruptly ended childhood and began shaping a worldview that would desperately clawed its way into artistic visions.

“Indonesian schools closed in 1965, for two years. Daily demonstrations continued even longer. Between the ages of 5 and 12, I was never allowed to leave the house without bodyguards. For a while I saw dead bodies floating in the water every day. Friends were killed for voting Communist. Friends were killed for being Chinese. Fear makes one aware of his utter vulnerability. I became acutely aware and constantly reexamined my life view,” he recalled.
Widiapradja attended a strict Roman Catholic school and was trained for 12 years in the dogmatic Old Dutch school of drawing and painting. Yet ethnic Chinese students were admitted to Indonesian universities in such limited quotas that art school was impossible. He moved to America in 1979 to attend the University of Texas in El Paso. Widiapradja didn’t think he could learn much there about drawing and painting, but the jewelry department impressed him. His grandfather had been a master goldsmith, so he took up a family tradition.

By the mid 1980s, he was on the fast track to international recognition as a jewelry artist — featured at the American Craft Museum and included in their world tour exhibitions. Drake hired him to teach jewelry, but that discipline was becoming frustrating.

“Education kept leading me to more doubts and investigations into the nature of living. I wasn’t able to see the history of civilization as progressive. Persecution still exists, brutality and torture even. Evolution moves in baby steps, at least measured emotionally. The ideas that entertained my mind were too big to be expressed within the discipline of jewelry so I started painting again. I rejected abstraction, for the same reasons. I returned to old Dutch realism because abstraction couldn’t accommodate expressions of individual struggle that I was feeling,” he said.

Widiapradja’s paintings today, mostly seven-foot squares, can accommodate big ideas. Many are riffs off themes drawn from sacred texts.

“When you’re forced to the edge of the cliff, you lose the luxury of entertaining options. The Old Testament is full of hard decisions from the edge of the cliff, brutal ones even. Abraham had to decide whether to kill a son,” he said. Then, as if to illustrate the regressive history of civilization, he jumped to the New Testament.

“The crucifixion is the most potent image of all time. Imagine, at the moment of his apotheosis, Jesus asks, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken me?’ What a moment,” he mused. Ignatius Widiapradja‘s new paintings comprise “Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity” opening Friday, June 19 (running through Aug. 1) at Moberg Gallery.

May 2009

Des Moines’ Gang of Four

Des Moines’ artist community morphed this decade from an oxymoron to a distinctive civic asset. While the boomer generation produced its share of original artists, their art hardly provided a full time profession in Des Moines. Richard Kelley pushed a broom at the Des Moines Register. Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen made television shows. Mary Kline Misol taught at North. Others left town. Larry Zox and Richard Bauer moved to New York City, Doug Shelton and Ellen Waggoner to the Southwest. Today a growing community of artists under the age of forty is posed to make it, in Des Moines, solely as artists.

With respect to Sticks (a West Des Moines company that recruited and employed artists in the production of a fine arts brand), the emergence of the city’s artist community can be traced to March 2002 when a dozen young painters, many Sticks employees, produced a trunk show that has become a local legend. Chris Vance determined that Des Moines painters needed other painters - for collaboration, critique and support.

Frank Hansen named the group Paintpushers.

John Phillip Davis joined a year later. About the same time, destinies of those three painters were being forged by a young sculptor who felt that his art was rut-stuck by his own success.

“For seven years I had worked back to back to back on commissions, mostly out-of-state. Each one took six months to a year. But I was recreating the visions of my clients and I was tired of it. I hoped that owning a gallery was a means to more artistic independence,” TJ Moberg explained how he and Jackie Moberg decided to open Moberg Gallery in 2003.

Des Moines’ young artists were so splintered six years ago that the Mobergs didn’t even know Vance, Hanson or Davis. Vance was in a regular rotation at the short lived Art House Gallery, Davis at the shorter-lived Bauhaus and Absolute while Hanson showed occasionally at Art Dive. All three sold at trunk shows and street fairs.

“I saw Chris’ work at Art House and I coveted it. I ran into John Phillip at various events. Jackie saw Frank’s work at Art Dive and told me I would love it. Frank didn’t have a contract with Art Dive, so I told him I wanted to give him a show but that I wanted exclusive rights to represent him in Iowa. You can’t print what he told me to do,” TJ recalled.

“About a year later, we were hosting a Kansas City Gallery event and Frank showed up.

Today, this gang of four under age forty forms the core of the new artist community here. Recent and current shows demonstrate new directions for them all. Vance has moved from abstraction to figurative, narrative paintings and is using more non traditional media on which to paint.

The only one of the group who still shows at street fests, Vance has won best in show, or best in class at every major festival he’s entered. He had his first museum show last year at the South Dakota Art Museum.

Hanson (“All Franked Up” currently plays the Ankeny Art Center) still creates narratives on canvass with wry humor but his paintings are more layered and labored now. They appeared on MTV in a Slipnot video this year and Texan Mark Kneeskerns debuted a film biography of Hanson last year.

Davis (currently showing at Moberg) has moved from his trademark - heavily layered, existential meditations on large canvass - and is now creating similarly earnest tactile sculptures, his best work but not easy stuff to sell.

TJ Moberg (currently showing at Moberg) has been creating sculptures that evolved from mental therapies based on chromatic auras.

March 2009 "Artist in the Studio" Jules Kirschenbaum

Making a Difference for 30 Years

Marlene Olson

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ 30th Anniversary Exhibition highlights this spring’s Valley Junction Gallery Walk, Friday, April 17. Marlene Olson’s gallery has always represented mostly Iowa artists and it has legitimized Iowa art as much as anything has over the last three decades. Olson reflected on her exhibition, her artists and the changing art scene in Iowa.
“Thirty years ago when we opened, everyone wanted wildlife art. Not just Maynard Reece either, there were lots of others. Of course, most of those thirty year old reproductions have turned blue now or faded away. So people have learned the difference between original art and factory reproductions. No one calls about that anymore,” she said, smiling.

The gallery’s opening three decades ago closely followed the passing of an Iowa law that prescribed one half of one percent of state construction funds be set aside for art. Olson credited that law with keeping her business afloat, saying that University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University have been significant clients ever since.

“There’s a need now for more set aside money. In most states it’s a full percent because money is needed for maintenance as well as purchases and commissions,” she added.

Olson says the biggest change has been public awareness of Iowa art. “Thirty years ago, most Iowa artists had full time jobs. Most of our artists taught, or painted houses in the summer. Even (full time artist) Doug Shelton did murals to subsidize his paintings. Today, Byron Burford has been working on one painting for well over two years. Karen Chesterman paints around the clock and only does 10 paintings a year. That kind of layering and detail didn’t exist here back when we opened. No one could afford the time for it,” Olson explained, before reeling off a dozen names of full time artists she represents.

Olson credited former Des Moines Art Center directors James Demetrion and Peggy Patrick for giving Iowa art a boost. “They were both tremendously supportive, at a time when that was crucial. They bought Iowa art for their collections and they directed clients to us. Julia (Brown Turrell) bought a lot of Iowa art too. Jeff Fleming is a real pleasure and shows sincere interest in the local scene,” she said.

Olson also noted that the Iowa State Fair Art Show helped boost visibility, as did competitors to her business.

“Now there are so many more galleries and that’s good for everyone. For years it was just us and Percival (Gallery). When they closed, there was an opportunity to open things up. I suppose when I am gone there will be another big opportunity like that.”

Some things have not changed. Traditional landscape art is still the most popular style with Olson’s clients. “Gary Bowling is our best selling artist. Bobbie McKibbon, John Preston, Bill Barnes, Jack Wilkes and Sarah Grant have been steady, dependable artists too,” she added.

