Saturday, July 11, 2009

Des Moines Art 2004

Best & Worst of 2004

2004 was a rare, edgy year in Des Moines. The city ran ahead of the national business curve, opening an upscale mall when the nation’s boom towns were rushing to finance them. Similarly, Des Moines’ cultural district ran with the bulls, rather than chasing after them.

Conspicuously, an extraordinary building opened in Gateway West and a stunning sculpture park was planned on the Riverwalk. As the Des Moines Arts Festival soared past the $1.5 million mark, irrepressible impresario Mo Dana was handed the largest, most ambitious arts umbrella seen in Des Moines, at least since Claes Oldenburg hung his hat at Nollen Plaza - an entire series of new events sheltered under the Arts Fest buzz, beginning in January 2006.

Other triumphs were planted in the here and now. In a opera year in which young tenors Villazon and Tanner and sopranos Mille and Gruber burst onto a world stage long dominated by aging stars, Des Moines Metro Opera cast all its leading roles with bright, young voices. Fired by some generous gifts, Drake carved a piano reputation.

The city arts scene marched to its own drum. Civic Music continued to drift toward diversity, intimacy and community involvement. Ditto for the Des Moines Art Center, which partnered with Wells Fargo Financial to open a downtown annex of the museum, a feat so rare we could find only one precedent outside New York City. DMAC also presented two conceptual exhibitions that did their thinking outside all traditional boxes. The Faulconer Gallery initiated a major retrospective of an ignored, politically incorrect genius. Arthouse tread in strange new territory, opening an original gallery in a shopping mall.

Local careers bloomed, from Mary Kline-Misol’s retrospective at the Dubuque Museum of Art, to Richard Kelley’s brilliant merger of minimalism and apocalypse, to Bill Luchsinger’s mammoth installations in Holland. Venerable presences of the Iowa art world were given overdue respect. Moberg Studio Gallery brought a new dynamic to the scene, with Ingersoll nights, eclectic events and an eye for young talent.

Top Stories

1.) An architectural icon, John and Mary Pappajohn Higher Education Center, debuts.

2.) DMAC and Wells Fargo Financial open an art museum annex.

3.) Downtown Events Group broadens its scope, adding everything from snow sculpture contests to super flower shows.

4.) Principal Riverwalk commissions big league sculptures.

5.) Iowa Historical Building lands Lewis Carroll Society’s world conference.

6.) Dubuque Museum of Art initiates a “Mid Career” retrospective of the Mary Kline-Misol.

7.) Arthouse opens a new, larger gallery in Valley West Mall.

8.) Bill Luchsinger remakes a Netherlands factory.

9.) Ingersoll Walks draw big crowds.

10.) Fehim Krijestorac’s “Refuge In the Morning Silence” goes home to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Holocaust Museum.

Painters of the Year

1.) Richard Kelley. Kelley seemed poised on the edge of New York arrival many times, but styles changed and Richard didn’t. This year’s exhibit at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery flipped off post modernism and its pill-popping addicts.

2.) Carlos Ferguson and Dan McNamara. We lumped these very different Olson-Larsen artists together because they both broke up last year, with comfortable and successful styles, growing in the process.

4.) Alex Brown talked realism and abstraction into breaking bread, and saving crumbs for the mice.

5.) Sara Grant Hutchinson’s “emotional journeys” took a less damaged road, without losing their edge.

Artists of the Year - Non-Painting

1.) Architect-teacher-performance artist-sculptor-writer-producer-anthropologist Pete Goché’s installation “ov course” at Sherwood, worked on more levels than a seven course meal.

2.) Jim Shrosbree created small, mostly clay objects filled with “illogicality and poetry,” at the DMAC Downtown.

Rising Stars

1.) Chris Eddy (“Scissors Hand”) constructs portraits and narratives out of magazine ads, taking a hands-on approach to the perspective distortion that has been relegated to computers.

2.) Glass blower/bone hunter Jean-Marie Salem smoothes out an anthropological vision with high heat.

3.) Jeremiah Elbel paints with tar; his subject matter includes crime scene photos from Chicago’s wild history.

Exhibitions of the Year

1.) “Contested Fields,” currently at DMAC, smartly examines how games and obsessions with sports address broader human issues.

2.) South African Jew William Kentridge created new art forms to document the cultural upheaval of his country. His Faulconer show included most of his huge print output, the base of all his art.

3.) “Work Ethic” at DMAC looked at 20 years of non-traditional art, with fresh eyes.

4.) Olson-Larsen Galleries’ 25th anniversary show demonstrated the growth of Iowa art, and OLG’s essential role.

Most Venerable Presences

1.) For an 80th birthday show at Sherwood, Julius Schmidt created seven new sculptures, smaller and more personal than those anchored in the renowned sculpture gardens of the world.

2.) A watercolor renaissance sprouted in Des Moines, led by Wendall Mohr’s brilliant exhibit at Moberg and Anne Hovey‘s at Arthouse.

3. ) Karolyn Sherwood Gallery’s exhibition “Private Collections Uncovered” resurrected the late Luther Utterback at his best.

4.) The University of Iowa Museum of Art announced a retrospective of the late Jules Kirchenbaum for 2006.

5.) Olson-Larsen’s “Paintings by Gretchen Caracas” highlighted her oblique angles and minimal abstraction.

Best Photography Show

“Grain,” Drake Hokanson’s exhibit at Cowles Center told how big crops built the upper Midwest.

Best Design

The Pappajohn Center is an instant icon, and that isn‘t an oxymoron.

Best Music Events

1.) Des Moines Metro Opera brought bright young voices to town and talked some audience favorites into singing secondary roles. “La Cenerentola” starred John Osborn and Mariateresa Magisano, with David Small as the comic baritone. “Madama Butterfly” starred young Korean soprano Cho Lee; “Ariadne auf Naxos” debuted Lise Lindstrom and Georgian Anthony Pulgram while Gwendolyn Jones and Jane Redding sang the extremely difficult supporting roles.

2.) One magic night at Sheslow, the Tokyo String Quartet played Webern’s “1905,” and four other classics, on the very instruments that Antonio Stradavari had built and Nicola Paganini had played in the 17th and 18th centuries.

3.) Jon Nakamatsu’s concert at Sheslow Auditorium on Valentine’s weekend wowed a loving, standing room only crowd.

The Worst

1.) The Anderson Gallery’s “Adelheid Mers & Patrick McGee” advanced prejudice, stereotypes and political propaganda, under the guise of installation art.

2.) Lucinda Williams’ performance at Simon Estes was a sloppy, drunken insult to the audience.

3.) Critics who excused Williams’ buffoonery (as the edginess of true and tortured art) enabled the trashing of her career.

December 2004

Sports, Wars & Perspective

The Des Moines Art Center completes its 2004 exhibition season with the happy coincidence of conception and timing that meet about as often as Iowa State wins a football championship. “Contested Fields” presents a decade of art examining how games and sports’ obsessions address broader human issues. This exhibit of metaphors, curated by Chris Gilbert, proposes that sports behaviors reflect societal neuroses.
Its moment, scheduled years ahead, couldn’t have been more fortuitous. The show began as high school athletes in Gilbert were demanding that their coach, on leave to fight in Iraq, not return to his job (because his replacement won more games) and as Iowa State’s best football player remained in jail for assaulting and robbing other students, while editorial boards across the country decried the sports riots in Detroit and Clemson.
So, here was a rare opportunity for art to visualize ideals that parts of society had lost the vision to perceive. Gilbert’s show delivers sensationally. Ingeborg Lüsche’s video (of two top level Swiss soccer teams playing a game dressed in Beatrice Trussardi suits) explains how the role-playing of fans and players can turn malignant, as easily as therapeutic. Despite its Italian soundtrack, it has more to say than all the sports talk radio and editorial comment of the last few weeks.
“Contested Fields” presents 30 works by 13 artists in all media, with seriously smart things to say about skateboarding, soccer, losing boxers, cheerleaders, motorbikers, professional wrestling around the world and basketball in America’s inner cities. Through Feb.6.
In the Art Center’s “Weary & Dissatisfied with Everything” exhibit of 19th century works on paper, Winslow Homer’s “Our Watering Places…” makes a powerful statement on the residual costs of war. Homer’s illustration also reminds us that the intrusive, melodramatic nature of modern media lacks the power of subtlety. Through Jan. 23.

