Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thou Art: The Best of 2006

Stories of the Year

1.) DMAC’s Big Year
While museums across the country struggled to bring people through their doors, the Des Moines Art Center hosted a string of successes while introducing major talents to the American museum scene. With neither household names nor blockbuster shows, DMAC’s Jeff Fleming succeeded by scouting the world for extraordinary emerging artists: “Cecily Brown” drew enthusiastic crowds from long distances, particularly of other painters who gushed over the Brit’s lush linens and canvasses; Alec Soth is an old fashioned, subject-is-object photographer with a sharp eye for irony. Audiences responded to the narrative, musical nature of his “Sleeping by the Mississippi;” “Iowa Artists 2006: There's No Place Like Home” introduced several new talents to Central Iowa, most notably Noah Doely of Waverly; “Aisle 5” (currently running) opened to the largest weekend crowds in DMAC history. It introduced a major young talent - Shih-Chieh “C.J.” Huang - whose energetic installations are attracting more interest than those of more famous older artists in the show.

2.) The New Regionalism
Since Grant Wood's hey day, “regionalism” has been defined statically with Great Depression clichés like the one that “back to the earth” means forsaking modern technology. In two shows this year at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery, Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen did to that what Ferran Adria has done to haute cuisine -- they used the latest technology not to simulate, but to extract the purity of basic root stocks. Through context, these digital pioneers produced a new appreciation of the humble essences of the regional landscape, painstakingly photographing subjects (that the artists’ grew from seeds) from multiple points of view. Laid together seamlessly, they created an intensity so detailed it also redefined the surreal experience - you must be dreaming because such sharp vision is not possible to wakeful sensibilities.

3.) Iowa Architecture Rediscovers People
Recently, Iowa public architecture has been driven by the un-Iowan ethos of economic apartheid - Wells Fargo Arena segregated people with luxury levels, valet stations, private suites, etc.; At Hilton Coliseum and Cyclone Stadium, “updating” was code for the same thing. So Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck’s design for the University of Northern Iowa’s McLeod Center made a daringly democratic statement - with one level of seating and a “donor‘s” concourse that does not force others to look down in shame. The building’s day-to-night windows and skywalk to the UNI Dome further connected it to the community and to Iowa populism.
For all its flaws, David Chipperfield’s Des Moines Central Library succeeded in drawing more people into its “airplane logo footprint.”

4.) Grass Roots Green
Painter Christine Mullane emerged as queen butterfly of the grass roots art scene when her Art Dive gallery celebrated a fifth anniversary at its fifth address, “give or take a lease or two.” Mullane has allowed numerous artists to test their wings while energizing the scene by force of personality. Lee Ann Conlan graduated from emerging status after selling out a show at Mullane’s this year. Frank Hanson has outgrown the grass roots scene too, but try telling the fans who turned out in droves at Moberg Gallery for the artists’ exhibition, as well as for the premiere of the film “The World According to Frank,” on which some PBS producer ought to jump. The talented group “Jane 365” held their second annual show this month at the Fitch, which also hosted “Adrift,” where the likes of Jenn Dierdorf and Tony Pontius showed new dimensions.

Person of the Year

The University of Iowa Museum of Art‘s “Jules Kirschenbaum: The Need to Dream of Some Transcendent Meaning” represented the late Des Moines philosopher/painter in a new keen light that reminded us how much he influenced a generation and a half of Iowa artists, many whom are also mentioned in this review.

Artist of the Year

John Philip Davis emerged as the consummate professional among the younger generation of Iowa artists. His giant abstractions became a virtual civic brand this year, as significant restaurants, hospitals and corporations discovered his earth tone palette, determined work ethic and superior production values.
Designer of the Year

Rob Whitehead, project architect for the McLeod Center.
New Artist of the Year

Guy Loraine developed a meticulous series of sculptures reflecting on botany and modern agriculture while painstakingly conforming with “Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio,” a botanical and actuarial numerology of patterns. The result was a study of contemporary agriculture both mystic and frightfully portentous.

Best Gallery Exhibitions (Not Already Mentioned)

Bill Barnes channels a delicate point of view through the wary eyes of black damsel flies and the racing hearts of birds. This year at Olson-Larsen, his subjects dreamed less stressfully and in more sustainable landscapes, while indulging his first ever political statement.
The inimitable Mary Kline-Misol returned to the razor edge of wonderland with her latest Victorian obsession at From Our Hands Gallery. “From the Faerie Queen Garden” honored Richard Dadd, the creator, in Kline-Misol’s words, of “the most psychotic painting in history“
For decades Des Moines artists went to places like Kansas City to find a market. So it was most significant that Karolyn Sherwood hosted a show of young artists mostly from Kansas City. “Poignant Perceptions from Afar” starred Peregrine Honig’s delightfully sick anxieties about marriage, motherhood, drug addiction, restrictive clothing and bad art.
In the same vein, Moberg introduced Kansas City abstract painter Bev Gegen last summer and half the show sold out before its opening.
Gary Komarin’s super hot career included a stop at Karolyn Sherwood last Spring. His star has ascended to the point that he remains connected to Des Moines out of loyalty and appreciation, both are reciprocated.
Jessie Fisher, the most arresting Iowa talent in our memory, returned to the state for an exhibition at Coe College’s Marvin Cone Gallery with macabre takes on high Renaissance still lifes.

Moberg’s Chris Vance exhibition was the gallery’s most successful show ever in terms of sales. The popular artist keeps pushing his envelop, this time adding wood panels, disassembled installations and sculptures to his repertoire

Olson-Larsen saved its most imaginative shows for last (currently running) this year: “New Works” is by the fantastical trio of Wendy Rolfe, Mary Koenen Clausen and Michael Brangoccio; Sarah Grant is also au current at O-LG with new, more brilliant abstractions.

Wendell Mohr’s homage to the railroad’s glory days at Moberg showed the Iowa watercolorist moving from “venerable presence” to “living legend” status.

From Our Hands debuted Linda Lewis’ whimsical sculptures of displaced, confused and psychotic women alongside the sardonic eccentricities of Sharon Nelson-Vaux.

“Lee Ann” (Conlan) at the Fitch covered death and sensuality with invisible complexity. The big piece in the show will redefine the artist for awhile -- a medieval scene in the Gothic Abbey of St.-Denis.