Asked about her biggest obstacles in 30 years, Olson mentioned losing Robert Bauer to Forum Gallery in New York City and Ellen Waggoner to Arizona. “All our artists have always come through with their promises. No one ever failed to deliver what they said they would. So, whatever problems we’ve had, they’re minimal compared to the stories one hears elsewhere,” she summed up.

"Cornelis" by Jules Kirschenbaum

Asked about her favorite artist, Olson played the “mothers can’t have favorite children” card.

"Life, Earth" by Cornelis Rutenberg (portrait of the aritst with Jules Kirschebaum)

She admitted that no one today has the gravitas of the recently deceased Cornelis Rutenberg and Jules Kirschenbaum, both still represented by the gallery and in the current show.

Art Touts

Artdive's Annual Spring Open House will be Friday, April 17 with graffiti artist Jordan Weber featured… The Des Moines Art Center Film Competition will be screened at 1 pm Sunday, April 26, in Levitt Auditorium (4700 Grand Avenue).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Art in Ds Moines 2009 1st Quarter

March 2009

Des Moines Social Club - the Play’s the Thing

The Des Moines Social Club (DMSC) opened this month with ribbon-cutting fanfare and a revival of Karel Capek’s “R.U.R.” That futuristic play premiered in 1919, the same year that Kruidenier Cadillac cut the ribbon on the Jack Hatch building that now houses DMSC. Coincidences like that are not accidental with this not-for-profit organization. From its conception, DMSC distinguished itself from other want-to-be scene makers by composing dissonant noises into contrapuntal harmony. It now represents the holy grail of civic aspirations -- a place for the elusive “creative class” to hang its beret.

For those of you outside the not-for-profit art world, “the creative class” is a precious term coined by Richard Florida, sociology’s pop star and the super hero of not-for-profit organizations everywhere. Florida’s theories have been used, and misused, now for a decade to convince cities that their futures depend upon the abilities to attract young urban professionals to their arty cores. Florida is so politically correct that his name intimidates the people and organizations who control seed money for new enterprises. It’s used to justify this argument: “If you don’t give (fill in name of arts organization) your money, your real estate values will fall, your city will die and the rest of the world will laugh at you, you philistine.”

DMSC impresario Zach Mannheimer took a different tack. He built a cohesive artistic mass before pitching his idea. The Club combines an art gallery, an education center and a free, live theater under one roof. The theater is home to The Subjective Theater Company, which has 20 local members and affiliation with a nine year old New York City company. Everything is supported by rent (a for-profit bar subleases space from DMSC) and by a patchwork of over 30 funding sources - public, private, foundational, civic, state, etc. Few longtime locals have built such eclectic support groups - Harry Bookey and Jack Hatch ( there are no accidental coincidences) come to mind. Mannheimer is a New Yorker and that makes his achievement a signal that Des Moines acknowledges the new millennium.

DMSC’s superior angels are the Kruidenier Foundation, the Bedell family and the Iowa Arts Council. Over a thousand volunteer hours were donated to remodel the building. DMSC has a one year lease, at a generous rent, with an option to renew for just one more year. I asked Mannheimer if that didn’t scare him.

“It’s a leap of faith. This whole thing is an outrageous leap of faith. Most good things that get done require a will to take some leaps,” he said.
Opening night assembled an odd band of brothers: homeless dudes rubbed shoulders with politicians from three parties. More encouraging for the true Florida believer, the turnout represented a youthful demographic - more like a rock concert than a serious theater audience.
DMSC’s education center will be offering classes in circus performing arts, money management, dance and theater. Its Instinct Gallery will produce monthly shows “for the underground and pop-surrealist art movements.” The first was a populist all-female exhibition of very traditional media - a couple sculptures and things that hang on walls. The Gallery also plans to retail limited edition designer toys and figures.

The theater is the star here with 21st century sound and light technology amplifying such cutting edge fare as Steven Gridley’s “The Twelfth Labor” and an original play based on the works of Des Moines activist Evelyn Davis. Mannheimer plans to recruit both theater and music talent from New York for other future shows.


Three early Spring exhibitions show off the state of the Iowa art scene.
Olson-Larsen Galleries’ 30th Anniversary exhibition opens Friday, March 27 and features a work by every gallery artist… The Des Moines Art Center’s Iowa Artist Exhibition, through May 22, features self taught, magical painter Timothy Wehrle, memory explorer Larassa Kabel and inquisitional printmaker Phillip Chen… Chris Vance, Des Moines’ most popular painter, exhibits his latest amusing narratives on life in Iowa at Moberg Gallery through April 25.

Feburary 2009

Return of the Parodical Son

Already drawing record numbers of visitors, scholars and national media, the Des Moines Art Center‘s (DMAC) “After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism & the Midwest” is that museum’s grandest original creation in ages, perhaps ever. At a time when even the nation’s biggest museums are backing away from “blockbuster” exhibitions, DMAC mounted a one-museum show that redefines a major genre of American art. Superstars of Midwest art history are represented with their finest works, including Iowan Grant Wood with his iconic “American Gothic.” Other Wood paintings in this show look ridiculously idyllic, as if the Great Depression didn’t phase Iowa. “American Gothic” though is placed in a context that makes one wonder, in curator Debra Bricker Balken words, “Is it earnest, or a parody of Midwestern middle class values?”

Regionalism’s other major figures appear less ambiguous. The exhibition includes some obviously racist commentary on the 1930’s, such as Jim Jones’ “Roustabouts.” That suggests that viewers see John Steuart Curry’s most famous paintings not as historical commentaries but as political analogies. Curry‘s “Manhunt” and “The Mississippi” clearly editorialize on lynching and pains of the Jim Crow era while his “John Brown” looks more like a savior than a madman.

Despite Wood’s celebrated homecoming, Tom Hart Benton is the star of this show. Balken gives him both the first and last words in a narrative that treats Benton as Regionalism’s movement maker, a bigger-than-life character who reinvented himself from a Clark Gable wannabe to the American Picasso - while defiantly spitting in the eyes of: the eastern art establishment; Modernism; and economic realities of the Depression. The exhibition’s title painting even becomes Benton’s concession speech in the mid 1940‘s - Regionalism, and its rose-colored bounties, are dead and buried behind 40 acres and a mule.

“After Many Springs” appears with eerie timeliness. Though planned four years ago, in the high flying days of economic exuberance, it explores American angst after the stock market crash of 1929. The hard scrabble decade of the 1930’s is also recalled (and/or dramatized) by America’s greatest photographers. Margaret Bourke White dominates that group, much as Benton did the era’s painters, by transforming herself in a creative reaction to her subject matter - the Midwest in the Great Depression. First we see White as a card-carrying Modernist who photographed heavy machinery solely for its abstract lines. Then she’s reborn as a documentarian with a bleeding heart and an eagle eye. Russell Lee and Arthur Rothstein come off more like “Hollywood realists.” We discover that both were comfortable restaging their subjects for dramatic effect. Staged or not, the dust-blown visions of these photographers contrast utterly with the idealist Midwest that Wood, Benton and Charles Sheeler painted.

The exhibition tries to build bridges between Modernist and Regionalist visions. Benton’s student Jackson Pollack (bet you didn’t know that) presents the first stage of that synthesis, glimpsed in Pollack’s work prior to his Abstract-Expressionist epiphanies. The recently rediscovered John Rogers Cox and Philip Guston (who replaced Wood at the University of Iowa) comprise stage two. According to Balken, they both incorporated “aspects of surrealism in their paintings that transport the viewer to places where both the landscape and humanity have been irreparably altered by the harsh realities of the previous decade.”

In today’s dark light, Joe Jones steals this show with his “American Farm.” That painting appropriates a medieval landscape that looks like it might have inspired Hollywood’s later visions of America after nuclear war. “After Many Springs” plays through May 17, though “American Gothic” will be here only till March 29.