Get That Slut’s Shoes Out of My Closet!

Leave it to Karolyn Sherwood Gallery to invigorate the holiday art scene. Their latest exhibition “Private Collections Uncovered” recycles the art of local collectors, pieces that have failed to keep up with owners’ senses of taste.
“More than anything else, we have art that survived a divorce, but didn’t survive the taste of the new wife. There are also some paintings that were too big for people who downsized their living spaces, and similar scenarios,” Sherwood explained the inventory.
We spied several pairs of women’s shoes, from Andy Warhol’s closet-fetish phase. Assuming they instigated a few jealous rages, we asked Sherwood for their violent histories.
“Actually, they were single-owner shoes, they just didn’t fit anymore.”
For whatever reasons, some rather remarkable works are back on the market, including Luther Utterback’s “Man, Woman, Child,” a mammoth three painting series from the late painter’s lucid period. Joan Miro, Sol Lewitt, Gillian Ayres, Robert Ryman, Mauricio Lasansky and Jim Dine are also represented. A Richard Kelley painting, “Homage to the Kurds” amazed us, in that it was done over 20 years ago, in Kelley’s fantasy days. Through Jan. 8.

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ holiday offerings combine a show of small works with some larger than life perspectives of three gallery artists. Standing out in the first group: Amy Worthen’s alphabet series lends a fresh and local take on 16th century manuscript illustrations; Iowa landscapes, in black & white photo by Carola Wicenti and in watercolor by John Preston, come with nostalgic points of view; Margo Kren’s oil on canvas parables are outstanding bargains, in the $300 range; Gallery newcomer Gary Horn’s still lifes, in oil and metal leaf, dazzle; Not-so-still life studies by Sharon Burns-Knutson cover the blue flower genre; John Beckelman brings archeology-inspired jars, glazed in salt vapor while Sharon Bouma’s heavy abstractions add weight to the little show.
In the larger show: Stuart Klipper returns to Antarctica, for more stark color photographs that made the adventure artist’s reputation decades ago; Peter Feldstein’s “cliche verre” prints, in which the U of Iowa professor etches and paints directly on film, add a Sufi tone to the contemplation of mosaics; Sanding and scraping layers of paint, Karen Chersterman meditates on the heavy nature of texture and sun-inspired colors. Through New Years’ eve.

Buyers’ Market in Sugar Plum Fairies

“Nutcrackers” come in all shapes and prices this holiday season. Ballet Theatre of Des Moines completed their performance schedule last week, but there are still plenty of nuts to crack. They range in price from $12 (for the cheap seats at the Civic Center for Iowa Dance Theatre’s shows Dec. 17-19), to $45 (for the best seats at the Joffrey’s performance at Hancher tomorrow through Sunday). Ames’ Dancenter plays mid stage, with $14.50-$16.50 seats at C.Y. Stephens, Friday through Sunday.

Quick Takes

~Karen Strohbeen and Bill Luchsinger’s annual exhibition at Arthouse includes a digital narrative of their gigantic installation project in a Netherlands sausage machinery factory, for Des Moines’ Ted Townsend.

~Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) won an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant of $825,000 to benefit their exhibition and educational programs. Director Susan Lubowsky Talbott thanked Senator Harkin for clinching the deal.

~DMAC announced 2005 exhibitions, highlighted by a Jeff Koons lecture. Also: “Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985” by Ana Mendieta in February; The first American exhibition of Christian Jankowski’s film and video work in June; An exhibition of prints by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; A collaborative artist residency with Drake and Taiwanese sculptor Huang Shih-cheih.

~Paintpushers’ annual show at the State Historical building was their best ever, showing that coalitions of independent artists are marketable, even in Des Moines. We loved the running joke on Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass.”

~Drake’s Anderson Gallery has a show by Kendall Buster consisting of 80 children’s tents erected overhead. Kids love crawling under the sky blue floors, emerging to the only overview of the tents. Academics like musing on this “blueprint of an endless echo chamber of structural possibility.” We were more impressed by promising student painter Hope Donovan‘s work in the Weeks Gallery‘s “Bartschat Project” next door.

~Arthouse at Valley West Mall is adding theater to its repertoire, with regular Saturday night drama readings planned for the rest of the winter.

~USA Today recently named the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah one of ten great places in America to admire folk art.

~The University of Iowa Museum of Art purchased “Commentary III” by the late Jules Kirschenbaum. The museum is putting together a retrospective of the Des Moines artist for 2006.

November 2004

Expo-sing Talent
Two Rivers Exposes 150 Artists

Tina Dahl is an art baby.
“I didn’t start any of this until three years ago,” she explained.
“I didn’t learn to knit until a couple months ago, and now I am a total sponge to learn. It’s such a multicultural form, plus it’s calming and transporting,” she explained.
Dahl is a very fast study. Last year she lacked the confidence to enter the Two Rivers Art Expo, until the last minute. Then she wasn’t accepted, just waitlisted.
“I was ecstatic, that I even got up the courage to fill out the entry form,” she recalled.
She made it into that show after a last minute drop out and astonished herself by winning the “Best in Show” award. Her one of a kind hand bags and skirts have now been shown at Arthouse, 2AU, Touch of Italy, Sticks and Eden.
Dahl stalks raw materials like others look for mushrooms.
“I seek special fabrics - raw Shantung and Dupioni silks, rare worsted and tweed wools and especially found objects and vintage buttons. Knitting is really full of exciting possibilities, there are so many raucous arrays of yarns. I like to sit and knit now at Gong Fu, drink my tea and hand out flyers for Two Rivers, to the curious people who walk by,” she said.
The 17th Annual 2 Rivers Art Expo this weekend at the Fairgrounds Varied Industries Building will bring 150 regional artists to town. Tracy Levine of Metro Arts Alliance says that Dahl’s story fits their theme of “Must Have Art.”
“We are particularly proud to help young edgy new artists find a niche,” she said.
Along that razor’s edge: David Bigelow makes prints on the far side of human foible, where beavers find chain saws; sculptors Greta and James Cannon create fountains of stone and found object; Geoffry Johnson builds one of a kind guitars and lutes; James Petersburg turns burls into vessels that could dethrone Druid kings; Kay Ornberg creates entire women’s wardrobes of collage-assembled fibers and random stitching; Alice Calhoun builds metal dancers. Sat: 10 - 6 , Sun.: 10-5. $6 Adults, children free

Conceptual Art

The best and the worst of “conceptual art” dueled in Des Moines last month, like academic incarnations of Manichean warriors. At Drake’s Anderson Gallery, “Adelheid Mers & Patrick McGee” (AM/PM) brought political propaganda to the university, disguised as installation art.
With due respect to the memory of Jacques Derida, we offer this post-deconstructionist suggestion. -- An art exhibition should look like it took longer to create than it takes to speed read its catalogue. AM/PM’s nylon pom poms and tightly strung strings are, of course, metaphors for deeper thinking than philistines such as I can imagine.
This show uses “art” to rehash political clichés about conservatives and liberals, at least the clichés that flatter liberals. The show’s lengthy message, also an advertisement for George Lakoff’s book “Moral Politics” from which the artists lifted their ideas, is more artfully expressed by bumper stickers that say “Democrats Care,” where the converse connotations are merely implied. AM/PM goes to great lengths to deconstruct the minds of conservatives and liberals. The show is presumptive and insulting, as most stereotypes are.