Best Alternative Space

“John Brommel at the Botanical Center” brought the sculptor’s cold blue steel to the most organic of environments, making both look better.
November 2006

Art Center Wins Big, Again
If the Des Moines Art Center was a football team, it would be Louisville. Like that unlikely success story, the museum is doing things that big institutions, with exponentially larger budgets, only dream about. While most museums battle just to keep from losing visitors to other attractions, DMAC doubled attendance this September from just one year ago - and that was before Aisle 5! Then, that sensational new show’s opening weekend became the busiest weekend in Art Center history.
Aisle 5 brings together five artists who reflect upon the disposable material culture of the third millennium. Tara Donovan, Tony Feher and especially Tom Friedman are the show’s “big names,” but based on the reactions of crowds, Shih-Chieh “CJ” Huang and Dan Steinhilber are its star attractions. During the discussions surrounding the opening, they were also the two artists most content to let their art speak simply for art’s sake. While Donovan and Feher pled cases, sometimes defensively, for the deeper meanings of their work, Steinhilber and Huang spoke simply about their strange methods.

Sometimes method is the message. When asked what was most difficult about immigrating to California from Formosa at age 10, CJ explained the origins of his art.

“In Taiwan, I woke up every day at 6, school began at 7 and lasted till 6:30, then there was homework. In Santa Monica, school began at 8:45 and was dismissed at 2:45. Suddenly, I had all this free time,” he recalled.

CJ said he began taking apart and reassembling things, beginning with toilet bowls and his older brother’s toys then progressing to computer boards and electronic sensors. By the time he was in college he was building original environments out of plastic.

“I am comfortable with plastic, it’s so familiar. I don’t like metal or wood. Plastic is a personal thing,” he explained.

While studying classical art disciplines in college, CJ built an all plastic cocoon within his apartment. A sculpture professor persuaded him to incorporate this “personal thing” into his art. Before he graduated, cutting edge galleries in Spain and France had signed him for shows. His big splash in America came with an installation in a deserted bank at the subway stop nearest the World Trade Center, where he created a wonderland of robotic glee in the shadow land of 9-11.

DMAC Art Center director Jeff Fleming discovered CJ’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei. “I immediately called him and we’ve been talking ever since,” Fleming explained.

Aisle 5 makes one wonder how much this artistic style depends upon too much free time: Friedman sprinkles laundry detergent on the floor; Donovan assembles plastic straws and toothpicks into compact forms; Steinhilber licks pieces of chewing gum into the shape of one giant stick of chewing gum; and Feher hangs plastic pop bottles with Weed Wacker wire. We’ll leave the deeper meaning of all that to the real art critics. CJ’s work is easier to understand because he animates throw-away materials with real rather than metaphoric energy. In one instance, his art’s movement is controlled by a video tape of four eyeballs connected to common household light sensors which react to the light and dark parts of blinking eyes.

If art was football, bringing Huang to DMAC would be the equivalence of recruiting Peyton Manning to Iowa State. Coming on the heals of the first American museum exhibition of super nova painter Cicely Brown, DMAC and is on an incredible winning streak. The alumni should be renegotiating Coach Fleming‘s contract, before a better endowed team steals him.

Art Pimp Touts

Olson-Larsen Gallery delivers three visionaries of fantastical possibility: Michael Brangoccio’s gravity-defying universe where elephants fly and birds are grounded; Wendy Rolfe’s realm where dreams invigorate desolation; and Mary Koenen Clausen’s mythological kingdoms of magic and chaos. December 1 - January 13.

Photo-realism is one of the most challenging tricks in the painter’s bag and no less of a talent scout than Jeff Fleming is a fan of Larassa Kabel. At Karolyn Sherwood Gallery through November 25. Iowa’s New Regionalists, Karen Strohbeen and Bill Luchsinger, follow November 30- January 6.

If Des Moines art carried an I. D. card, it might well look like a John Philip Davis painting. But then it would also need a fork lift. JP’s gargantuan abstractions show at Moberg Gallery. Through December 2.
Drake’s Anderson Gallery hosts “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,“ Canadian Jeremy Drummond’s multimedia take on suburbia, where the human longing for pristine nature battles the perverse human desire to subjugate nature. Through December 13.
October 2006

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Drake opened an art show last week (“Interrupted Life” at Olmstead Center) about, and partially by, women in prison. While I viewed, a curator urged students to reach conclusions about injustice in America. In their long discussion, no one referred to the art, just personal anecdotes and statistics. Class climaxed when a white male confessed that society was totally racist. Now, I doubt many of the artists in the show object to being used (to raise the pay of public defenders?), but there’s an apt adage in the art world: College teaches you to be passionate and political; the real world teaches you to be ironic, or a teacher.
Des Moines now has an emerging art scene because artists have learned the real world lesson of applying earnestness with irony. Lee Ann Conlan is an act apart within that scene. She represents herself at a career stage when most artists need a gallery. It’s not for lack of opportunities either, she’s been heavily courted. Conlan enjoys being her own agent, running her own web site, creating her own invitations.