Olson-Larsen Galleries new exhibition features two contemporary landscape photographers who interact with their subjects much as the Great Depression cameramen did. New Englander David Ottenstein has been chronicling the dust blown remnants of vanishing Iowa farmscapes for five years. Last frontier photographer Stuart Klipper lugs, huge heavy equipment to the most challenging places on Earth, from Antarctica to the Sahara. Both exhibitions continue through March 21.

January 2009

Return of the Great Depression

Iowa philosopher-artist Bill Luchsinger says that some artists are canaries in culture’s mine shaft - they sense things long before anyone else can and alert the rest of us. Our mid winter arts calendar makes one suspect that gallery directors also have canary nerves. The Des Moines Art Center’s (DMAC) entire winter program, planned when the stock market flew in the 1400’s, reminisces the Great Depression. The print, drawing and photo show “Different Realities” opens Friday Jan. 16 and contrasts different approaches to art between world wars while warbling a prelude to the symphonic boom of “After Many Springs.” Opening the end on the month, that DMAC blockbuster exhibit will bring ”American Gothic” home to Iowa while examining Midwestern art in the 1930‘s.

Moberg Gallery’s first ever “Works on Paper” appears similarly divined by canary feathers, providing the now timely “affordable art” from that gallery’s growing stable of emerging regional artists. It’s also Moberg’s biggest show ever, taking over the entire gallery. Drawings, prints and photos range thematically from the au current of academia to old fashioned Iowan. That contrast also mirrors the DMAC retrospectives of art in the Great Depression. Drake prof Ignatius Widiapradja contributes the most beguiling works at Moberg. His “Rose Series” comprises complex paintings in which pop images (Lindsay Lohan mugging Marilyn Monroe) are superimposed over metaphysical themes and religious imagery. Widiapradja also shows some of his “Buddha Series,” complex storytelling without the pop. Despite the simplicity of paper, this show relishes process. Des Moines’ Larassa Kabel contributes drawings of nudes easily mistaken for black & white photographs. Wisconsin sculptor Richard Taylor manages linocut prints that resemble his giant outdoor sculptures. Californian Tracy Duran weaves photo skins into collages. Kansas City’s Diane Henk’s mixed media collages emphasize written words. Kansas City’s James Woodfill plots ink drawings on velum. In more traditional approaches: Bradley prof Heather Brammeier contributes gouache drawings; Des Moines’ Jeffrey Thompson shows drawings from his pop art portraits of cartoon characters; Des Moines’ Catherine Dreiss brings classical wood cut prints; Davenport’s Leslie Bell shows his signature female characters, mostly adults this time; Oregon’s Therese Murdza exhibits watercolor and graphite works; and Wayne Norton shows his trademark photographs of rural Iowa.

Gallery stalwarts John Phillip Davis, Richard Kelley, Nancy Lindsay, Bill Luchsinger, Toby Penney, Anthony Pontius, Karen Strohbeen and Chris Vance all contribute familiar work. Vance adds a new element of buyer interaction - cut out figures that can be rearranged. Environmental sculptor John Siblik brings drawings related to his outdoor installations.

At press time, TJ Moberg said the gallery had “no idea what Noah Doely and Frank Hansen were contributing,” but that he never has a clue what those two artists would do next. This show is the Iowa debut for Brammeier and Henk. Penney and Dreiss, two extraordinary process artists, will give a free gallery talk Saturday, Jan. 24 at 11 a.m.. An opening reception will be held Friday, Jan. 23 and the show will run through March 7.

Much of Olson-Larsen Galleries’ marvelous anthology show “Shelter,“ is being extended into February. That exhibition gave gallery artists freedom to interpret its theme. Deanna Wood and Tim Frerich’s went with strictly symbolic shelters. Bill Barnes and Ted Lyddon Hatten employed utilitarian symbols - umbrellas and roofs. Thinking like agricultural commodities, Gary Bowling painted silos and barns. Intuiting a birds’ points of view, Tilly Woodward drew nests and human hands.

Joan Hentschel Gallery’s “Father & Son; The Lake Pieces” matches pere Gene Hamilton with fils Bill Hamilton, dealing with similar subjects. There’s one generational contrast: Bill sees boating as rowing and Gene as motoring. Bill’s rowers move toward their future while facing their past, particularly in mystic portraits of his father. Gene’s boaters power forward without ever looking back. Gene is now painting characters from “The Little Woody Talk Show,” a Des Moines production that recently won the Mammoth Film Festival’s “Best TV Talk Show Pilot” award. Check it out on You Tube The Hentschel show plays through Feb. 19.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2008

The Best & Worst of 2008

Artist of the Year - Richard Kelley

Internationally collected since the 1970’s, the “Dean of Iowa painters” delivered brighter, more optimistic narratives in a cynical year. The “magical realist” moved slightly away from abstraction without diminishing any of its ability to mysteriously move viewers.

Designer of the Year - G.E. Wattier

Greg Wattier’s architectural firm has been defining edge in Des Moines (Court Center, Mitchellville Library, Gateway Lofts) for awhile now. This year they honed that edge with the stunning conversion of an art deco car dealership into Alba restaurant, the hopeful new Fourth Street Condos, the retro new Iowa State Bar Association headquarters and even some new benches on Court Avenue that are both practical and aesthetic.

Exhibition of the Year - “World Histories” at the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC)
Acting more like an intercontinental exposition than a 20th century museum, DMAC celebrated its 60th anniversary by recruiting 11 emerging artists from around the world. Their art demonstrated the creative process of the third millennium flat world as a Hegelian dialectic. Each piece of art synthesized something original from the clash of regional traditions with a broader cultural perspective.

Architecture of the Year & Public Art of the Year - Davis Brown Tower
This building brought a new concept to Des Moines. Its cylindrical glass structure, wedged between two rectangles, looks like a working piston while it stacks seven levels of parking between two floors of retail space and four floors of offices. Developer LADCO also incorporated the year’s best public art: sculpture by jd hansen and a staggered light installation by STRETCH that could well become a civic landmark - the 21st century’s Younker’s clock.

Studio Show of the Year - Alex Brown at Art 316
Brown previewed paintings (for his upcoming exhibitions in Tokyo, New York and Geneva) that simultaneously flirted with photo realism, geometric abstraction and atomic deconstruction. His optically mesmerizing canvases built tension between illusion and discovery.

Gallery Show of the Year - Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen at Moberg Gallery

This digital couple’s thoughtful show, currently at Moberg Gallery, blurs and confounds distinctions between photography and painting. Their montages and superimpositions reveal more about the creative process than a psychology course on Jungian symbolism.

Worst Design of the Year - Ingersoll beautification project
This long-running fiasco wins for the second year in a row by miring the entire 28th to 31st Street corridor in construction zone perils for most of the year. Truly ugly light and power poles went up and down, and up again, with the passionate intensity of pubescence indecision. Handicapped parking was placed in front of an art gallery, rather than a nearby chiropractic clinic.

Breakout Artist of the Year - Rachel Merrill
Merrill demonstrated a storyteller’s talent for embellishing ordinary objects - wedding dresses in one of her several shows - with extraordinary implications.

Artistic Life Award - Lee Ann (Conlan)
This dreadlocked stylist of skulls and bones produced the edgiest event of the year in which she painted erotically tattooed, nude models while, unbeknownst to most, visitors were photographed gawking. This year she also opened her own gallery and chronicled not one, but two, “ugly divorces” in her paintings.

Artistic Death Award - Fito Garché at Art Dive

Christine Mullane’s gallery ran away with this award for landing the suicide and murder paintings of an artist who then committed both murder (of his agent and ex-girlfriend) and then suicide.

“What Bad Economy?” Award
Des Moines collectors paid over $14,000 at a November exhibition in West Glen for bonobo art, as in watercolors done by apes.

