Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2009 3rd Quarter

September 09

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

The PSG Brands Des Moines

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

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

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

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

Breaking Laws Like Gravity

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

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

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

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

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

Art Skin

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

August 09
Taking Comfort in Pearls and Bombs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donovan also confessed that everyday materials assist another motivation.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Arts Guide

Tent Cities in Tall Corn Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*APT* indicates a special Art Pimp tout)

Recurring Events and Family Attractions

Thursday Night Art Walks in downtown Newton

First Friday Art Walks, Fairfield Town Square

Special Events


Des Moines Metro Opera Festival (Simpson College, Indianola,

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

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

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

June 19 - Ju1y 12
The 2008 Season *APT*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Limited Engagements

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

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

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

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

Des Moines Social Club

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

Moberg Gallery

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

“Small Works Exhibit” by various gallery artists

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

New York painter returns to Iowa.

“New Artist Exhibit”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June in Side Gallery
“Art Martinez”

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

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

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

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

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

Through Spring 2010
Artifacts and images from the Sami people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2nd Quarter 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2009

Des Moines’ Gang of Four

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

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

Frank Hansen named the group Paintpushers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2009 "Artist in the Studio" Jules Kirschenbaum

Making a Difference for 30 Years

Marlene Olson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Cornelis" by Jules Kirschenbaum

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

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

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

Art Touts

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

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Art in Ds Moines 2009 1st Quarter

March 2009

Des Moines Social Club - the Play’s the Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Feburary 2009

Return of the Parodical Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 2009

Return of the Great Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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