“I actually have a lot of fun doing it. My clients are so wonderful I feel like treating them,” she said about lavish announcements, on hand made paper, for “Lee Ann” which opens Friday in the Fitch Building (15th and Walnut). Conlan’s following ranges from Boomer doctors to Gen Y rock stars. Her art speaks to such diversity in basic universal themes - death and sensuality - with subtle skill. Skulls and nudes prop her repertoire, but in intricate processes. In several works, images are created with multiple alternate layers of hand-made paper and charcoal on canvas, with paint and epoxy on top of that. Yet, the complexity is invisible - they have the appearance of paintings with striking dimension, not mixed media collages.
The big piece in the show, which will redefine the artist for awhile, is a medieval scene in the Gothic Abbey of St.-Denis. Figures in various stages of emaciation and decay are seeking shelter where kings of France are laid to rest. It’s radical for Conlan, putting figures in such a dramatic narrative. It also puts the show in a cycle of life context - all her simple nudes have a seed of mortality in their countenance and her skeletons have an existential life force.
At Mars Café (2318 University) Amy Koenig demonstrates another light touch on heavy matters. She suspends the most ephemeral things - maple leaves, butterflies - in a state of grace the Japanese call “aware.” At the same time she seems to be fighting for her sanity, or her soul. “I Fell to Pieces” shows a fragmented head, composed of multiple layers, much like the human brain it reflects upon. One fragment is a prescription pad of an eminent Des Moines neurosurgeon; other parts are literature about the soul, hymnals and pop music. It’s a wry exposition of debates between religion and science that drive many mad.
Even lighter existential reflections spruce a delightful ceramic exhibition at From Our Hands (400 East Locust). Linda Lewis presents glazed clay sculptures with Reginald Marsh-like humor. Women contemplate swimsuits, decades out of style. Others collect birds and even human skulls. Farmers think about their crops while corn grows out of their heads.
Sharon Nelson-Vaux is a complete original. She shows “xylostones,” her name for stones with messages inside - “Things, like me, you can not read without destroying the object of your curiosity.” Her “Hail Sized Golf Balls” and “Kiln Guards” have issues too. These sculptures can not have feet “for if they did they would be feet of clay and thus unreliable.” They accept tips. They carry children in their mouths - because they are “mouth breeders.” They have prominent uvula, a concession to political correctness “because the uvula is one body part that people have not been conditioned to feel self-conscious about.” Through October.
Pimp Touts
Medium is the message at Olson-Larsen Gallery’s autumn Iowa landscape show. Barbara Fedeler uses willow charcoal to dramatize the hills and dales of northeast Iowa. Mary Merkel-Hess lets paper, reeds and paint reflect on natural grasslands and forests. Dennis Dykema is a full palette oil painter, consciously Van Goghish at times, of northwest Iowa. Through Nov. 25.
The University of Iowa Museum of Art’s "Jules Kirschenbaum: The Need to Dream of Some Transcendent Meaning," is so well hung and lit that it’s like seeing the master painter’s work in a whole new light. Through Dec. 10.

September 2006

The Emerging Scene, with Previously Unreleased New Words

Artists are different from the rest of us. That’s why the art world calendar begins in September instead of January. Locally, this new year kicked off with the most energized opening round of exhibitions in my three decades covering Iowa art. Signs of a genuine local art scene are popping like champagne corks, as noted by many out-of-towners who have been flocking to the Des Moines Art Center’s first- in-America Cecily Brown exhibition.

Karolyn Sherwood Gallery (KSG) has become the bellwether of the emerging scene. Before the last couple years, that gallery’s exhibitions almost exclusively featured New York or European based artists. Even their “Iowa artists,” like Fred Truck and the late Luther Utterback, had established a New York City presence. Now that gallery has a significant mix of Iowans and outsiders. Sherwood herself has shown a good eye for discovering unknown talent like Ryan Jennings Clark, as well as for bringing young, transplanted Iowa artists like Joe Biel and Will Mentor back to the home market. KSG evolved further this year when it hosted a regional show of young female artists, mostly out of the Kansas City-Lawrence area. It used to be Des Moines artists had to go to larger places like Kansas City to find a market, so it’s not insignificant that artists like Peregrine Honig are now debuting in Des Moines.

“New New III” at KSG through October 14 announces another bright discovery in Guy Loraine. The Ankeny artist had previously shown photography, and nothing at all for five years. He’s been teaching graphic arts, jewelry and metalworking at Ankeny High School while developing this meticulous series of sculptures that reflect upon botany and modern agriculture. Loraine sculpts metal root systems which beget bulbs and flowers as well as manipulations of mankind such as silos and irrigation systems. His metal sculptures reflect upon connectivity and patterns, both the blatantly obvious and purely intuitive.

Such artistic observations of agriculture are usually overwhelmed by the young blood urges to exalt Mother Nature and demonize the tinkering of science and capitalism. Loraine shows extraordinary maturity, not only by presenting his visions without prejudice, but also by developing a method that supports both science and nature. He painstakingly measures everything he sculpts, so that his art conforms, to the centimeter, with the laws best known as “Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio,” (but more accurately as Pingala’s “Mountain of Cadence”). They constitute a numerology of natural patterns that recur, in both botanical and actuarial sciences, with complete disregard for the odds of probability.
All relationships in Lorraine’s works conform to these patterns, even the relationships in its installation. This show then becomes a study of contemporary agriculture, as an actuarial scientist or math-obsessed geneticist might see it. Since both of those professions are heavily represented in this insurance & plant science town, Loraine’s method is his messenger. If the numbers and sequences conform with their mystic science, then silos sprouting from radish roots are as natural as the genetically modified corn we eat this time of year.

The KSG exhibition also includes East Coast artists Sebastian Kim and Maryellen Latas. New York photographer Kim dazzles without shocking, with still lifes from the streets. Boston’s Latas is a pure minimalist sculptor, with all the non-frills of Donald Judd.

If KSG is the bellwether, then Moberg Gallery is the flag ship of the emerging art scene. Never is this so clear as during a Frank Hansen event. The Des Moines artist’s original style, along with his outsider sense of humor, has endeared him to a fast growing audience that is as likely to wear chains and tattoos as coats and ties. At the opening, we observed gallery owner T. J. Moberg clock watching and muttering, “C’mon people, it’s time to move the party to a bar.” Hansen’s energy is amazing. The exhibition “Practice Makes Better” comprises some 60 new paintings and mixed media works.

Trying to describe Hansen’s paintings is like trying to explain a good comic strip. The humor is so visual that you need to see it. The exhibition opens to the back of an installation of a shower with a peep hole. That work, titled “Brokeback Shower - Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It” shows a drunk and naked cowboy who has slipped on the floor and is being assisted by another cowboy. Another painting is called “Good Fences…Nevermind.” It broke us up, but Hansen doesn’t think it’s funny.
“We moved into a new place in the middle of winter, when you never see your neighbors. Then Spring came and we discovered we had (bad) neighbors. I thought about building a fence, but Hell, I don’t want a fence, I just want to be naked in my own backyard, if that’s what I want.”
“Shooting Arrows at the Sky” is a darkly humorous nightmare inspired by both the nursery rhyme and Van Gogh. “I Can Not Tell a Lie” comes “with 3 new words, previously unpublished.” “Fission Hole” tells of how a girl named Irene found a warm place to fish, with beautiful green water. Other works deal with Hansen’s mother’s freakish kidneys, Curious George, Emperor Caligula, the movie industry, “white power trash” and drinking.

Hansen and T. J. Moberg did one collaborative piece in the show, in which Hansen painted a Moberg sculpture of a super hero, and then necessarily renamed it “Tragic Hero.” That’s oddly symbolic of the relationship between the gallery and the artist. No gallery is expanding its audience like Moberg is and no artist is more influential to that development than Hansen. But it requires some rearrangements, not to mention the extra clean-up costs.