November 2008

The Weightiest November

The art world allows November the shortest shrift of all months. If noticed at all, it’s usually defined by its deficiencies, as in poet Thomas Hood’s famous “No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds - November.” This year, however, the month blows through Des Moines like a conspiracy to transform its image. Three different galleries have simultaneously opened exhibitions by likely the four most significant Central Iowa painters of the last half century - Jules Kirschenbaum, Cornelis Ruhtenberg, Mary Kline-Misol and Richard Kelley. In the fifty years I have been paying attention to Iowa painting, there has never been such a coincidence of weighty exhibitions.
More than anyone, Richard Kelley demonstrated the artistic devotion to the painting craft. Early in his career he was a university art professor. Feeling that college politics undermined the focus a painter needed, he switched to janitorial work to unburden his creative mind. Kelley’s “Enjoying Painting, Enjoying Life,” at Moberg Gallery through November 29, is the painter’s first exhibition since he quit mopping the Des Moines Register‘s floors. Internationally collected since the 1970’s, Kelley resurrects motifs from his early decades - namely Mary Ann, his red headed muse with Pied Piper talents. His new paintings also shine brighter, particularly his trademark blues and reds. Always a painter of “magical realism,” Kelley is moving slightly away from abstraction, without losing any of its ability to mysteriously move the viewer.
The late Jules Kirschenbaum was the most influential Central Iowa painter of his generation, inspiring two generations of artists as a professor at Drake and as a thoughtful stylist who was ahead of his time. The sudden superstardom of British painter Damien Hurst earlier this decade recalled the macabre subject matter on which Kirschenbaum cleaned his brushes. It also made Kirschenbaum’s work more valuable. Very few of his paintings remain on the open market. That’s why Olson-Larsen Gallery has combined a few with drawings, and also with paintings of Kirschenbaum’s wife Cornelis Ruhtenberg, through January 3.
Few Iowa artists have as impressive a resume as Ruhtenberg, a Latvian-born painter of original style. The New York Times began sending first string art critics to review her exhibitions in the 1940’s. Her work was exhibited at the Met, MOMA, the Corcoran and other heavyweight museums before the Eisenhower Era ended. She invented a figurative style that never quite fit within any modern art movements. Critics called it: a cross between Sung Dynasty landscape painting and German Expressionism; “chiaroscuro, in a full spectrum of colors,” 3.) and “music-made-visible.” From the vantage of today‘s more clamorous art scene, Ruhtenberg’s subtle inventions serve the spiritual mood of her paintings better than the techniques of contemporary “spiritual art“ do. She used glazes almost invisibly, to modify and merge colors, rather than glossing or embellishing them.
Mary Kline-Misol, a student of Kirschenbaum and a former North High School art teacher, exhibits a year of transitional paintings at Hentschel Art Gallery through December 29. Best known for paintings evoking Lewis Carroll’s imagination, Kline-Misol focused this year on a long personal encounter with a family of foxes that she befriended on her property and mythologized on her canvasses. They mix with some botanical paintings of ominous mystery. Her paintings mingle in the gallery with marvelously original folk art by her husband Sinesio Misol. That orthopedic surgeon shows sculptures made with surgical instruments and also some mythological spirits carved and painted on tree parts.
This coincidence of exhibitions has its own poetry. While the local art scene derives most of its currency from a much larger group of young artists, they stand on the shoulders of these peers, all of whom stubbornly proved that painting could become a livelihood in Des Moines. It’s beautifully appropriate that they all be honored, and examined, in the penultimate month.

October 2008

Dirty Little Secrets

“America Imagines Chinese,” at Drake’s Anderson Gallery, exposes one of our country’s dirtiest little secrets - anti-Asian racism that led to the long-running embarrassment of the Exclusions Act. This eye-opening exhibition recalls that national disgrace through trading cards - advertising’s most visible medium before the advent of magazines, billboards, radio and television. The images in the exhibition make Little Black Sambo look dignified by comparison.
The show manages some levity by injecting considerable educational trivia. We learn that few ethnicities were exempt from the hatred and derision of America’s 19th century majority. An Oscar Wilde section shows how deeply that Irish writer unnerved mainstream America with his gayness, his wit and his nationality. Wilde was even portrayed as a Negro and Chinaman, just to make sure that uppity Irishmen were put in their place. This exhibition also reveals some little known art history. The advertising boys of America invented surrealism about five decades ahead of Dali and Dadists. The show runs through Friday, October 17.

The Red & the Black

Yan Pei-Ming’s exhibition “Life Souvenir” at the Des Moines Art Center provides an ironic closing to the saga of the Chinese and American graphic arts. Ming is famous for tweaking Andy Warhol with paintings of the Pope and Chairman Mao. Ming painted two bigger-than-life series for this Des Moines show. One, in red watercolor, shows new born babies. Another, in black and white oils, depicts American soldiers killed in Iraq. He apologized for exploiting obvious symbolism.
“Red is the color of beginnings, good luck and happiness. Black is the color of mourning and death and unhappiness. Both are memorials (souvenirs), because red is associated with the amniotic fluid and black and white with tombs and gravestones,” he said.
Ming told us that he manipulates stereotypes for irony’s sake. Born in 1960 (a metallic rat year), Ming identifies with his astrological fate.
“I am a rat, but not metallic, I am a sewer rat. I survive on garbage,” he said, explaining that he left China because the Communist Party didn’t allow students who stutter to study art. He emigrated to France and worked ten years in a Chinese restaurant to pay his way through art school and to learn French.
“Twenty eight years later, life is good,” he joked. Two of his paintings averaged $2 million each this year in Sotheby auctions. Ming smiled about profiting off Communist clichés.
“When I learned to paint, I painted Chairman Mao - because the only art that Chinese artists were allowed to paint was propaganda art. Now I paint them for my own propaganda,” he said.
Irony also directed his return to China to establish a watercolor studio.
“I painted watercolors in Dijon and they never looked the same as watercolors painted in Shanghai. So I deconstructed the process and made sure that everything was exactly the same - the pigments, the bushes, the paper. The only thing that differed was the water. It was easier for me to go to the Shanghai water than to bring Shanghai water to France,” he said, while tipping ashes from a Cuban cigar.


The American Institute of Architects honored three local buildings and three local architectural firms for excellence in sustainable design. HLKB won for their M.C. Ginsburg project in Clive, Substance won for their own downtown studio and ASK for their CyRide project in Ames. HLKB also won three general design awards for buildings in South Dakota, Cedar Falls and Iowa City.

September 2008

Hanging Art: A Murderous Affair

Art imitates life but death imitates art. Fito Garché’s tragic life left evidence of that old adage in Des Moines. Despite his anti-Castro themes, Garché managed to make a living as an artist in Cuba. After troubles with Communist authorities, he fled that country in 1994, then spent a year in detention at Guantamano Bay before resuming his art career in Miami and Kansas City, with exhibitions in South America and Mexico as well. Jail and persecution haunted the painter. He developed problems with substance abuse and personal relationships. Five years ago he was arrested for breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s home and threatening her with a knife.
This past June, Art Dive owner Christine Mullane met Garché and his agent-girl friend Jana Mackey in Lawrence, Kansas. Mullane arranged an exhibition of Garché’s paintings and bought several outright. Shortly after that meeting, Mackey broke up with Garché and focused on her work as a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women and the Kansas Equality Coalition, petitioning the Kansas legislature for tougher laws on domestic violence. Mackey was murdered on July 3 during a violent encounter in which, police said, “she put up quite a fight.” Garché fled Kansas that same day but was arrested two days later in New Jersey. He was found dead by hanging in his jail cell the same day.
One of Mullane’s Garché paintings shows a tortured man hanging in a jail cell. She has taken all the Cuban artist’s paintings off the market for now, despite considerable demand. She is planning to organize an exhibition to benefit domestic violence.