On the brighter side , Pete Goché’s “ov course” is both painstakingly realized and broadly thoughtful. While the accompanying literature helps explain the concept, it is not essential to the art, nor the experience. Goché’s installation is mathematically grounded in half dozens and their halves, in rectangles that accommodate circles and implements of dinner that are both threatening and assuring. Goche employs spoons, voices and obsolete materials that are grounded in the memories of older viewers and inspirationally curious to younger ones. Burlap, which is also suggested by the stitching in sewn paper grocery bags, is hung like dining room curtains, providing a unique contribution to the conceptual experience - a sense of smell that is earthy, and old as the recorded voices of tribal elders.
Kudos to at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery for taking a big, non-commercial chance on this show.

Song Sung Blue

Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon brought evidence to town that deconstruction can be a creative, positive force in art. No ordinary diva, Freelon is a self-described griot, and seeker of magic octaves.
“Song is older than language. The Bible says ‘First there was the Word.’ The aborigines believe that the world was sung into being, that they negotiate a walkabout by traveling on song lines. I get chills thinking about that.
“Babies can recognize voices at 26 weeks in gestation, and there are creditable studies that sound is the last sense that goes in old age and in dementia. It is the womb-to-tomb perception, the connection to the next world,” she told us at her workshop at Broadlawns.
Freelon teaches the positive power of song in places like maternity clinics, Alzheimer’s wards and prisons. In Des Moines, she demonstrated convincingly her belief that song can reach even the most inattentive children.
“Sing more, scold less and the child will learn more,” she advised.

Dr. Robert Larsen is in New York auditioning young voices for Des Moines Metro Opera’s 33rd season. Audience favorites Jane Redding, Gwendolyn Jones and Peter Volpe have been cast, but Larsen hopes to find fresh talent to complement them, as he did, spectacularly, last year.
Tickets are on sale now for Offenbach’s “ Tales of Hoffman,” with Volpe as the villains, Donizetti’s “Lucia Di Lammemoor” with Redding as Lucia, and Britten’s “Gloriana,” with Jones as Queen Elizabeth. 961-6221.

Down the Way

~Arthouse’s annual jewelry show debuts Nov. 12.
~Sherwood Gallery opens “Private Collections Uncovered,” works of Des Moines collectors, featuring Alexander Calder, Sol Lewitt, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol, Mauricio Lasansky, Richard Kelley, Luther Utterback and Ross Bleckner. Nov. 18.
~Moberg Studio Galleries expects new works from all gallery artists for their anniversary show beginning Nov. 12.
~Mason City’s MacNidar Art Musuem is showing Harvey Stein’s acclaimed photo study “The Faces of AIDS,” through Jan. 16. That museum’s delightful Holiday Open House is Dec. 5 this year, 1-4 p.m., free.
~Greenfield's Opera House is hosting a 250 piece exhibit “Pentel's International Children's Art Exhibition,” through Nov. 12, daily, 10 - 6.

Now Hear This

~Robert Irwin will lecture Nov. 4 at the Des Moines Art Museum. The designer of the central gardens at the Getty Museum will speak about the “deep confusion” about public art and art in public places.
~Photographer Nikki S. Lee will speak at the Art Center Nov. 19. Lee infiltrates Hispanic, lesbian, senior citizen, and skateboarder subcultures, in pursuit of photographic diaries.

October 2004

Rhinos & Tick Birds in the Time of the Living Dead

October is the month of mutations and contradictions, the time of the living dead, with “Indian summers,” that are neither summer nor Indian, when Columbus “discovered” an ancient world that was only “new” to those who perceived round as flat. Appropriately, the great pumpkin of Des Moines’ art scene is carved into shapes that are not what they seem to be. Among found objects reborn as art, jazz becomes child psychology, dinner is holy ritual, metaphors insist on literalness and regionalism goes transcontinental, while rubber ducks and hula dolls get existential.
Nnenna Freelon is not a household name, but those who recall her performances with Take 8 can’t forget her voice. A solo act now, she kicks off Civic Music’s 80th season at Sheslow on Oct. 22. This health care professional turned jazz singer comes on a broader mission. Her “Babysong workshops” teach mothers that song has the power to nurture and heal infants. The day before her concert, she will conduct one at Broadlawns Medical Center. Her concert will include her spectacular take on “The Meaning of the Blues”, a song she often uses to illustrate Babysong.
“Blues can easily shift into many different meanings, and I use this tune to encourage children to play with notions, open up their senses, and think about what blue might feel or taste like,” says Freelon. Single tickets: 280-4020, 400 Locust, Suite 220, or $7.50 -$28.50.

Pete Goché seems too thoughtful to be the instigator of so much fun. The architect-teacher-performance artist-sculptor-writer-producer-anthropologist showed us drawings last week for his latest exhibition, which premieres Oct. 21 at Karolyn Sherwood Galleries.
The installation called “ov course” consists of an abstract construction of a mealtime table setting, with audio recordings, framed kitchen abstracts of pressed Fareway sacks chain stitched like old flour bags, and a table, which the artist described as “a biomythographic account of my childhood as it relates to the history of the mealtime situation.”
Goché grew up with 13 siblings on a Mitchell County hog farm. “Mealtime was a sacred ritual to my mother, because it was the only time we could all be together. We ate what we produced; Sustainable agriculture was a necessity to us, not a political choice. The whole process of our lives was a procession to the supper table. What we took away from that table was essentially the dialogue,” he said.
Goché deconstructs those dinner processions. This is Judy Chicago without the vaginas, a dinner party for thinkers and sentimentalists. Recorded voices tell stories, from dinner plates, of food, farming, family and ritual, all talking at once, through Nov. 13, at 835 42nd.

Some great lines go unclaimed at the pawn shop of repartee.
“Compared to William Kentridge, Kara Walker is a tick bird on the rhino’s neck,” explained an art professional, quickly adding, “Don’t quote me, the PC cops would crucify me.”
If he doesn’t want it, we’ll claim it. Kentridge is perhaps the greatest artist in the world who isn‘t well known in America. The South African Jew created new art forms to document the cultural upheaval of his country - prints that he erases, films made of prints, operas without libretto, puppetry without scripts and painting that changes on the canvas.
Kentridge denies the commonly accepted notion that his work is the ultimate metaphor for his nation’s long dark climb out of Hell.
“You draw an iris and it's seen as a metaphor for the end of Apartheid. Sometimes an iris is an iris,” he said in One People, adding, “There was a short period when the outside world was interested, very interested in South Africa as South Africa because it was an exemplary moral tale of the late 20th century. That moment has obviously passed . . . which suits me fine,” he explained in that magazine.
The Faulconer’s massive print exhibition includes over one third of the artist’s life output, from the early Muizenberg Beach linocuts to his 2004 Learning the Flute. Accompanying shows on Goya, Hogarth and Beckmann put the artist in perspective. Through Dec 12 on the Grinnell campus.