Long time bellweather and flagship of emerging Iowa art, Olson-Larsen Gallery has outgrown that scene. It’s now the Iowa art establishment. That gallery opened its season with “New Work” by five stalwarts -- Pat Edwards, Sheryl Ellinwood, Tim Frerichs, Bonney Goldstein and Gary Olson. Edwards showed the most radical new development, by adding a pastoral scene of grazing livestock to her usual repertoire of Iowa City backyards in the lazy days of summer. Ellinwood’s glass and mixed media sculptures continue to resemble Eastern iconography in glorious incarnations. Frerichs’ botanicals all come from Potomac River explorations. Goldstein’s oils layer and scratch meditative colors. Olson assembles his signature “floating drawings” with fishing lures and wires twisted into symbolism that is both cynical and wry. Through October 7

Pimp Touts

Jessie Fisher, the most arresting Iowa talent in our memory, is back in Iowa for a quickie exhibition at Coe College’s Marvin Cone Gallery. Fisher is featured in the current New American Painting catalogue, and she made the always arty cover of Pleiades literary magazine. So her dark star is rising. Her work featured twice in the Des Moines Art Center’s Iowa Artist exhibitions, giving her formalist vision of the Renaissance some neo-Gothic twists. Through October 6

“Group Dynamic: Portfolios, Series, and Sets” brings some all stars from Des Moines Art Center’s collection to the downtown gallery for a 20th century look at how artists developed themes over the course of several works. Through December 29.

Drake’s Anderson Gallery is exhibiting “Ocean of Images: Matsumura’s ‘Lost & Found’” by Yoji Matsumura. The Japanese artist assembles and manipulates newspaper clippings into a maze of recycled words and images. Though no subjective message is implied, many are inferred. That inspires reflections on the power of words and editing. Through October 13.

“Endi Poskovic: Large Color Woodcuts” opens at the Des Moines Art Center September 22. This is the first solo Iowa exhibition of the Bosnia Diaspora artist’s work, focused on images of flight and travel across landscapes.
August 2006

Ms. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Palette:
Des Moines Gushes over Cecily Brown

Just as four decades of young songwriters have been dogged by the media’s endless search for “the next Bob Dylan,” female painters have to deal with inevitable comparisons to Joan Mitchell. That why I first became interested in Cecily Brown in 2000 after tough art critic Charlie Finch (“Most Art Sucks”) wrote this about her:
“Cecily has a remarkable color sense, making Joan Mitchell look impressionistically pedestrian by comparison…If I were kicking back with a cigar and martini in Malibu, the fresh fleshy Cecily paint might even make me a little horny, but then Hollywood hasn't seen anyone as authentic as Cecily since the '30s.”

Only in her mid 30’s now, Cecily Brown has already been associated with, and disclaimed, more new “art movements” than most painters ever think about - Ab-Ex Revivalists, “classical reinventors,” “Angry Young Women,” “English revolutionaries,” “sexy A-listers” and “feminist icons.”
The Des Moines Art Center exhibition “Cecily Brown” opened this month to the most enthusiastic crowds in years. Visitors, particularly other painters, positively gushed over the lush linens and canvasses representing a decade of Brown’s development. Even the artist was rather surprised to see what she had been doing.

“Seeing these paintings that I haven’t seen for a few years reminds me, I am still interested in the same things. It’s a bit of a revelation,” she admitted.

As in last year’s Ana Mendieta revival, the DMAC show omits the bloodiest self portraits and the most violent sexual imagery from the artist’s repertoire. The exhibition concentrates on the way Brown improvised her own rhapsodies on themes of her classical mentors. She mentioned Rubens, Brueghel, Poussin, Goya and the great English landscape artists while talking about the work in the Des Moines show. Because of this, she’s been frequently characterized as a feminist re-inventing the classics.

“I did not set out to take on a great white male tradition. That would be pretentious. I do not have a feminist cause. It simply interests me to be having a dialogue with master painters who happen to be male while I happen to be female,” she explained.

Brown punctuates that dialogue with exclamations from nursery Hell. We asked her about the dismembered rabbits in her “Bacchanal.”
“In the early paintings, I doodled a lot of rabbits beating up ducks and ducks buggering rabbits. And I hadn’t done anything with them for years, and I was groping around for an idea of how to make a dramatic action painting full of tension. I thought I would revive the rabbits and ducks and put them in some rather extreme positions -- battlefields and gang rapes. Rabbits and ducks seemed like a good way to paint heavy subjects and keep it light.

“Bacchanal has always fascinated me, it’s so unlikely. These landscapes should look like something seen at speed, as through the window of a train. Too fast to be sure exactly what you saw, but not so fast that it can’t ruin your day. Just as you’re thinking how wonderful it all is, you see something hideous - some sinister single shoe hanging from a tree, or some disgusting underpants just laying there,” she explained.

Art critics have compared Brown to Hans Hoffman, but she says Heinrich Hoffman has been more influential. The author of the children’s classic “Der Struwwelpeter” (translated to English by Mark Twain) inspired “The Picnic,” her most recent work in the show, and very possibly the first in a long series.

“I have been wanting to paint some kind of feast for ages and it always morphed into something else. I am really into this now. I haven’t even touched on it. The way you lay the food out on the canvass is so exciting.
‘The Picnic’ is the painting where the food actually stayed on the table when it was over with. I just love it. I have several new paintings in the studio now that use the same imagery with the food and the table and the tablecloth. One of the rhymes in “Der Struwwelpeter” is the story of Fidgety Phil who can’t sit still. He pulls this tablecloth down and you can imagine all the food and bottles and sauces flying off. I am working off that, I have a plate flying off the table here (in the painting at DMAC), but that’s just the start,” she said.

What’s with the many film titles she has bestowed on her paintings?
“The first paintings were all named after movies or songs, mostly films. It was conscious because I am consciously a romantic painting and I felt that I needed to downplay that in the paintings, early on. I needed to get some remove from that. Movie titles were a way to do that, I felt since they were sentimental but they weren’t mine. That made it seem less romantic,” she explained.

“The titles are all misleading. It was naïve of me to think I could use titles and not ask people to bring their preconceived interpretations to the painting. That’s one reason I stopped using them, the other is I felt I ran out of romantic movie titles. I don’t think modern movies work, I won’t do a painting called ‘Scream II,’” she said, laughing.