DMAC Downtown enters “Twilight Zone”

The Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) Downtown’s new exhibition should be introduced by Rod Serling: “You're traveling through another dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead. Your next stop - The Twilight Zone.”
Like that anthology of great tales, DMAC‘s “Private Universe” collects stories of great imagination from the last 130 years. Themes range from historic to contemporary: Max Klinger’s crazed reflection’s on what was, in the 1880’s, a new theory called evolution would later influence both surrealism and psychoanalysis; Anna Gaskell’s eerie film seems to provide psychological context for what could be television news’ latest “Amber Alert” incident. Such diverse art is held together by its cohesive theme - everything is a creation of complex imagination. Some of the show’s artists paid dearly for their visions. Yayoi Kusama has been institutionalized for decades. Joseph Cornell, whom curator Laura Burkhalter called “The Godfather of the exhibition,” was infamously reclusive.
Most of this art is lighter than the psyches who created it: Kusama’s sculptures mix large phallic symbols with dazzling women’s shoes in a feminist dream closet guaranteed to make anyone smile. Patrick Nakatani’s photograph’s detail the life’s work of an imaginary archeologist who has discovered late model sports cars beneath the ancient ruins of Maccu Piccu, Stonehenge, etc. As in Twilight Zone episodes, nothing in this show is as it seems at first glance. Wondrous surprises and ironies await patient observers.
The exhibition also restores some of long cloistered treasures of the museum’s collection. Former DMAC director Peggy Patrick observed “It’s like meeting a bunch of old friends again after years apart.” “Private Universe” runs through January 25.


Iowa State prof Ingrid Lillgren’s affordable “Assemblages” provide rock solid grounding for the dazzling gems in Ann Au’s autumn collection at 2Au… Bob Nandell’s four decade career in photojournalism dazzles the Cowles Communication Center at Grandview through December 11.

August 2008

Soap Box Rants from a Blue Collar Freak

Frank Hansen has given up his day job and now paints full time, to the benefit of both the artist and his collectors. Not too long ago, Des Moines did not provide a market enthusiastic enough to support career painters. Now it does, more than at any time since the 1920‘s. Moberg Gallery’s annual Hansen exhibition shows that this painter is using his new found studio time well. His subject matter still derives from his personal, grindhouse visions but Hansen’s technique has developed this year. Several of his new works layer paint more diligently than ever before. Others show intricate brush strokes and more serious detailing.
Thematically, the works are still sarcastic and equivocal - showing humor and beauty in the most depraved people and places. Hansen’s “Romantic Caveman” returns after several years in hiding. The painter felt his work was getting a little too proper and market-oriented so he resurrected his Cro-Magnon alter ego, in all his X-rated form. Very few people ever worried that Hansen’s work was too proper, but the new paintings clearly court a muse more prone to hanging out around dumpsters than country clubs. If these paintings were song titles, I’d buy all the albums without even listening: “Dead Guy’s Nicknames Make No Sense;” “Blue Gill Bonnet;” “Pachyderm Noodle Dish;” “Soap Box Rants from a Blue Collar Freak Seem Wise in Luxurious Homes;” “Stalking Siamese Twins;” “Karma Teasing Life Drawing.” I could go on - there are fifty new paintings in the exhibition. One, “Tracy Levine’s Big Heart,” is an homage to Des Moines Metro Arts Alliance director. Another “Date with Destiny” is a portrait of the artist’s cat during surgery. The exhibition opens Friday, Aug. 29.

Life Flux Painting

Tilly Woodward is not really a “still life” painter so much as a painter of frozen moments in flux. Her new exhibition at Olson-Larsen Galleries demonstrates a Japanese sensitivity to ephemeral beauties - “longing and loss in detail” in the artist’s words. These exquisitely detailed paintings are wrought with symbolism far more subtle than is vogue today. Woodward even dares to paint birds in the hand, an intimidating subject to most Western painters because it demands the evocation of contradictory emotions which are almost impossible to catch without movement - trust and trepidation.
“When I paint I think of the beauty of the garden, a small landscape, as well as mudras, gang signs, offerings, prayers and fairy tales,” Woodward admits.
Her paintings are appropriately paired with two large new canvasses by Michael Brangoccio. Those depict birds minus the usual busy narratives and mythic symbolism of that painter’s repertoire. The exhibition runs through Saturday, Aug. 23.

There Goes the Bride

Heavier handed symbolism reigns at Heritage Gallery where “I’ll Show You Mine” presents manipulated photography by Jason (“Don’t call me a surrealist”) Scott Hoffman and head-turning mixed media art by Rachel Merrill. Merrill demonstrates a good storyteller’s talent for embellishing ordinary objects - wedding dresses in this show - with extraordinary implications. Show runs through Friday, Sept. 12.


The second annual ArtStop (Sept. 5-6) lineup is loaded with strong attractions. Besides Frank Hansen at Moberg, Fitch Gallery will exhibit nine female artists collectively known as Jane360, Art Dive will debut “Mandalas” by Christine Mullane and a group show featuring
figurative oils by Bekah Ash, Joan Hentschel Gallery will open a “Jacqueline Kluver” fabric art exhibition, Olson-Larsen will premiere “New Works” by “Sarah Grant” and “Scott Charles Ross” and the Des Moines Art Center continues its sensational 60th anniversary exhibition “World Histories,” which has set several museum attendance records already… “Advertising Cards and the American Image“ at Drake‘s Anderson Gallery (Sept. 5 - Oct. 17) reveals how USA perceptions of the Chinese have changed in 120 years… “Resident Artists: Low Brow Elite” at the cutting edge Gateway Lofts, on Friday Sept. 12, will include works of Michelle Holly, Kyle Thye, Cat Rocketship, Alex Kuno, Brent Houzenga and Van Holmgren, with music by three groups. An after party at Vaudeville Mews will include all-night-long live painting by resident artists plus musical performances.

July 2008

Leaving a Mark on Iowa

The new Davis Brown Tower at 10th and Walnut has the potential to leave a signature on 21st century architecture in Iowa. Its concept is new here - a cylindrical glass structure, wedged between two rectangles, looks like a working piston and stacks seven levels of parking between two floors of retail space and four floors of offices. Street level design combines a sidewalk arcade and a canopy system. If that isn’t enough eccentricity to grab your eyeballs, developer Ladco also incorporated two exciting pieces of public art. “Yesterday” by jd hansen neatly bridges this new millennium architectural statement with the landmark Hotel Fort Des Moines across 10th Street. Her six foot bronze statue evokes a “modern” icon from the previous century - Henry Moore.
The Tower’s sidewalk level interior includes an installation by STRETCH that also could become a civic landmark. This solid wall of glass domes, orbs and sconces (mostly recycled from a Maytag washing machine mistake) is wired like a scoreboard with colored, programmable LED lights in staggered patterns. Tower tenants have programming privileges and we’ve heard rumors that creative minds are planning to express everything from patriotism to football fervor. STRETCH has a reputation for helping distinguish notable places (HR Block World Headquarters and Woodsweather Bridge in Kansas City). The Davis Brown wall will enhance it.
STRETCH is also being featured in “Sculpture 2,” Moberg Gallery’s exhibition through August 23. Collaborative sculpture shows have become an endangered species, for obvious reasons. When artworks are measured in tons and kilowatt hours instead of square inches, mounting a show is daunting. Moberg’s sculpture exhibition last summer was supposed to be a one time thing but the gallery’s schedule opened up after Wendell Mohr’s family pulled that artist’s paintings off the market following his death in late May. Mohr was the main reason this column lobbied the last 15 years for an Iowa Living Legends program to honor senior citizens who have significantly augmented the state’s culture. He was an American master watercolorist, a great teacher and the driving force that created an arts community in Van Buren County ghost towns. It’s fitting that his place on the calendar is being filled with an exhibition as monumental as the Industrial Era bridges, docks and railroad’s Wendell preferred to paint.
For this show: TJ Moberg constructed a wooden roller coaster inspired by his childhood memories of sneaking into Riverview Park; Jesse Small contributes four porcelain chandeliers; Toby Penney brought wall sculptures evoking rural life; Chris Vance created a new wall sculpture; James Woodfill contributed a video installation, a spinning pedestal and some wall-mounted trash can lids that also spin; John Philip Davis brought three hanging works that add a three dimensional, anthropomorphic form to his multi-textured canvasses; Frank Hansen assembled a new wall sculpture; jd hansen is displaying “Bird Man” a companion piece to her downtown statue; John Siblik shows some river weavings and drawings from his environmental sculptures; Peter Warren shows men’s suits built from salvaged ceiling tiles; new artists Akram Asheer and Tracy Duran exhibit wall sculptures and assemblages.