Jim Shrosbree creates small, mostly clay objects filled with psychological space. Described as functional crafts that are intentionally ambiguous and filled with “illogicality and poetry,” the works debut Oct. 20 at the DMAC Downtown. The Maharishi University guru will talk about his work and about creativity at 7 p.m. next Wednesday. Through 2004 at 9th and Walnut.

“Beyond the Fields: Regionalism and the American Scene” begins with Regionalism’s “Big 3” of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood, but ventures into the bigger picture of coastal scenes, urban landscapes and leisure activities by Isabel Bishop, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, and John Sloan. Print shows like this are one of the Des Moines Art Center strength’s, big, accessible history lessons. Through Oct. 24 at 4700 Grand.

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ “Paintings by Gretchen Caracas and Doug Shelton” highlight Gallery Night in Valley Junction Oct.15. Both painters create highly stylized works that mess with time, space and logic. Caracas uses oblique angles and minimal abstraction to alter the viewers’ sense of reality.
Shelton is a smiley old rascal who romanticizes surrealism and pokes fun at damn near everything he sees. He is bringing 21 new works to town and he has recruited Hawaiian stereotypes into his “pick-up cowboy from Iowa” universe. Hula dancer dolls that tack up dashboards and breakfast tables from Maui to Molokai look happy enough in Shelton’s strange world to bring ocean front property to Arizona. Until Nov.13 at 203 5th, West Des Moines.

Jeff Thompson and Catherine Dreiss opened last weekend at Arthouse, with flowers in therapy. Dreiss is an old fashioned printmaker with Japanese style calluses on her chisel hand and Freudian symbols dripping off her backgrounds. Her painter husband Thompson uses still life forms to tell stories, with sub plots and heartbreak. Orchids have never been so symbolic, nor rubber duckies more existential.

Jeremiah Elbel contributed some intrigue to the recent Des Moines Project at Moberg Gallery. The Des Moines artist paints with tar and his subject matter includes crime scene photos from Chicago’s wild history. He has talent and vision, so we hope to see more of his work soon. ~jim Duncan (

September 2004

Richard Sees His Shadow:
Kelley show leads a brave new season to light.

Most artists talk about their calling. Words like “uncorrupted” and “visionary” hold hands with so many of them that they’ve become slutty. In 3 decades writing about Iowa artists, I have met two whose commitment met the status of a true calling. To revive Kickapoo potting, Pahponee spent two years living in a teepee with infant children and wild bison, but without gas, electricity or running water. She taught herself to fire hand-scooped clay outdoors with buffalo dung, even during the coldest Iowa winter in decades. The market rewarded her integrity and she has now built a modern ranch, with room for a studio and more buffalo.
Richard Kelley’s path has been less dramatic, but much longer. In the early 1970’s, the painter gave up a comfortable life in academia because he couldn’t balance painting with teaching and campus politics. Janitorial work freed his mind to think about his art. A self-described burrowing creature, Kelley immerses himself in work, coming up for light and a show every two years. A biennial Kelley sighting will take place this week at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery.
“With the underground lifestyle I have adopted, I can open my mole hole and not have 50 pounds of water crash down on my head,” he explained last week. Kelley had sent us a Blondie cartoon - Dagwood, working in his garden, is asked to choose between the cauliflower he is growing, or spareribs. He protests the fairness of the question and is told : “Who cares about fair, we’re trying to get at truth here.”
“Art, if it’s any good, has to connect people to their lives, to the experiences that matter. It has to be spareribs. It isn’t an intellectual game, for the code talkers of some arcane language; it’s the food we want to eat,” Kelley explained.
Championed by former Des Moines Art Center directors James Demetrion and Mike Danoff, Kelley’s career seemed poised on the edge of New York arrival many times. Styles changed and Kelley didn’t. Post modernists are the cauliflower-eaters who rile him.
“It hasn’t all been done, as Eric Fischl says. That is just arrogance. If art doesn’t heal and educate, then it doesn’t help with the coping mechanisms we need to get by, and it isn’t spareribs,” he said of them.
We asked about his new paintings and drawings, in which twisted houses are metaphors for human coping. One is called “Freud to Prozac.”
“I had a satire in mind. Freud dealt in concrete terms with concrete problems, but Freudians taught us a lot of things that people don’t really want to hear, dark things about human nature. Behaviorism has taken over because it’s easier to market. Maybe drugs have been invented that help rational thought, but I don’t know,” he mused.
Karolyn Sherwood thinks more light is getting into Kelley’s hole.
“I think these new works are light hearted. Simple and simply gorgeous,” she said of a series themed in calamity, an ambitious subject for a minimalist.
“I don’t see apocalypse and minimalism as incompatible. Klee didn’t either,” objected Kelley, adding an obvious footnote to Sherwood’s observation. “I am not a cartoonist. I see myself as laughing with the subject, not at it.”
“Richard Kelley: Transcendental Humanism” opens Thursday, at 835 42nd, with an artist reception 5-8 p.m., in conjunction with a fundraiser for the Des Moines Symphony Academy. Padma, 833 42nd, will introduce their Indonesian Deco show at the same time.

Bi Polar Perspectives

Olson-Larsen Galleries revs up their new season Friday with four artists of bipolar perspective. Douglass Freed, an influential Missouri museum director and artist, deals with mystical light in 2-paneled oil paintings - one landscape imagery and the adjacent one atmospheric void, with vestiges of the recognizable landscape. Sarah Grant-Hutchison, influential owner of Sticks, produces abstracts decorating emotional journeys - sometimes sunny, sometimes turbulent, always involving. Her paintings combine lively, contrasting colors with emphatic design elements. Betsy Margolius’ large horizontal monotypes, divided into several small panels, are rooted in western principles with conscious affections for Japanese patterns and motifs. Photographer Dan Powell’s recent travel prints place myths in a diptych format, with two paged images - one obscured, the other distinctly focused. Opens Friday with a reception from 5-7 p.m., 203 Fifth, West Des Moines.

Former Des Moines artist Marilyn Crawford returns from Florida Friday for an exhibition of her latest paintings at Art House, 2809 Ingersoll.
An “It’s all about the paint” expressionist, Crawford uses the palette of her native Minnesota Iron Range - strip mining in reverse, with pigments of ores being layered rather than removed.

The Anderson, 25th and Carpenter, opened its season last week with “Longing,” an installation by Dan Raffin that incorporates sculpture and video from the ballet “Don Quixote” into an audience participation dance.

Moberg Studio Gallery, 2921 Ingersoll, hopes for a similarly involving event the next two weekends with the “Des Moines Project,” which includes four non-linear short films, paintings, prints, transfers, sculpture and photography. Strange new performance art pieces are also promised.