Still, in “Suddenly Last Summer” there seems to be a literal rendering of the plot about the suppressed memory of horror, indicated by Brown’s use of three different palettes resembling the respective colors of alert, dead and sleepy brain activity in electroencephalograms. Brown admitted that the painting dealt with stages of memory retrieval, but not that her choice of colors intentionally came from graphic measurements.
“There’s something self destructive in all the paintings,” Brown added.
We asked about her rather famous painting titled “I Will Not Paint Any More Boring Leaves.”

“Of course it’s a nod to John Baldessari, who said ‘I will not make any more boring art.’ But they were the currency of the day at Whitney Biennial 2003. Everyone was working with leaves and I couldn’t understand how that happened. So, I titled it this. It was actually taken from a photograph of a crystal meth lab in New Jersey,” she explained, just in case we were getting bored.

August Touts

Karolyn Sherwood Gallery is hosting a combined show of Pete Goché installations and Sabine Friesicke paintings through September 2. The very different artists both investigate lines, Friesicke weaving the warp of horizontals and weft of verticals into paintings that breath through their lush textures. Goché continues his long explorations of marks on earth, through lead sculptures and leaded prints. Sherwood also has a few Cecily Brown prints…Moberg Gallery is introducing Kansas City artist Bev Gegen this month. To fit the abstract painter’s schedule, the exhibition began two weeks before the reception. Over half the show sold before Gegen made it here and the gallery’s first complete sell out seems quite possible. Through August 26…John Preston’s big sky landscapes of SE Iowa at Olson-Larsen Galleries through August 26.
July 2006

The New Regionalists

Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen’s new exhibition at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery is historic. The Macksburg pair are Iowa’s most popular artists, also celebrated through their international television series “The Perennial Gardener with Karen Strohbeen.” True to their guru/earth mother personas, they pioneered art for the people, in forms as accessible as kitchen tiles. Because of that, their art is appreciated on many levels. People who have never set foot in a museum gleefully decorate their house with it and the most dead serious collectors also buy it.

Aware of this versatile following, the artists have traditionally hidden pregnant stories in loose clothing. Ironies and unique styles have barely been noticed under the popular guises of Luchsinger’s minimalist still lifes and Strohbeen’s archetypal single line drawings. In that tradition, the new show is fittingly named “Layers.” The title works most obviously in Luchsinger’s metaphoric and emotional series on Key West, where the couple winters. These superimposed images belong to the classically tragic south of Tennessee Williams and Bill Faulkner, where noble spirits are ravaged by ancient swamp gods.

“Key West has been hit by hurricane after hurricane over the years, but the last cycle did particular damage to the spirit of the place. It’s impossible not to see that this time,” he said.

Less obvious, invisible actually, is the layering in Strohbeen’s series of floral still lifes. A little background - Luchsinger and Strohbeen were digital pioneers, among the originators of the art form, years before David Hockney and the national media discovered it. They have pushed the limits of the genre ever since. This time, she painstakingly photographed the same flower from eight points of views (flowers she grew from seed) to concentrate the focus. These multiple photographs were laid together seamlessly, creating an intensity so detailed it effects Buddhist-like (universe- in-the-lotus) surrealism. In fact, it redefines surreal experience - you must be dreaming because such sharp vision is not possible to wakeful sensibilities.

A related redefinition makes this exhibition historic, that of “regionalism” in the third millennium. Ever since Grant Wood's "Revolt Against the City" was published in Iowa in 1935, “regionalism” in art has been defined statically, with Great Depression rural clichés, including the one that “back to the earth” means forsaking modern technology. These Iowa artists are doing to that what Ferran Adria has done to haute cuisine -- using the latest technology not to simulate, but to extract the purity of basic root stocks. Through context, they have produced a new appreciation of the humble essences of the earth.

King of Swizzle

Benny Goodman is being redefined by jazz historians. Biographer Bill Crow details how badly the “King of Swing” treated his own band. To recruit reluctant Jimmy Maxwell for a tour of the Soviet Union, Goodman promised to take the trumpeter’s son along as band boy. Half way through the trip, Goodman reneged, and billed Maxwell $35 per day for his son’s expenses. Maxwell demanded to be directly billed by the Soviets. Their bill was only for $10. The young man on the tour grew up to become a Russian scholar - Drake President David Maxwell. We asked if that trip influenced his career choices.

“I spent much of my time with the cultural affairs officer, Terry Catherman, who traveled with us. When I got home, I decided that I wanted to be Terry when I grew up, so I majored in Russian Area Studies at Grinnell. By the time I was a senior, the diplomatic corps was trying to explain Vietnam to the world (and I didn’t like the explanation), and - more importantly - I found out that I really loved the literature. I basically went to graduate school so that I could keep reading!”


“Cecily Brown,” an artist frequently cited for redefining contemporary painting, opens August 4 at the Des Moines Art Center…Bev Gegen will debut at Moberg Gallery (July 18 - August 26) with an artist reception August 11...Sabine Friesicke will pair with Pete Goche at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery (July 27 - September 2), with a an opening reception July 27.

June 2006

Midsummer Nights’ Dreams

Maestro Robert Larsen has built an international reputation for Des Moines Metro Opera. Not to mention an audience of unusual loyalty, with over 85 % ticket renewals, and diversity, coming each year from over 40 states and foreign countries. His formula for this success has been annual programs that includes: one classic tragedy; one classic comedy; and one modern opera. Technically, this year’s program fits the mold, but all three operas straddle tragic and comedic territory, as well as classical and avant-garde. As always, Larsen has persuaded some of the great voices in the world to spend summer in Indianola.

“Rigoletto,” with probably the most hummed music in opera history, is a sly piece of political cynicism. Its story by Victor Hugo, about the arrogance of a king, was so controversial that it had to be rewritten before its debut. Historical King Francis became a generic Duke of Mantua and, if Verdi’s music were not unforgettable, it would probably never have been presented.