Des Moines’ Bill Hamilton set his paintbrush down long enough to assemble an exhibition of found object art, which debuts at Joan Hentschel Friday . Hamilton says “Reclamation” has a double meaning.
“Reclaiming discarded objects for one, and the other is reclaiming the walls of galleries, and hopefully homes, from the clutches of a slick shiny corporate style of art that seems to be everywhere these days.” “Reclamation” will run concurrently with “The Last Days of Eden,“ paintings of Alejandro Mazon, through September 2.


Des Moines Art Center’s “World Histories” has set multiple museum attendance records… Mark Kneeskern’s film “Thank God I Sucked at Sports,” about Des Moines painter Frank Hansen, will premiere at Fleur cinema August 28... Moberg Gallery’s show of new paintings by Leslie Bell will run through August 23… Works of Cheri Sorenson and Stewart Buck are displayed at Hy-Vee Hall in the Iowa Events Center… Waleigh LePon’s reverse glass paintings will move from Art Dive to Hoyt Sherman’s Art-A-Fair on July 27.

June 2008

Des Moines Re Invents June

In 20th century Iowa, art was pretty much considered an indulgence of the rich and artists were deemed the “unproductive class.” In this new millennium, artists transformed into the “creative class” and became a key recruiting tool for civic leaders. Now every city in America is trying to cultivate an arty persona. That’s a tough sales job for a professional town in which bankers, insurance executives, lawyers, realtors and genetic scientists form the establishment core. That’s why Des Moines re-invented June.
Just when the art world in most cities closes shop and heads for the hills and beaches, buttoned down Des Moines loosens its arty alter ego for a series of street parties celebrating the arts of winemaking, opera singing, ceramics, sculpture, painting, theatrics and more. These fiestas, especially the upcoming Des Moines Art Festival and Metro Des Moines Opera festival, became virtual advertisements for the city’s creative culture by recruiting itinerant artists and drawing impressive crowds. Some of their visitors trickle down into Des Moines’ permanent art scene where the real creative class hangs it hat. June is big for them too.
In Olson-Larsen Gallery’s Summer Landscape exhibition, Bobbie McKibbin shows off the fruits of a her first year as a full time painter. The bounty of her produce was such that Marlene Olson couldn’t even find room to hang her personal favorite piece. Like most of the ten artists featured in the gallery’s two current shows, McKibbin approaches landscape from a beauty of nature perspective. Diametrically opposite to optimism’s rosy perch, David Ottenstein contributes several black and white visions of contemporary rural Iowa. In stark portraits of endless fields of row crops and in bales of hay that tweak a Monet-based cliché, the photographer reveals the Iowa from which family farms are being eradicated. An occasional dilapidated barn, lingering like a faithful abandoned pet, is the only sign of human presence. Eugenie Torgerson co-stars in this show, with Turneresque visions of the prairie, including several incorporated into dazzling box constructions that emulate High Renaissance craftsmanship.
At Moberg Gallery, painter/sculpture Toby Penney digs deep into her rural roots. Previously an abstract painter, Penney’s most impressive new paintings depict livestock subjects in a primal language that evokes the earliest cave paintings. Her new sculptures suggest metamorphoses reminiscent of Greek myth. This is a brilliant new phase for a talented artist.
Des Moines’ edgiest show this year took place at Gateway Lofts. That’s the latest G. E. Wattier building, the architect who seems to be defining what’s edgy in Des Moines (Liar’s Club, Legends on Court, Alba, Mitchellville Library). The crowd that Lee Ann (Conlan) attracts provides context for that definition. She’s the rock star among local artists, a dreadlocked stylist of skulls and bones. Even her models are stars in the Warhol tradition. One of them, erotically tattooed and nude, modeled on a bed during the exhibition while Lee Ann worked furiously. Unbeknownst to most, visitors were being photographed while they gawked. There’s no such thing as unobserved voyeurism anymore.
Such theatrics could become farce in the hands of a poseur but Lee Ann carried it off. Her art dealt emotionally and dramatically with two events that roiled the artist: “I went through an ugly divorce and my kids have been forced to deal with that;” and “The Virgina Tech shootings really, really effected me,” she explained. In one series, Lee Ann posed her boys with thoughts of dinosaur carnage in their heads. In a second series, the same children appear with their own artwork superimposed in talk bubbles. Both drew “mommies walking out on children.” Lee Ann also painted the same model who worked the show, but with wrist bandages instead of tattoos, as the Virginia Tech killer.


Observing Flag Day and Che Guevara’s birthday, Art Dive opened
a group show featuring Cuban artist Fito Garché last Saturday. It runs through July… Ankeny Art Center is hosting an international artists trading card show, with workshops June 21, through August.

May 2008

A Sense of Place in a Flat World

To mark its 60th anniversary, the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) determined not to celebrate its past but to boldly redefine itself. “World Histories,” the anniversary exhibition which opens this week, blows away any notions of stagnation with which the museum might have been associated in the past. Acting more like an intercontinental exposition than a 20th century museum, DMAC recruited 11 emerging artists from around the world. All provide text books examples of the creative process as a Hegelian dialectic: They begin with a regional tradition, apply it within a clashing tradition and synthesize something original.
These artists’ biographies declare the new art world order: Sonny Assu is a Native American British Columbian merging totem and pop art; Heri Dono is an Indonesian shadow play artist working with low tech sculptural installations; Dario Escobar is Guatemalan Roman Catholic whose work combines mass-produced objects, craft techniques and religious iconography; Yoko Inoue is a traditional Japanese ceramic artist working with mass made consumer products; Shi Jinsong is a Chinese metal artist branding a line of warrior baby products “to survive the manipulative, erotic and violent nature of our consumption culture;” Mustafa Maluka is a Holland-trained graphic designer painting pop culture portraits in South Africa’s mean streets; Rachel Raken is a digital and video artist of Maori descent working with old New Zealand myths; Katrin Sigurdardóttir is an “architectural intervention artist” from Iceland working in New York; Jesse Small is Kansan working in Chinese porcelain and Asian digital styles; Angela Strassheim is an Iowan who riffs off forensic photography in New York; El Anatsui is a Ghanaian painter working in Nigeria.
Curator Laura Burkhalter explained how the show reflects the state of contemporary art.
“The art world is no longer confined to one or two major cities in the United States and Western Europe. It’s opened up significantly with vibrant art centers and biennial exhibitions now thriving across almost every continent,” she said. Shows like this make Des Moines one of those new vibrant art centers.
Meanwhile, the Downtown DMAC is using the 58th edition of the museum’s Iowa Artists exhibit to redefine the most basic art form - drawing. That show includes 26 artists working in a variety of traditional media (charcoal, graphite and pen) as well as non-traditional media such as wire, vinyl and voice-activated body piercing devices. Iowa drawing now includes everything from illustrations for a children’s book to wall drawings, scarification and a skywalk installation.
Individual artists contributed to the definition of the genre. Venerable University of Iowa art professor Joe Patrick pointed out that drawing is “the revelation of the motions of the mind.” To dramatize that concept in the show, he drew the heads of some thoughtful friends. Charcoal landscapist Barbara Fedeler defined drawing as “seeing a problem” and as “thinking things through.” John Bybee, who lost his wife last year, said he turned to drawing as a way to “explore presences and context within my world.”

