Monday, November 22, 2010

Design Fresh, Design Local

Remember when local developers thought the only way to impress people was to beg “big name” architects from out of state to design Des Moines buildings? Maybe the disappointments such outsiders delivered with the downtown library and the Wells Fargo Arena have ended those days forever. If not, the annual Institute of Architects (AIA) Iowa convention might have.
This year, four Des Moines firms swept AIA’s top awards (Excellence in Design Awards of Merit). Invision won for Stacey’s Prom, Bridal & Lingerie in Urbandale, which jurors declared “ a model and inspiration for what can be achieved in forgotten strip mall landscape.”

Stacy's Prom photo courtesy of Invision

BNIM Architects won the same award for Retreat, on a 70 acre restored prairie in rural Iowa. Jurors lauded its “strong relationships between site and building.” HLKB Architecture took the same award for its Iowa State University (ISU) Multicultural Center, commended for its “masterful interior in spatial arrangement and detail.” Jurors added it “shows that even a modest commission can achieve spectacular results.” And Substance won for 322 Reinvented in Iowa City, which was called “a strong project which explores a new house model for the suburban house.”

Invision added two Awards of Honor: for the Whiteline Lofts on SW Fifth St.; and for their own offices on Watson Powell Way. One juror called the lofts “a model project for urban redevelopment on the industrial fringe.” Another described Invision’s offices as “understated yet elegant.” OPN Architects, also won an Award of Honor for their own offices on Court Avenue, described as “a beautiful dialog between new and old.” RDG Planning & Design won two awards for sustainable designs. Their Cradle to Cradle for ISU’s Morrill Hall rehabilitation was praised for “amazing longevity” that should give another 100 years of life to a 100 year old building. They also won a sustainability award for Hope for the Future in the ISU College of Design expansion. Jurors called the stack effect on that building a “beautiful articulation of sustainable architecture.”

Local artists also continued stifling old notions that regionalism quit mattering with Grant Wood. Two Des Moines artists reveal nuances of transition, as well as familiar themes, in their current exhibitions.

Fred Truck’s anaglyphic and stereographic photography at Steven Vail Fine Arts (through Nov. 6) is providing visitors with a new way of looking at art. His anaglyphic conceptions stitch six photos together to present 360 degree panoramas of Des Moines’ Locust Tap, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rotunda, and art collector Jim Hubbell’s home. Truck described stereographic (3D) images, which require special glasses to view, as a “very active” niche in modern photography. “There are five or ten new things every day on Flickr,” he said. That’s where Truck‘s work has been viewed by 50,000 people this year.


Frank Hansen’s “World Class Poseur” at Moberg Gallery (through Nov. 13) shows new directions, some literally. Master painted Richard Kelley complimented Hansen’s “Dubuffet qualities” particularly in “The Boxing Monacle.” Several paintings are actually painted over older Hansen paintings. In some, the artist explores meditative abstractions without his usual cast of characters from Iowa‘s wild side. For the most part though, Hansen’s signature bug eaters, Medusas, “pimpwitches,” freaks, and whores still walk the Planet Frank.

Works of two new artists will join that of Kim Hutchinson for Olson-Larsen Galleries’ Art Walk exhibition beginning Friday. Brian Roberts is a repeat “Best in Show” winner at the Iowa Sculpture Festival who usually references agricultural architecture in his work. Lee Emma Running uses simple tools (projection, tracing, stenciling and cutting) to characterize her observations of ephemeral things like animal hair, leaf veins and root clusters. Hutchison is among a growing number of former Grandview University artists making a scene. She is a painter who sews, sourcing materials from garage sales cast-offs, to explore quest themes filled with mysterious pathways and doors.

Escaping the Nazis and Hollywood too

Some are born artists, some achieve great art and others have art thrust upon them. Like a romantic character from historical fiction, Jeanne Mammen walked all types of the artistic life. In fact, her career was so tangled in the 20th century’s greatest dramas that it’s hard to believe her biography escaped Hollywood‘s clutches.