August 2004

Venerable Buds

And now in age I bud again. George Herbert

A watercolor renaissance sprouted in Des Moines this year, revealing the bud of what the Japanese call “our most venerable presences.” Following Wendall Mohr’s brilliant exhibit at Moberg, Anne Hovey shows this week that some dogs are never too old to learn marvelous new tricks.
Hovey took up watercolor out of necessity.
“I always painted with acrylics and oils, but I paint with watercolors now because I don’t have the strength to stretch canvasses. With watercolors, I always have a problem going from light to dark, because of my background with oils, in which you go from darks to lights. But I love the way the water runs, the way the colors vibrate. You don’t get that with other media,” she explained.
This artist has been coping with well-meaning oppression since her graduation from Fort Dodge High School.
“I wanted so to go to art school, at Iowa, Pratt or the Art Institute of Chicago. My parents were Iowa State graduates though, and they considered Iowa City a den of iniquity, so that was out of the question. I went to Iowa State.
“I had my own photo studio in Atlantic for seven years, but when my first son was born, my husband closed it. In this day and age, I wouldn’t have had to stand for that. I would have carried my baby to work and kept it. But then, it wasn’t even a question,” she recalled.
When asked about her work, Hovey spoke of her mentors, a veritable Who’s Who of Iowa Art.
“Frank Miller (Pulitzer Prize cartoonist) got me into painting in 1954, after I moved to Des Moines. I studied with both Jules (Kirschenbaum) and Cornelis (Ruhtenberg) and I started winning prizes when I was working with them. Jules was the master of making one look into objects and he taught me to glaze with watercolors,” she said, referring to the sorcery of layering transparencies.
One painting, appropriately of water over rock, seems to defy both logic and dimension. Hovey explained the technique was a long time learning.
“I belong to the Frankenthaler generation, so I used to pour paint on with a heavy hand. There was nothing fragile about it. Now days Peg Buckley pushes me to be more up to date, even more minimalist than I already am. She even wants me to paint flowers, but I paint what I want,” she reminded, in case we hadn’t noticed.
Anne has also taken up her first artistic love, thanks to another guru.
“Bill Luchsinger is a genius; I am not. So I bought the kind of digital equipment that Bill uses and took a class from him. I was good back when I had my photo studio, but digital has liberated me. My watercolors all begin with the inspiration of digital photos. That one of the water rushing over the rocks was modeled after a slow shutter shot I took at Nantahala Gorge in North Carolina. I love the way water runs over rocks. I mostly look at subjects that do not reveal any presence of man,” she stated.
Taking a drink of water, she thought a moment and summed up her life as an artist.
“I have some wrinkles, in my brain,” she smiled.
Anne Hovey joins Barbara Brody, Linda Hunter, Nancy Lindsay & Elizabeth Miller at the Arthouse opening of “Women in the Landscape” Friday night, with entertainment, wine bar, and dinner. Through September 6.

Flowers & Gardens & Gems

Bill Barnes does not like being called a magical realist, but his displaced subjects share the ethereal realms where Garcia-Marquez conjured up the MR thing. So when Barnes brings a new painting to town, people show up, like magic.
New works from Pat Edwards, Wendy Rolfe, Jeanine Coupe Ryding and Dave Gordinier join Barnes’ at Olson-Larsen Galleries’ “Flowers and Gardens” show. They share space with older work from Ken Smith, Gary Bowling, Suzanne Skon, Tim Frerichs, Bill Innes, Sandra Kaplan, Paula Schuette Kraemer, Blair Benz, Keith Achepohl, Jack Wilkes and Cornelis Ruhtenberg. Through August 28.
“A Slice of Summer” at 2Au treats a spectacular gem with dramatic interpretations. Like the fruit for which it is named, Brazilian watermelon tourmaline thrives in the long pink light and green canopies of summer. Ann Au, a finalist for Colored Stone magazine’s Designer of the Year, created an ensemble of treatments: A Sangre de Cristo necklace that drips tourmaline from a fresh water pearl cross, a diamond drilled into the setting; A necklace of 12 flat stones, cut in the mirror image of their twins; Triple tiered ear rings; plus some minimalist settings.

Out’a Here, In a New York Minute

Crash, a.k.a. John Matos, is in career lift-off with museum shows in New Orleans, Nashville and Nova Scotia, plus others coming. This is good and bad news for Des Moines collectors. The value of his works, which have been sold at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery, should soar with his rep. However, he has outgrown Sherwood, signing with a new primary dealer in Miami who is directing CRASH through a new course.
“Great things are happening in his career…unfortunately this signals the end of our representation of his work,” Sherwood explained while prepping his works for shipment to Florida.
Currently at KSG, a “Summer Print Show” includes Donald Judd, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Phillip Chen, Jim Dine, Dale Chihuly, Anna Gaskell, Claes Oldenburg, Steven Sorman, Crash, Donald Baechler, Al Held, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Martin Puryear, James Sienna, Fred Truck and Kara Walker, all at reduced prices. Puryear and Gaskell prints and drawings are remarkable departures from their more famous work.

Various Horrors

If your summer didn’t deliver enough apocalypse, the art museums of Iowa have a fix for you now. At the Faulconer, “I saw it: The imagined reality of Goya's Disasters of War” brings the Napoleonic wars back from Hell. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art revives Mauricio Lasansky’s 40 year old series of Holocaust horrors. A University of Iowa Museum of Art print show features William Blake etchings from the “Book of Job” and Dante's “Inferno.”
On a more peaceful note, The Des Moines Art Center will be showing some early Grant Wood and some late Han Hoffman, the alleged fathers of Midwest Regionalism and Abstract Expressionism respectively.

July 2004

Dance of Fire

Having reached high base camp of her career, Mary Kline-Misol is pausing to take her bearings. The Dubuque Museum of Art recently announced a “Mid Career.” retrospective of the Panora painter’s work, beginning in March. Next October, her signature work will highlight an “Alice in Wonderland” exhibition at the Iowa Historical Building. This week, six years of Spanish paintings, inspired by flamenco, will be shown together for the first time, at Arthouse on Ingersoll.
“I spent several nights at a Madrid flamenco café. I found that much more authentic than the commercialized flamenco of Andalusia, with all its happy stuff for tourists. It’s not about that. I met an old school dancer, La Chunga, who dances barefoot; She is the music personified. She does the tragic songs which I respond to. They are so passionate and beautiful.
“These were the original protest songs, these people were persecuted from Hungary and Romania and by Ferdinand and Isabella. That is the tradition and it goes on all night. We would stay there till 4 or 5 in the morning. The “Red Dancer” epitomizes what I was trying to say. I am also including a rag doll, actually a Moroccan woman mime in Cordoba, who struck me as huge rag doll,” she told us.
Kline-Misol added that Paco Pena’s “Missa Flamenco,” a fusion of the gypsy music with sacred hymns, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Spanish Dancer,” which compares dance to fire, influenced her takes on flamenco. Opening Friday, with a special menu of tapas, Andalusian entrees, featuring Spanish wine and cheeses, and, of course, Spanish music.
Meanwhile, the new Arthouse at Valley West Mall, in the old movie complex, has opened as a work in progress. The outdoor café is still under construction, but the deconstructed rainbow walls and tall ceilings of the gallery-restaurant have a flair that dazzles, like Technicolor and Cinemascope did in their younger days.

Songs of Celebration

Richard Strauss' “Ariadne auf Naxos” is an opera within an opera, with a comedy thrown in. Its performance is a rite of passage for the band of brothers and sisters who spend their life in homage to Lord Opera. Des Moines Metro Opera is currently showing “Ariadne” off to celebrate their 100th production, for the first time since it marked their 25th in 1980.
Opening night was ceremonial, interrupted with speeches and ovations between acts. This woke up the audience, who responded with more enthusiasm to the second part of the show, however selectively. “Ariadne” combines Greek mythology, Italian commedia dell'arte and German vocal acrobatics, making serious demands on three sopranos and a tenor. The comedic part, performed in English, drew far more applause than the far flung tragic German arias of Ariadne and Bacchus, sung impeccably by Californian Lise Lindstrom and Georgian Anthony Pulgram. Long time favorite Gwendolyn Jones, as The Composer, drew some raves but the crowd held their big bravos back for Jane Redding’s Zerbinetta, the role that is often called the most difficult vocally in all classical opera.
“Ariadne” completes a season notable for casting. DMMO debuted more bright, young voices than ever before in a single season. Its final production will be Friday night; “Madame Butterfly” plays tonight and Sunday, with “Cinderella” trying on her last glass slipper Saturday. Tickets are $14-$67, 961-6221.