Toby Penney

Tennessee painter and sculpture Toby Penney will add to her growing Iowa fan base with a new show at Moberg Gallery beginning May 30. “A Sense of Place” will be a slight departure from the gorgeous abstract oils and the wax and concrete vegetable sculptures shown here in recent years. She’s working in basically the same media but her subject matter has become more figurative. Birds and animals help her build a personal mythology.
“I’m more comfortable with my own sense of place, and with myself now. I think that’s allowed me to explore some things that I had pretty much abandoned for the previous 15 years. I grew up in rural Tennessee in a farming environment. Birds and animals were part of a personal mythology, not just for me. I think that’s universal. That’s why the cave paintings of Lascaux still resonate with people today,” she explained.


In the spirit of “World Histories” Nebraska painter Larry Root applies origami and kanji techniques to the arresting medium of plastic lexan, at Joan Hentschel beginning May 30... Olson-Larsen’s annual summer landscape show debuts May 30... Metro Opera’s season previews May 31 with Cabernet Night Live at Temple of the Performing Arts, $75.

April 2008

Yoko’s Plastic Buddhas:
Art Center Celebrates 60th Birthday in Worldly Fashion

The Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) began celebrating its 60th anniversary last week by bringing Yoko Inoue to town for a series of events anticipating “World Histories,” the museum’s biggest show ever by several measures. For its big birthday, DMAC wanted an exhibition focused on the present and the future. Curator Laura Burkhalter explained.
“We looked to emerging artists from around the world who are typical of the contemporary world in that most of them were born in one country, live in another, show and sell their work in yet others and move about freely. We looked for artists who express that kind of global citizenship yet retain their unique cultural voices. Yoko exemplifies this better than anyone. Since I started talking to her, she’s been in a different country every time it seems - Holland, Bolivia, Ecuador, New York,” she said.
Inoue, who proudly hails from “Osaka - the food and cultural center of Japan,” says that even the materials the raw media in her art are global citizens. She’s currently in the middle of an ambitious six year project that takes her back and forth between equatorial South America and New York City.
“It all started a few years back when I was doing a performance on Canal Street and noticed these street vendors from Peru. They were selling sweaters that were sort of a knock-off of Ralph Lauren’s American flag sweaters. They were selling fast too. I bought one and got to thinking about it. I liked the irony that these symbols of American patriotism were being made by Peruvian immigrants,” she mused.
Those thoughts inspired her to commission a large number of similar sweaters in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. She imported them to use in another Canal Street performance. However, while visiting a potato festival near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, Inoue became curious about red, white and blue flags being waved. She learned that they celebrated the three ancient colors of Andean potato blossoms and realized that red, white and blue had symbolic significance in the Andes that trumped their meaning in the American flag. So, she deconstructed her sweaters to export their red, white and blue yarns to a women’s co-operative back in the Andes where native weavers will turn them into textile potato flowers.
“I’m in Stage 3 now, but I eventually want to import them again and I’m not sure yet whether I’ll use them in another performance or if I’ll have them sold by street vendors,” she explained.
For “World Histories,” Inoue collected plastic water bottles and plastic knock-offs of Buddhist iconography, mostly from 99 Cent stores and street vendors. She made casts from their shapes and created her own re-images with traditional Japanese ceramic techniques of firing and glazing. She believes that together plastic Buddhas and plastic water bottle create an ambivalent metaphor.
“Plastic Buddhas are definitely kitsch but they still have some meaningful resonance for most people who buy them. They use them as décor but to express something spiritual or religious. So their form has a power to transcend its commercialization. That interests me. Water has spiritual and cultural meaning too, it’s symbolic of purity. In Buddhist temples, water is medicinal. People come to take the water and hope for a cure. When they are cured, they return to the temple and give money to build a Buddha. Now contrast that with the toxicity and environmental problems associated with plastic water bottles that are mass produced in China. With water bottles also the commercialization has detracted the spiritual meaning. I hope that by using traditional methods of firing and glazing, I can restore some of that meaning in my images,” she explained. The works of ten other worldly artists will join Inoue’s in “World Histories."


The annual Iowa Artists exhibition premieres April 25 at Downtown Des Moines Art Center. Drawings of 26 artists range from traditional (charcoal, graphite and pen on paper) to eccentric drawings with wire & vinyl, digital media, sprayed paint and skin-piercing jewelry. There’s even going to be a skywalk installation… Michael Johnson’s stunning black & white landscape photography steals the lightening from two other new shows at Olson-Larsen Gallery - sculptures of Mac Hornecker and new works by five painters, all through May 24… Bev Gegen’s gorgeous “Abstract Expressions” play through May 24 at Moberg Gallery.

March 2008

Chris Vance: the Rites of Spring

Chris Vance is the crocus of our asphalt prairie, reappearing every year to declare that winter actually ends. His annual exhibition at Moberg Gallery has never been more welcom than this year. Like Spring flowers, this show has been changing daily because collectors kept picking paintings off the wall prior to the official opening last Friday. The painter has always been a workhorse but Vance said he’s never spent more time painting than this year: The ever changing show includes more than 150 new works.
“I can’t be sure. I think there are 80 to 90 in ‘The Wall’ alone,” he guessed, referring to a three dimensional series of paintings, four layers deep, that covers an entire wall. Vance explained its evolution.
“Two years ago, I did a piece called ‘Elements’ which was painted on wood I had found in peoples’ trash. I wanted to expand on the idea of creating and recreating at the same time. Instead of painting over found objects that had histories of their own, I thought that by painting over my own painting I could create a similar sense of history. I painted over one painting ( “60 Days“) sixty days in row. I did a lot of sanding and rubbing on these new paintings. Those techniques evolved from the experience of painting on found wood objects,” he explained.
The bottom layer of “The Wall” appears to be the gallery wall. That was Vance’s intention but gallery owner TJ Moberg talked him into painting on Masonite panels and installing them. Otherwise the work would have been lost when the show ended.
“That was a great idea. I think I want to use these panels when I install my first museum show this year at the South Dakota Art Museum,” Vance explained.
Vance’s palette is brighter this year. His signature earth tones have not been forsaken but they are accented with more dabs of color, nuances that keep the work interesting for the artist.
“New colors arise from the layering process. I’m intrigued with taking colors and dirtying them,” he said.
Vance says the title of this year’s show, “Overload,” asks specific questions. “All the new technology supposedly saves us time. But time for what? It doesn’t seem to be used for connecting with people. Are we letting our lives pass by? I hope this show says ’Don’t let that happen.’”
Indeed, various works continue a personal narrative of a maturing family man. Vance has four children, ages 3 - 14 now, and parental issues pop up in the show: “Cell Phone Sheriff” is how Vance thinks his kids view him. So is “Smigel,” a word that has become slang for “adult nerd” according to Vance. “Colton’s Magic” is a portrait of a three year old’s creative arrangement of toys. “High School Boys Like Drugs” is self explanatory.
Digital works, new for Vance, return the artist to his roots - he was a printmaker before he began painting. One digital portrait, “Grass Eater,” catches Vance’s 14 year old daughter in a moment of adolescent angst. “Summer of the Farmer & Bird Infestation” riffs off that same theme.
“The starlings or garden swallows, whatever they are called, took over our yard and our life last year. My wife wanted them killed. My daughter helped me do that but then she let me know that she thought I was the Devil. She pointed out the irony that we bought indoor birds at the same time we were getting rid of outdoor birds,” he explained.
“Overload” continues through March 29.


