Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Art in Des Moines 4th Quarter 2009


A Season for Contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Haute & Low Culture - More Than Coincidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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