Stones of Summer

2AU’s artists are setting their final stones for “Watermelon Tourmaline: A Slice of Summer.” The show features myriad applications of the beguiling gem that is often, but not always, green outside and pink inside. Ann Au and her artists set the gem into bracelets, pendants, earrings, rings and necklaces showing that watermelon is not just for dessert anymore. July 23 - Sept. 1

At Susan Noland’s, “Summer of the Organic Gem” allows Des Moines’ goldmaster to mate Pacific rim pearls - Tahitian, Akoya and New Chinese - from blues to merlots, with gold of many hues.

June 2004

Young Voices Roar at Indy

Opening night for Puccini's “Madama Butterfly” went much better in Indianola Friday than in Milan 100 years ago. Then the La Scala crowd yelled insults at the composer and the great diva Rosina Storchio. Reviews were bad too and the composer stopped the show after one night, at great cost, to re write the opera.
Friday night’s crowd was enthusiastic, giving young singer Cho Lee a standing ovation on curtain call and a spontaneous ovation for her ecstatic version of the show stopping “Un Bel Di.” Lee’s full lilt soprano played over four octaves of unmedicated emotional trauma with Janara Kellerman‘s mezzo soprano and the baritones of John Michael Moore and Dennis Jesse. The sweet tenor of Derek Taylor had the tough job of selling sympathy for grand opera’s biggest jerk.
The Korean born Lee is a comet in the operatic skies. Just 8 years out of Julliard, she has already sung the greatest roles in the Italian romantic rep with some of the better companies in the world. Moore and Kellerman are both young Iowa singers with real possibilities.
“Cenerentola” also had a famously bad opening night, 187 years ago in Rome. The critics hated it, but subsequent audiences loved it. It’s been a hit ever since, though rarely performed since 1950. Many thought Rossini’s Cinderella, without glass slippers, a mean step mom, a fairy godmother or pumpkin coach, was too un-Disney for audiences. Henry Simon has a more pragmatic explanation - the role requires vocal acrobatics from its colatura contralto lead that modern singers are not up to.
Maestro Robert Larsen lined up two hot young voices to take on the challenge. Quebec’s Mariateresa Magisano sings Cinderella convincingly, with glass slippers written into the script. Sioux City native John Osborn brings his world class tenor in search of a wife. DMMO favorites, and usual leads, Gwendolyn Jones and Noel Graves-Williams play the vain step sisters, with great range and humor. A long time favorite, baritone David Small, and a former DMMO apprentice, David Ward, pad the midsection of perhaps the finest full cast ever assembled at DMMO.
Surprisingly, there were a few empty seats at both openings, including even some category C’s, the best bargains in the local art scene. Butterfly has five more performances and Cinderella four, with seats available to most shows. $14-$67, 961-6221.

Wendell Mohr is a living Iowa treasure, in the Japanese sense, an artist of ennobling purity. Besides being the state’s premiere watercolorist, Mohr pioneered the restoration of Van Buren County in 1970, moving into an 1868 schoolhouse in Bentonsport. His show at Moberg Studio Gallery focuses on his latest observations on 20th century America.
His vision is Homeric (Winslow Homer, not Brad Pitt), of harbors and rivers enduring the impudence of man and his inventions. Mohr told us that the medium of water color fits his subject because it is, like sculpture, a discipline in removing and accenting what is already there.
“The whites are the essence, you do not paint with white, you leave it alone,” he said, admitting that his subjects also had a permanent grace that could not be defiled by all the badly designed riverfront factories in Industrial America.

Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen’s anniversary show at Arthouse is about palm trees, orchids, bird watching and Harley Davidsons. Even in these post dialectic times, we had to ask how the motorcycles rode into the creative process.
“I’m naïve I guess, but I love the chrome and all the shiny parts. Karen and I were doing studies in the Florida Keys, of palm trees and tropical growth and we walked by this line of parked Harley Davidson’s in front of a bar, they were so clean and sparkling they could have been in a showroom, I was intrigued,” Luchsinger explained.
“We are finding out that Harleys fascinate lots of people, it’s practically a cult. The guy who delivered our new printing press got excited when he saw what Bill was working on, he ordered a first print,” Strohbeen added.
The show also reveals some different applications by the couple who have been working in the print medium since long before David Hockney and “discovered” it. Strohbeen’s birds on tile have a universal appeal, the kind that could attract an entire new flock of art lover when the gallery opens this week at Valley West Mall. A considerable number of the artists’ prints have been imposed on canvas, where Luchsinger‘s bedazzled orchids look like Georgia O‘Keeffe‘s, on opium. Strohbeen’s playful spirit even seeps into her serious studies. A look at an old palm tree is titled “A Relic from the 4th Glacial Period in Cuba.”

The Piano School

Drake is piano school. Their crack piano faculty, including brilliant concert pianists Nicolas Roth and Chiu-Ling Lin, are hosting a piano camp. Much like the more celebrated Basketball Camps, “Piano at Drake” allows 8th through 12th graders to tune their skills with big time mentors. Private lessons, special sessions on jazz and composition, master classes on solo piano, duet and collaboration are included. Tuition is $330-350, including room, board and use of all campus recreational facilities.

May 2004

Heavy Metal Man, at 80

In 1959, the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced “Sixteen Americans” praised by curator Dorothy Miller for their unique and individual styles. Most of that group became household names -Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, etc.. Julius Schmidt took another path, one which led to Iowa and teaching.
In the 45 years since that breakthrough exhibition, Schmidt has mastered the techniques of cast metal sculpture that he developed in the 1950‘s. What he wrote then applies to his work today.
“The sculpture is carved in reverse in blocks of fine sand mixed with a binder which when baked becomes easy to carve, but strong enough to stand the heat of molten metal.” He still creates sculptures by carving these blocks, assembling them into molds, hollowing their cavities with fitted cores, sprues, runners and gates, and pouring molten metal into his elaborate labyrinths.
Schmidt’s metallic sculptures guard space in the greatest museums in the world, from the Hirshhorn to the MMA and the Whitney. Critics frequently remark that they resemble both ancient ruins and futuristic buildings. People react to Schmidt’s heavy metal forms much as they do to ruins, with a sense of gratitude for the determined genius of men who created such things. These sculptures dazzle like futuristic visions do, intoxicating our sense of wonder for places we dare not go.
Julius Schmidt is 80 now and has created seven new sculptures for the occasion. They are smaller and more personal than those anchored in the renowned sculpture gardens of the world. If Iowa were as appreciative of creative genius as Japan is, Schmidt would long since have moved from the status of a venerable presence in the art world, to a living legend among us all.
Schmidt will be in town Thursday May 27 so that we might celebrate 80 years of genius at Karolyn Sherwood Galleries. The show runs through July 10.

The Bi-Focalist

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ two summer shows premiered simultaneously, with the annual “Landscapes” shows and “Bobbie McKibbin.” It sounds redundant, but isn’t. The landscape show featured four traditional practitioners of the form. Tim Klunder brought wide angled studies showing idyllic rural Iowa and farmland coping with transition. Radio and cell phone towers compete with silos for the minds eye. Gary Bowling’s popular paintings, which command 5 figures, have less to do with the way things are than the way we want them to be with our eyes closed. He layers thick brushstrokes on photo perfect scenes, consciously too precious, to Van Goghish to be escape the censor of “serious artists;” that’s the price of success. Painter David Gordinier and photographer Michael Johnson both look at clouds that don’t get in their way. In fact, the land in Gordinier’s Arizona and Johnson Midwest, is window dressing for the skies.
McKibbin is a separate breed. One artist at the opening told me that she is Iowa’s consummate landscape artist, another called her its master of pastel. Critics usually write about her “strong sense of place,” which is often code for “I am moved, but I don‘t know why.” McKibbin’s technique is bi-focal. She layers mashed pastel background that could pass for landscapes in a lesser artist’s work. Then she completes her scenes with a few lines and swirls of mashed pencil. Under the microscope, it looks like a child, or madman, scribbled over a seriously layered work of art. Step back and the minimalist details provide the highlights that give her simple fence posts and fields their artistic divinity.