Mary Kline-Misol’s inimitable “Puppetry” paintings are being exhibited at Joan Hentschel Gallery this month… “Trauma Reflected in Art” compiles art by students at the Iowa Juvenile Home and will be exhibited in the Capitol Law Library through March before being displayed in the Capitol rotunda in April.

February 2008

Iowa’s Most Venerable Presence

They don’t make painters like Cornelis Ruhtenberg anymore. If Iowa recognized Living Treasures like more culturally invested places do, she would be the original inductee. Few Iowa artists have ever carried as impressive a resume as Latvian-born painter of original style. Ruhtenberg has exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Academy of Art, Corcoran Gallery, Chicago Art Institute, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, etc.. The New York Times began sending first string art critics to review her exhibitions in the 1940’s! Along with her husband, the late Jules Kirschenbaum, she influenced two generations of younger Iowa painters.
Ruhtenberg is still drawing today despite suffering two strokes, but Olson-Larsen Galleries’ new exhibition presents a life-long retrospective of painted meditations upon mostly human subjects. The artist invented a figurative style that never quite fit within any modern art movements. Critics called it: 1.) a cross between Sung Dynasty (12th century China) landscape painting and German Expressionism; 2.) chiaroscuro in a full spectrum of colors; and 3.) music-made-visible. From the vantage of today‘s more clamorous art scene, Ruhtenberg’s subtle inventions serve the spiritual mood of her paintings far better than the techniques of contemporary “spiritual art“ do. The painter used glazes almost invisibly to modify and merge colors, never to gloss or embellish them. Today a battalion of younger painters typically layer acrylics on canvasses, directly out of tubes, and cover them with glazes lustrous enough to keep a car key from scratching an automobile hood.
When Ruhtenberg began mixing acrylics on canvasses and then applying her glazes, the technique helped move viewers’ eyes subconsciously from one point of light to another. Art critic Diane Cochrane described the way that sucked one into the artist’s mood as “serenely dynamic.” Ruhtenberg’s art always had more to do with quantum mechanics than marketing or branding. While much art today screams “look at me. I matter,” ego was erased, along with many faces, in Ruhtenberg‘s paintings. That gave her subjects a chance to dance between alternative universes. Her later works (sadly the gallery does not provide dates) in this exhibition depict beloved ghosts mingling with those on the verge of passage: In “Jessica’s Last Autumn” a terrier appears at peace with a tree full of squirrels; In “Green Couple,” the artist picnics with her late husband. In “Dominoes,” two aged women in a dark parlor complete a cycle of life that begins with several brighter paintings of children playing games with the glee of those of who chase the sun in flight.
The collective mood of this exhibition harks a timeless music that harmonizes with a submissive appreciation of life‘s ephemeral quality. It’s a huge and moving show the likes of which are rarely seen in Iowa. Through March 29.

A Lesson Too Late

Compared to comparable venues, Des Moines’ 30 year old Civic Center ranked # 14 in the English-speaking world in Pollstar’s 2007 rankings for ticket sales. That topped the entire Midwest, ahead of legendary theaters such as the Orpheum in Minneapolis (#16) and the Fox in Detroit (#37). The two year old Wells Fargo Arena continued to struggle compared to comparable venues. It’s been beaten badly by Omaha’s Qwest Center and has barely managed to outdraw Sioux City’s Tyson Center and Moline’s The Mark, both of which have 5000 fewer seats. Now, with the opening of Kansas City’s Sprint Arena, Wells Fargo is no longer the region‘s new kid.
The Civic Center’s single bowl, democratic design contrasts drastically to Wells Fargo’s multi-leveled, apartheid style architecture. Attendance numbers reaffirm what many local architects said all along: segregation and elitism are hard to sell in Iowa. The Civic Center was designed by a local firm; Wells Fargo was not.


Travis Rice, an Iowa designer of vision and mischief, opens his first gallery exhibition “Topographic Delusions,“ at Joan Hentschel on Feb. 22... "Woven Traditions: Central and West African Textiles" includes glorious works by the Ashante, Yoruba, Nupe, Bamana, Kuba and Pygmy tribal people through Feb. 22, at Drake’s Anderson Gallery.

January 2008

“Odd & Awkward Trails”
DMAC shows re-open investigations

At first glance, "Objects and Economies" at Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) Downtown looks like a familiar cliché. Artists and academicians have been denouncing the empty materialism of the western world since the Industrial Revolution. With little new to say, they often become tedious in direct relationship with the earnestness of their anti-capitalism. Despite the show‘s daunting title, this retrospective of the works and stunts of University of Illinois professor Conrad Bakker side steps that drag by focusing on amusement. The exhibition presents artistic replicas of objects of value - from garage sale junk to muscle cars. Much of the art is second generational - photographs of Bakker’s experiments teasing shoppers with his replicas. It’s third generational in one instance where he photographs the sidewalk sale of a replica of a fake Rolex.
Bakker also teases himself by selling his artistic reproductions and testing his own value. In supermarkets he offers artistic replicas of household products. He lists others on eBay and Craig list. In Des Moines, he installed a faux designer furniture gallery and created limited series of Des Moines Art Center gift cards. Those sold for prices that varied according to the faux dollar amounts painted on them. The cheapest denominations sold out immediately but there were plenty of expensive ones left for sale. That’s a humbling stunt that amuses audiences as much as it amuses the artist.
“ I am interested in allowing these objects to drift into and out of social and commercial contexts. This is not a strategy to draw attention to these artworks as ‘specific objects’ as much as it is a way to create a conceptual kind of drag that leaves an odd and awkward trail,” Bakker explained. "Objects and Economies," runs through March 28.
“Play the Story,” which opens at the main DMAC next Friday, also questions establishment points of view. Raised in Nevada, Iowa, multimedia artist Matthew Buckingham questions the role that social memory plays in contemporary life. He built a reputation with accessorized film works on historic topics as diverse as Henry Hudson’s accidental discovery of the fur trapping industry and the introduction of the sparrow to North America.
His DMAC show will includes four parts. “The Spirit and the Letter” concerns 18th century social reformer Mary Wollstonecraft, best known for her books on sexual inequality. Wollstonecraft’s turbulent life has been more scrutinized than her writing and her status has been contested by generations of feminist thinkers. Buckingham’s video installation promises to present her as a ghost with an unsettled legacy.
“Everything I Need’ follows the 20th century psychologist and feminist Charlotte Wolff who escaped Nazi Germany to write some of the first books about same-sex relationships. She was embraced by the lesbian movement in Berlin, where she finally returned in 1978. Buckingham’s video tries to imagine Wolff’s thoughts on that trip back to Germany.
“False Future” concerns the 19th century inventor Louis Aimée Augustin Le Prince who invented moving pictures but mysteriously disappeared before he could patent his discovery. Buckingham shot his film at the exact location in Leeds where Le Prince first made movies in the 1880s.
The final work in the new show concerns Buckingham’s long connection to Carl Milles’ sculpture “Man and Pegasus,” a bronze of several editions around the world including one in the Art Center’s reflecting pool that enchanted Buckingham as a child.

Art News

Mac Hornecker was awarded a commission to create a sculpture for downtown Clinton. “River’s Edge” will be about turbulence at the river and changes in nature… Des Moines artists William Barnes and Thomas Rosborough will create a major mural for Snedecor Hall at Iowa State University. Part of a $9 million renovation, the mural is an Art in State Buildings project… Des Moines painter Bill Hamilton recently began a year’s teaching job in Alexandria, Egypt… Ames artist-architect Pete Goche just commenced a six month teaching and research project in Rome, Italy… Des Moines painter Richard Kelley retired from his job at the Des Moines Register and is now painting full time.