Larsen uses the dazzling score to recruit a cast of rising young stars plus a renowned veteran. Sioux City’s Met-vet tenor John Osborn returns to Iowa to play the Duke, with crowd-adoring Southern soprano Jane Redding as the object of his desires. Philadelphia baritone Todd Thomas comes from New York City Opera to sing the title role as her protective father. And hot mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman, from Cedar Rapids, sings Maddalena. 14

“The Magic Flute” would be this year‘s “light” opera, but it was also Mozart’s swan song. Contrary to the movie “Amadeus,” the great composer was not totally obsessed with his “Requiem Mass” in his final months of life. He was actually working on this wildly fantastic opera full of dragons and queens, bird catchers and spirits. It’s a child-pleasing romp of hope and adventure, the polar opposite of the dirge-like Requiem. Still, it has the weight of a death bed confession -- on love, forgiveness, tolerance and the brotherhood of man.

Appropriate on this 250th birthday party for music’s “Genius from Hell,” DMMO’s production brings together a Larsen trademark cast of established favorites and new voices. Lyric soprano Eric Fennell, a former hockey star, brings rave reviews from Boston and New York to the lead role of Tamino. Janara Kellerman sings double duty this year, along with Cindy Sadler, a “smoky contralto” with a dazzling biography, and with relative newcomer Courtney Ames. John Moore, a former DMMO apprentice from Milford, plays Papageno.

This year’s “modern opera” is more traditional than what usually fits that bill. It’s based on the classical paintings of William Hogarth, but with a libretto by poet W. H. Auden, 200 years Hogarth’s junior. Stravinsky’s “Rake’s Progress” tells the never out-of-style story of man’s fascination with decadence and depravity. It was a natural choice for this year’s gala party night premiere. How many shows have a casting call for “whores and roaring boys?” If that isn’t enough to overcome your fear of the modern, DMMO is bringing the great baritone Dean Elzinga to play Nick Shadow. Probably the most popular villain in DMMO history, Elzinga sings the satanic role with devilish glee, persuading Tom Rakewell to forsake Anne Trulove and marry Baba the Turk.

What more could any party want? Prodigal son Ted Green comes from Royal Swedish Opera to sing Tom. Former DMMO apprentice and crowd favorite Karin Wolverton returns as Anne. Floridian Tony Dillon plays her father and Cindy Sadler gets yet another smoky role, as Baba.

Also of note, DMMO’s crack Apprentice Artist Program brings 40 young voices to town, selected from 740 nationwide auditions. These stars of the future will perform a special concert at Sheslow July 6. Chamber Music Concerts will be held, free, at Lekberg Hall, July 2 and 9. “Peanut Butter and Puccini” concerts will serve sack lunches back stage, as part of the kid-friendly tours on June 15 and 17. “Threads & Trills” luncheon at the Airport Holiday Inn June 19 allows guest models to strut, while principle singers sing arias and duets from the shows. Tickets: 226-1208.

Art Touts

This is the biggest month ever for art in Des Moines. Besides the extravagance of the Des Moines Art Festival and Maytag Sculpture Festival in Newton, every major gallery in town has an important show opening in June. The inimitable Mary Kline-Misol debuted her latest obsession last week at From Our Hands Gallery in East Village. Most famous for her 20 year cycle of Lewis Carroll interpretations, the painter has taken up a less renowned Victorian subject. “From the Faerie Queen Garden” honors Richard Dadd, the creator, in Kline-Misol’s words, of “the most psychotic painting in history - ‘The Faerie Feller’s Masterstroke.’”

This show honors the denizens of midsummer nights’ dreams, be they faerie, faerie-feller or madman. This is the most significant examination of the razor edge of wonderland, from an artist who has always hung her hat where others fear to tread. Through June 17.

Moberg Gallery opened a thoughtful Alan Weinstein retrospective last week, borrowing some instructive perspective from the Marvin Pomerantz collection. Those paintings, from the Ontario-Iowa City artist’s “Family Group phase” of the early 1990‘s, dramatize Weinstein’s development, through his popular divided-panel, full-prism forest abstractions, to recent works that incorporate forms, styles and symbols from all phases of his career. Weinstein’s contemporary “Mourning Figure” paintings take soul from Egyptian antiquities and dramatize their forms with the limited palette of his earlier days. Through July 15. An artist’s reception will be held Friday.

Olson-Larsen Galleries’ annual summer show also opened last week, with the Gary Bowling bringing more realism and less abstraction to his Van Goghesque Midwest landscapes. A “Fields & Flowers” ensemble show lets several gallery stars (plus newcomer Dave Ottenstein) present their latest botanical visions -- from the black and white clarity of Blair Benz, Ottenstein and Priscilla Steele to the big sky glory of Genie Patrick and Richard Krogstad, to the more romantic Bobbie McKibbin and the waterside abstractions of Dan McNamara and Jack Wilkes. Both shows run through July 15.

Iowa icons Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen will open their annual summer show next week at Karolyn Sherwood Gallery. A preview suggests that the collaborative artists from Macksburg are balancing dual perspectives. A microscopic fascination with flowers and pigments is revealed in frightfully high definition. And some personal whims for displacement are allowed a summer indulgence - to hang out with forbidden fruits and synthetic backgrounds.

May 2006

Wendell Mohr: Invisible Power of Steam

Several American states and cities have adopted the Japanese tradition of honoring their Venerable Presences and Living Legends. Such designations recognize a rare status beyond that of “master,” affirming that such artists are public treasures. If Iowa ever gets around to this, we should begin with Wendell Mohr. Besides being the most honored watercolorist in Iowa history, Mohr inspired the state’s most notable community restoration. In 1970 he moved his family into a hundred year old schoolhouse, in what was then the ghost town of Bentonsport. They restored it into a home and studio, inspiring others to do the same. Today Bentonsport is the hub of the historic villages of Van Buren County, Iowa’s largest rural arts community (Greg Brown, Iris Diment, etc.) and tourism jewel.

Among colleagues, Wendell is known simply by his first name, like some Brazilian soccer star. He has what followers of that sport (and now Nike) refer to as “Joga Bonito” (beautiful game) and politicians call charisma. Put it this way - Wendell is the only octogenarian I know who inspires women to gush and blush.

His new exhibition at Moberg Gallery whistles and roars like the invisible power of steam, channeling the softest and gentlest medium into dark visions of raw, turn-of-the-last-century power. Dedicated to the industrial era of the railroad locomotive, “Smoke and Steam” includes 20 paintings. Symbolism rides their rails, particularly in the “End of the Run.” A decade ago, Wendell created buzz in Mystic, Connecticut, sweeping top awards at a international competition for maritime art. This Moberg show does for the locomotive what that show did for clipper ships. Wendell even added a new technique, using fresh palettes for each color, to accentuate vivid contrasts.