Scott Charles Ross’ new works at Arthouse drew a large and enthusiastic (“they bought things“) audience to his opening, which coincided with Ingersoll’s inaugural Second Friday event. Ross’ three “Audience” studies had folks lowering their voices to ask if the subjects were not, “um, phallic.” The artist told us “Of course they are. If penises help get people to come see them, then they’re penises.”

Downtown Dive

The peripatetic Christine Mullane held her first open house in the downtown reincarnation of ArtDive. Works of Martin Francis Davis, with multimedia performances by Mike Gustafson and Autumn Project drew a big crowd. Is Des Moines becoming an art town? Mullane told us ArtDive will be open only for quarterly events, and by appointment.
“I didn’t have time to work when I was open for retail traffic. But, I still want to show other artists work, so I think this is the format that will work,” she said.

The Arch Druid

Wood artist Gabe Luedders opened his studio in East Village, showing his versatile sensibilities, from precious flowers to Druidic spirits. His open house also raised the bar for art exhibition catering, handled by Tony Lemmo.

April 2004

Brazilian Landscapes and Other Coffee Tales

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ new show demonstrates the polarities of landscape painting. Gary Bowling’s new work is exactly what one expects idealized landscapes to be. Bowling has given up the security of academia to paint full time. Perhaps symbolically, the artist has also forsaken road scenes for pristine settings. In these places, one can entertain the notion that not even the most aggressively advertised SUV could spoil the meadows and brooks and forests beyond the tree line.
Carlos Ferguson provides an utterly kind of landscape, filled with people who are so faceless, so bereft of individuality that they become part of the landscape. There is a series from the upper deck of London busses, others from Brazilian ferry boats, airport waiting rooms, cafeterias, German theme parks and public telephone banks. Ferguson usually sets his point of view in the back of the bus, showing only the backs of peoples‘ heads. One POV is turned around, but the faces are hidden by a post.
In another series, Ferguson paints motels from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This is the part of Dollywood country that has not been altered by the new prosperity. With the exception of new vehicles, these scenes appear lifted from 1950’s post cards, right down to the color tones. They aren’t, they were recently modeled. Ferguson also contributes a more traditional landscape series, with skies dominating in an attitude to the dark side of Bowling’s pretty places.
Ferguson is one of our more peripatetic artists, recently returned from a residency in Bahia, he is confident enough in his style to have remained unaffected by the clichés of the Afro-Brazilian tropics. Through March 8.

Pop Quiz: What government institution recently ripped off Enron? Answer at bottom.

Every Day is Mardi Gras. Take all the creatures from Noah’s ark, dress them for Carnival and then transport them on a skateboard. Now you have an idea of how much fun the Faulconer Gallery’s “Layers of Brazilian Art” is. The Museum was fortunate enough to have an alum and board member, Greg Narber, who is also an avid art collector and resident of Sao Paulo. Narber guided curator Lesley Wright through the maze of galleries there and in Rio. Wright then formed a samba line of eclectic Brazileroes from the last half century.
Ana Maria Tavares came to Grinnell to install “Numiosum.” Eye popping installations are now officially a trademark of Faulconer initiative. They are also, in the attitudinal sense, a main reason this is Iowa’s edgiest art museum. Multiple works by 24 different artists pack the stunning galleries with the energy and business of carnival parades. The gallery itself was transformed to accommodate more movement into static art than most dances have, outside Brazil that is. Through April 13, with Brazilian music events on March 1 and April 6.

Coffee Bloody Coffee. Triple Espresso, the hit show that was recently extended at the Temple for the Performing Arts, has jolted London’s cardio-vascular system like a heavy does of caffeine. Theater critic Timothy Ramsden wrote “Three performers of diverse stage appearance and personality, complement - if rarely compliment – each other in a crazy, unique, rib-tickling, side-splitting, feature-deforming hoot - so good even the few merely adequate moments may have been inserted to allow audiences a slight respite from hilarity.” Eight different major reviewers loved it and that is good news for some Des Moines fans of the show who invested in the English production.

West of the West End. The Des Moines Playhouse’s Broadway tour this year (Mar. 20-23) includes tickets to both "Hairspray" and "La Boheme," plus a third show of your choice. $1325.00 double occupancy, includes airfare and three nights at the Helmsley Windsor. 277-6261 for reservations.

Answer to pop quiz: The Smithsonian bought a major work by Martin Puryear, whose stunning retrospective came to the DMAC last year, for the wood-shavings price of $782G.

March 2004

Magic Markers

Des Moines Art Center curator Jeff Fleming searched every continent for the museum‘s “Magic Markers.” He found artists who leave no stone unturned, no rope untied, no dump unscavenged for media to mark their magic: porcupine quills; fungus; junkyard gas cans; electric blow fans; kitchen spices.
Since many of these media lay outside the traditional art market, Fleming affirms that the exhibition intends to create “a level playing field where work created for myriad functions by artists around the world should be viewed on equal terms.” These utterly different objects share a common function. They are, in Fleming’s words, “vessels of memory, able to communicate the existence of another time and place.”
Another stated purpose of the show is to make the museum more fun and less pedantic. DMAC brought junkyard artist Romuald Hazoume here from Benin to work with Des Moines trash and to teach young artists, who then mounted their own fine show, in the educational wing. “Magic Marker’s” most photogenic works are Ernesto Neto’s suspended sculpture of nylon with spices and John Goma’s multimedia (porcupine quills), sculpture of a hunter. The double take of the show is produced by Gerd Rohling’s vessels, which have the appearance of marble and delicate glass, but are created from plastic garbage.
Other works are more visceral. William Christenberry’s “House at Christmas Time” is a fanatically detailed scale model reproduction of the artists’ childhood shanty in Alabama. “The King Lives in the Wound,” Nole Giulini’s work with Kombucha fungus, resins and organic dyes is transformational, literally and figuratively. Georgia Blizzard’s bloodroot dyed, and pit kiln-fired clay figures have a Mayan spirituality, and a Jim Crow legacy. They depict her nephew “Ray” who was convicted of a felony in mid 1900’s Texas, for letting the non air conditioned cargo in his truck spoil, on a summer day. In prison he lost his legs and spent his last years pretending to fish, in a pose the artist captures here.
The DMAC once again publishes a really good exhibition catalogue, written by Fleming, Malcom Warner and Stanley Cavell. Warner makes a case for taking written labels out of museums. It’s a good case, but I bet even he would make exceptions for stories like Ray’s. Through April 20.

2 Weeks, Riv Vu. A temporary gallery at 505 Brown Camp Lofts has synergies as meandering the river outside its windows. Sponsors like Coldwell Banker and Swaelu Media are coveted by major non profit art organizations. Their marketing departments don’t usually talk to grass roots galleristas like Christine Mullane. Emerging artists, some showing their college portfolios, just don’t get into shows like with this kind of aegis. But it’s all happening down by the rivers.
“I get restless,” explained Mullane in extreme understatement. In the last year, she has opened a new gallery, collected a battery of artists, and moved to a bigger space in Valley Junction. “I was getting bored already, so I started thinking…”
Chris Menninga had been negotiating a Mullane painting for quite some time and he was moving out of his spectacular river view loft. Mullane wanted lots of people to see big art on big walls with reflected light from yonder frozen river. She convinced the realtors that two weeks gallery time would be good for their business. She convinced her own web site company that gallery space would be good for them. She chose her artists from a long list.
J.D. Larson, the new art critic for Cityview, shows his trademark drawings, graffiti over Michelangelo’s most famous faces. Angela Fife paints motherhood-womanhood themes on wood panels. Lee Ann Conlan shows skeletal drawings and some more angelic things. Teri Templeton fills the bathrooms with faces that honor privacy in their cuteness. Mullane’s big colors and pop culture canvasses dominate the big lofty room. Most of all, this show is a great idea. It gives people who want to see the Brown Camp a pass on the expectations of normal real estate showings, plus it shows art under the best possible conditions, which, coincidentally, enhance the real estate. Trends have sprouted under far less nurturing conditions.

February 2004

Expressing Not Expressing

Woody Allen and New Yorker cartoonists often have fun with intellectuals talking about art. Characters reach to reconcile contradictions, as if that were the only standard for art appreciation. “It’s shallow, but in a deep way.” Minimalism, by definition, created this game. How can you remove all expression from an art form, and still have something that moves people to talk about it? The plot of the hilarious play “Art” revolves around the purchase of a very expensive blank canvass.
“Up Close and Personal,” through Mar. 22 at Karolyn Sherwood Galleries (666 Walnut), hangs minimalism where you can again feel it. This first show for the new owner of the gallery, “UC&P” is very personal. Sherwood, who spent most of a year curating this exhibition, talked about drawings like other women speak of a pumpkin peel facial.
“Minimalism restores me, I really love it. I suppose it balances me, being as my life is so nuts. I have four sons, ages 12 to 18, so there is always chaos about me. Minimalist art relieves that. The simplicity is calming,” she explained.
Since the works were selling well, Sherwood’s enthusiasm seemed to be contagious. As she posted red tags next to sold drawings we thought about those 4H kids after their pet steers win the grand national championship. Winning is losing. That’s the point.
The star of the show is Marco Breuer. Sherwood spoke of his works with reverence. Breuer was originally a photographer and manipulates silver-gelatin photographic paper with hot frying pans. He also burns Fabriano paper with dynamite fuses. The results are stunningly simple.
The cooler medium of Linda Lynch was our personal favorite. Lynch worked in West Texas obscurity until art world heavyweight Werner Kramarsky discovered her. Since Kramarsky also has Breuer and Sabine Friesicke under his wing, Sherwood might have a cutting edge connection here. Lynch gets velvety textures out of ink and takes her inspiration from watching broom makers in India and Africa. I wanted to touch them, but Sherwood told me I could do serious damage to the delicate media. That really made me want to touch them.
Making her gallery debut in this show, Charlotte Cain of Fairfield contributes some incredible miniature brush paintings that look like religious folk woodblocks from Orissa, but stripped of iconography and narrative. Des Moines Art Center curator Jeff Fleming and artist Agnes Martin are big fans of Cain who encouraged her to show for the first time. Also in the mix here, though not officially part of the show, is a work by former Iowan Ulfert Wilke.
German artist Friesicke contributed a metallic montage inspired by winters in Salvadore Dali’s Spanish stomping ground. Robert Longo and Robert Stanley are represented with, respectively, elegant and earthy drawings of women, for which they are famous. Jan Franck adds something that only he could term minimalist, or figurative. He calls it lyrical expressionism, but it steams open the envelop for this show.
Frank Born is a credentialed minimalist, right down to his formative Kyoto years. He draws naïve characters in pensive situations. I don’t get it, but he had a fan who drove all the way from Tulsa to see these drawings. Bill Anthony shows some fun stuff. His naïve drawings spoof Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Matisse, Vanessa Beecroft and Looney Tunes.

Choice Teachers Choice

The Faculty Exhibition at Drake’s Anderson Gallery, through Feb 14, reprises some of our favorite gallery moments. Ignatius Widiapradja again takes on the ghost of Jules Kirschenbaum while reconciling Taoism with quantum physics. Widiapradja’s mind roams where few of us fly, but his work is accessible to everyone who ever thought about love, bacchanalia or angels.
Valerie Knowles shows ceramics that treat sexuality as an awesomely inviting and threatening presence. There should be a warning sign posted for men who monitor their sperm count. Robert Craig showed some of the minor trappings of his major project, a promising outdoor sculpture that looks like Oldenburg, but banned from Alessi and sent to Menards.
Angela Battle’s works, in beeswax, stings with honey flavored venom. These paintings have the kind of kaleidoscopic possibilities that make us thankful we gave up mind altering drugs. Few artists force us return to a gallery a second time. Both Widiapradja and Battle did.

January, 2004

Death and Flowers: The Arts in Winter

Winter is the hey day of the arts world. Despite all their posturing as trailblazers, artists keep to a very old schedule, one that suited long gone centuries, when sleds were faster than wheels and travel was easiest after the ground froze. Audiences no longer worry about mud, but the traditional season for most arts and educational organizations still thrives in the dead of winter.
Even in the first half of the 20th century this made some sense in Iowa. The state was still rural and farmers only had time for contemplation and artistic endeavors between harvest and planting. One hundred years ago Iowa was also a deeply religious, mostly Protestant state. Artists needed the blessing of stern ecumenical judges.
The more things change, the more they don‘t. This winter brings some good old 19th century humility to central Iowa. The Des Moines Art Center followed up last winter’s Visions of the Apocalypse with some distinctly Midwestern dust, to dust. Death & Flowers, through January 26, pairs 19th century German etchings with funeral flower photographs from the American Midwest at the turn of last century.
Hans Meyer was a German retro-artist pining for the Middle Ages. His Dance of Death includes poems that are not without humor. His not-so-grim reaper reminds us that only he knows how to end the anger, fighting and quarreling of humans. Death and taxes; winter and jealousy.
The photos are more esoteric. From 1880 to 1910, artists in Iowa and surrounding states frequently photographed still life arrangements of funeral flowers. A very specific iconography attended the custom, with symbolic shapes (broken wheels = death in the line of duty, etc.), personal effects (hair jewelry), and prescribed flowers (all white). These photos were commonly sent as post cards. Obituary check’s in the mail.

The Browning of Iowa

The recently concluded winter Invitational Exhibition at Olson-Larsen Galleries featured a remarkable coincidence. Works by five artists were perfectly color-coordinated, in the earth tones of this snowless Iowa winter. From the hopeful circles of Vicente Pascual, to ancient wisdom of John Beckelman’s giant pots and the pagan yearning of Mark Peterson’s sticks and stones, shades of brown dominated the show.
In stunning contrast, the back gallery at OLG featured new works by abstractionists (Sarah Grant Hutchinson and Sharon Booma) in love with the colors of the sun. Like going from black and white to Technicolor film, a contrast for a third gallery. Michael Johnson’s b&w landscape photographs, are symphonies of rolling hills, rolled bales of hay, rolling thunder. I know of no other still photographer who captures wind motion so beautifully. Next to Johnson’s photos were a new series of casein paintings by Bill Barnes, on the theme of marbled eggplant. Barnes’ eggplant juxtaposes with: curious birds; leaves; an egg; a Chinese eggplant; and a gourd. Another chapter in Barnes book of wonders and delights.


  1. All these collection are so lovely. Loved each and every writing. It is fabtabulous.

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