This exhibition is not just for train buffs and watercolor junkies. It’s a testimonial to the purity of minimalism, an educational glimpse at the economical genius of a paintbrush bard. Water color is the people’s art form. Children can do it with their fingers, and MFA’s don’t write about it. So it gets little respect in academic America. It‘s different in Asia, where its subtle aesthetics fit Eastern appreciations for the ephemeral and paradoxical natures of perception. Wendell might have been born in the wrong country. Through May 30. Artist reception Friday, May 12.

Good Karma

Karolyn Sherwood’s “Incident at Echo Lake” is the happy coincidence of old loyalty and new celebrity. Artist Gary Komarin’s career has lifted off internationally. In Zurich, he was recently grouped with Warhol, Francis, Christo and Lichtenstein. Period. If not for the longtime relationship with Sherwood, he would have long since outgrown Des Moines. His only other shows this year are in London, New York City and Dallas. Through June 10.


Trains also have a role the annual Iowa Artist show. Ankeny painter Stewart Buck, whose Streamliner Studio specializes in railroad art, features in “There’s No Place Like Home,” which just opened at the Des Moines Art Center Downtown. Billed as dealing with “issues of nostalgia, childhood fantasy and domestic space,” this year’s show has more Pop and less academia than previous editions. A large installation by U.N.I. professor Aaron Wilson dominates the show and comforts with the audience-friendly themes. Artists range from esteemed University of Iowa Head of Sculpture Tom Aprile, to just-out-of-school Rachel Dobkins of Grinnell. Through August 25…Dan Mason’s colorful meditations on architectural form are featured at Olson-Larsen Gallery this month…Dinosaur art by Ben Britton highlights From Our Hands’ “Art for the Garden,” through May 13, in East Village…Steph Van Doren deconstructs body parts, the psyche and family relationships, in paintings and sculpture, through May 28 at 516 3rd Street…Des Moines artist Michael Brangoccio drew some sweet reviews for a recent show in Denver. Cowboy nightmares were featured in the new work, which rides fences between surrealism and physics…Applications are available for Metro Arts Two Rivers Expo: 280-3222;

April 2006

Architecture’s Hubris

Now that the new Central Library is finally checking out books and selling beignets, what happens to all the hype? History is full of surprises, but right now the smart money is saying that David Chipperfield’s two story, $32 million building was oversold, out of political necessity.

Because the library’ s sprawling, “airplane logo” footprint demanded the sacrifice of an historic building, it precipitated vehement demonstrations against civic rubble lust. Defenders reacted by reaching, at least rhetorically, for unreachable stars. Just try to find any discussion of this library’s creation that doesn’t compare it to New York City’s Central Park. The absurdity of that should be clear, but since even some really smart people have fallen into that trap, think about this. Central Park is two and half miles long and half a mile wide and sits in the middle of the most densely populated real estate in the nation. It includes the Metropolitan Museum, Belvedere Castle, the New York Zoo and 31 other landmarks. Des Moines Central Library’s 117,000 square feet take up 30 percent of the “city park” lot it occupies.

The rest of that “park” area has been landscaped with incomprehensible quantities of concrete. The library’s north entrance appears to be total pavement. In other directions, concrete slab pathways are wide enough to accommodate pedestrian rush hour traffic, at a Manhattan subway station. Hedges have been planted in the little remaining green areas to prevent anyone walking off the pavement. We’re told that “trees will grow,” but not in the concrete that now dominates this “park.”

The building itself is far more successful than the civic vision that touts its “green heart.” The copper mesh technology works quite well, branding the place at night and softening it by day. The quest for an “open feel” was successful, with gay placements and colors accommodating the natural light. Someone forgot to make this place comfortable though. Chairs are designed for people over 8 feet tall; and floors are as hard as the concrete that surrounds the building.

This library and the Gateway Park it anchors need a more realistic dream. Forget about Central Park, hope for Southmoreland. As with our library, the initial capital for that Kansas City park was a legacy from a local newspaper publisher. It’s not much bigger than our downtown park and it inspired what developers dream Gateway might, first attracting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and then the Country Club Plaza. Ironically, that museum is erecting a new building with similar features to our library: grass roof, copper mesh, tons of windows. It also understands what symbiosis with a park means. For instance, Kansas City park goers will be able to walk on the roof without even knowing it. The roof blends seamlessly with the grassy park as the building descends five levels. It has seven separate entrances to museum, at all cardinal points, to bring park goers inside. Our new library has two entrances, both at the same end.

If Sarah Silverman Painted…

Peregrine Honig paints out her delightfully sick anxieties about marriage, motherhood, drug addiction, restrictive clothing and bad art. Our favorite shows a glowing, fat baby sucking the life out of his mother. The title is “Thomas Kincaid.” Another turns St. Sebastian into a contemporary female prostitute besieged by symbols she can‘t understand. A third shows a young lady trying to maintain a debutante‘s composure, while killing herself in a formal gown she has soiled. At Karolyn Sherwood Gallery through April 22.

Art Touts

“Adrift,” recently concluded at the Fitch, provided a step in the ladder to an emerging art scene. Jenn Dierdorf spun sugar-like thread and book pages into thoughtful sculpture. Tony Pontius showed paintings far more romantic, and less political, than what he’s shown at the Art Center and Moberg. Artist Fred Truck called them “Turneresque” … Moberg’s “Chris Vance” exhibition is apt to wind up as that gallery’s most successful show ever, with over 40 works sold at press time. The popular artist added wood panels, disassembled installations and sculptures to his repertoire…Valley Junction’s Gallery Night is April 21 with eight galleries on Fifth Street debuting new shows. Dan Mason’s architectural paintings will star at Olson-Larsen.

March 2006

Bob Dylan Without the 1960’s?

The Richard Tuttle exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center is the biggest thing to hit Iowa in ages. It’s literally massive, absorbing all the original Saarinen wing of the building, plus a whole level of the Meier wing. The artist himself needed a fortnight, and a staff of San Francisco experts, to install it. But it’s even bigger on the symbolic level where feathers adorn civic caps. Artists, historians and students will travel significant distances to see this show here. We heard grousing, from Denver and Atlanta, about larger museums being aced out by Des Moines.

And the Richard Tuttle show is also “much ado about nothing,” and a “parody of art’s self absorption.” It all depends on who‘s talking. Tuttle’s art has always demanded that observers line up like 19th century armies approaching battle from opposing, but equally righteous, perspectives. Still the art world is not the pop world. If it were then this show’s run in Des Moines would be the equivalence of the Civic Center landing “The Lion King,” had “The Lion King” been written by the Beatles and never performed since John Lennon‘s death. Instead, the art world lives in a self-contained bubble that avoids the snap crackle of pop. So this exhibition probably won’t be the blockbuster in Des Moines that it was in New York, where eminent critic Blake Gopnik wrote “Critics have raved, and almost every art fiend you meet insists it is the season's one heart-stopping show.”

Sure, art history majors will gush, but even after the show’s long run is over in June, Tuttle won’t be a household name in Des Moines. Why should he be? Because he shook the art world when everyone in that world was watching. Coming before mass media, abstract expressionism crept into art’s garden as gradually as weeds. But Tuttle’s post modern moment was notoriously public. His 1975 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art polarized people the way Vietnam did, while catapulting supporting players into history.

When that show, mostly recreated in Des Moines, premiered 30 years ago, Hilton Kramer, then of the New York Times, declared it “irredeemable,” “pathetic,” “a bore and a waste.” Humiliated, the Whitney’s board fired curator Marcia Tucker. Much of the museum staff resigned in protest. At age 34, Tuttle’s star had risen and fallen at the same moment. He was Bob Dylan being booed at Newport, a comparison that Tuttle himself brought up while in Des Moines.

“Something was happening, something overwhelming. I remember looking out from my rat infested apartment and touching the window sill awed with the feeling of being on the brink of change. The creative output was coming from some abstract source. Bob Dylan, during those few years before his motorcycle accident, was touched by something outside himself, channeling something too great to understand. That was the feeling then,” he recalled.

Today reduction theorists call it “boomer mania,” but time has only reinforced that generation’s messianic complex. Don’t’ misunderstand Tuttle though, he seems a thoroughly modest man who never went looking for notoriety, like Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol did. Tuttle just created introspective little things and sat back to observe. The tempest came to him. And he changed the art world utterly. With the staff who quit the Whitney, Marcia Tucker founded the New Museum of Modern Art. Scorned by the boomer avant garde, the New York Times turned reactionary. Kramer left and founded The New Criterion, still the reigning emperor of traditional artistic values.

This exhibition is a 40 year retrospective, but it misses the old controversy, badly. Opening festivities were a love-in to Tuttle’s genius: for taking pictures out of frames: for putting pictures back in frames; for laying art on the floor; and for tacking little frayed cords on big walls. Desperately needed was the voice of new millennium iconoclasm, someone unafraid of the PC art cops with the gander to say “irredeemable.” Because, here in the midlands, Tuttle without Kramer is Robert Mapplethorpe without the Christian Right, or Bob Dylan without the 1960’s.

February 2006

The Devil’s Bed and Other Dreams

“Pull that barge, lift that bale, get a little drunk, and land in jail.” Ira Gershwin

Because the Mississippi delta is the “Cradle of the Blues,” the river’s poetic legacy is a flood plain of pathos. New Deal photographer Walker Evans famously chronicled its cemeteries, sharecroppers and prison farms, but his human subjects hid all expressions of joy. Alec Soth is an old school, Walker Evans style photographer in that his subjects are the object of his art. But he works with a lighter heart and an eye for irony.

In this age of egocentric, manipulative photography and small candid cameras, Soth lugs heavy equipment in search of characters with stories to tell. Because of its narrative nature, his exhibition “Sleeping by the Mississippi,” resembles songwriting more than current art photography.

The show has overlapping themes, beginning with a tribute to the music of the river. At the grim boy hood home of Johnny Cash, where 1936’s floods drove the family off the land, Soth finds optimism. As he explained, those floods deposited so much rich silt on the land that in following years, harvests were bountiful enough the family could afford things like guitars and dreams. The photographer visits the Harbor Marina in Memphis, where Jeff Buckley swam to his sweet hallelujah, before his body floated up at the foot of Beale Street‘s music clubs. Soth drops in on the famous Memphis photographer William Eggleston, but shoots him playing music. At Jerry Lee Lewis’ childhood home, Soth finds the singer’s sister Frankie Jean, who lives there, but sleeps in a sleeping bag on the shag carpet floor.

“She just doesn’t want to muss a bed,” he explained.

Empty beds are thematic. Soth even quoted poet John Berryman (who leapt to his death from a Mississippi River bridge): “Empty grows every bed.” A nightmarish, deserted hospital bed in Green River, Iowa looks as therapeutic as a Civil War amputation board. The show includes flotsam beds in swamps and a mattress floating under a blues icon, the Helena Bridge. Beds are dream catchers and Soth asked his subjects about their dreams. Charles Lindbergh’s boyhood bed certainly evoked flying dreams, as do several other subjects, including a prisoner in Kentucky who said his dream was to own a school for pilots. Lenny, an erotic masseuse and body builder, dreams he will “live to be 100 and still look the way I do now.” At a massage parlor in Davenport, a daughter said her dream was to become a nurse, while her mother told Soth that she had given up dreaming long ago. In a neon washed Minneapolis tavern, Soth intervened in a dream.

“The thing about Kym was that she had only left Minneapolis once in her life, to go New Orleans. She had a good time there and recounted that to me, but she had taken photos and then left the camera in a taxi. So, when I went to New Orleans I tried to photograph the places she had told me about,” he said, before adding that the tavern had been demolished.

Soth’s river flows through very different regions. The upper Mississippi, including Iowa, is a cold land of denial; the further south, the more open, and decadent things become. From a frozen statue of an amputated Christ in Buena Vista, Iowa, to a lilac-blossomed Palm Sunday in Louisiana, his camera warms to southern light. And human subjects lose inhibitions, from Lenny’s denial to life-accepting brothel mongers in New Orleans and Memphis. Beyond Venice, Louisiana, the southern most point on the river that a car can travel, Soth finds the “Dead Zone,” where run-off from Midwestern agriculture’s chemical addictions have eradicated marine life. Walker Evans‘ camera would have been at home here, but would not have found the Devil’s boudoir - a wrought iron bed in the bulrushes of man made Hell. At the Downtown Des Moines Art Center, through April 21.

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