Born in Berlin in 1890, Mammen moved to Paris at age five with her wealthy family, absorbing French culture, particularly Flaubert. She studied at legendary art schools - Académie Julian in Paris, Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Scuola Libera Academica in Rome. Toulouse Latrec and the visionary Franco-Belgian symbolists were mentors. After a promising debut exhibition in 1913, World War I devastated her family. Jeanne caught the last train out of Paris before German nationals were sent to internment camps, waiting till the last minute for a character player by Ingrid Bergman.
The Great War moved her from privilege to destitution. After swearing she would never go hungry again, Mammen eked out a living on the mean streets of Berlin, forging close ties to the streetwalkers and thieves that also fascinated Bertold Brecht. By 1919 she had saved enough money to rent a studio on the Kurfürstendamm, the Broadway of Europe in the cabaret era. She designed posters for the German film industry in its glory days and her watercolors appeared on the covers of every notable fashion and society magazine in Germany. Her more serious work was validated with a successful exhibition in 1930. Then she illustrated Pierre Louys's "Les Chansons de Bilitis," depicting variations on the theme of lesbian love. Along came Hitler.
The Nazis didn’t know what they didn’t like, but they knew they didn’t like Mammen’s art. So they branded it “Jewish.” Refusing to work for magazines or films that that been sanctioned by the Nazis, she made her living for twelve years as a street cart vendor. Mammen resourcefully kept making art, building sculptures out of wire left behind by the Soviet army and with Care package materials sent from California. Stylistically, she turned to Cubism to suggest the dislocation of the better angels of human nature. After the war, she joined the legendary existentialist cabaret, "Die Badewanne" (The Bathtub) as a designer, but painted and lived reclusively till 1976.

Unlike her more famous male contemporaries (Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz), Mammen viewed the social injustices of her era without dramatic malice, exaggerated satire or condescension. A new exhibition of thirteen of her watercolors focusing on independent women plays at the Des Moines Art Center through December 10. It also contributes to the museum’s growing reputation for significant twentieth century German art.



Drake’s Anderson Gallery opened its season with “A Fork in the Road: The Time and Place for Local Foods” by Hilary D. Williams. Like several previous exhibitions at Drake, the show preaches politically correctness without acknowledging opposing points of view. The message this time is that scale of America’s industrial food system begets dire consequences. Estimated statistics and slick designs remind viewers that most of them consume food that makes an obscene carbon footprint by traveling long distances to Iowa. One display even prompts visitors to change their consumption habits for the common good, providing pledge cards to be filled out in duplicate, so that those of us who aren’t yet enlightened can remember what we were prompted to pledge.



Williams talks the talk better than she walks the walk. An exhibition brochure was printed on just one side of slick, heavy (80 #) paper. It was 21 inches tall and 18 pages long. At the exhibition reception, refreshments were served in disposable, non-compostible plastic.
ArtFest West, a fall complement to ArtFest Midwest, moves to The Village of Ponderosa October 9 and10. In addition to providing a venue for 100 artists (40% from Iowa, 96% from Midwest), the show promises affordable art and free music.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Prepping for the Apocalypse

August 2010














Richard Kelley opened his biennial exhibition at Moberg Gallery (through Sept. 18) by revisiting his visionary world of deep blues and brilliant reds. He still observes an ominous world of housing developments, bumper to bumper freeways, and zoo animals on the loose often led by naked shepherdesses. This year, the Planet Kelley looks pre-Apocalyptic. Giant preying mantises and super rabbits stalk doomed cityscapes. Psychedelic sea hawks fish for eels. Insects seem to be preparing to mate with human women. Hares observe jungle cats as if their roles were reversed in the hunting cycle.














In his oil paintings, Kelley’s colors are more vivid than ever, something I didn’t think possible. He also added some affordable pastel paintings to his repertoire this year. Some lighter touches underlie the boldness. A traffic scene includes blondes in convertibles rather than the usual hectic road rage. The giant attacking insects in “Invasion of Gansevoort Street” pay homage to color schemes in early American works of Dutch painter Willem de Kooning.

The Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Richard Meire wing with new installations. A new floor plan on the lowest level presents a de facto exhibition of modern German art. That floor’s masterpiece is a giant untitled piece by Anselm Kieffer.













(Des Moines artist Don Dunagan, who died last month, described that work as “German optimism - ballet slippers in a bomb site.”) It’s now surrounded by works of eight other 20th century German artists plus those of another eight English and American artists of Germanic descent. The contrast between those two groups says something about national psyches following WWII.

Among the Germans, Thomas Struth’s high definition photo of museum visitors focuses on cultural rape - an ancient temple which was plundered from Greece and reassembled in Berlin.

Thomas Demand’s camera recreates the scene of a famous terrorist bomb which failed to go off. Wolfgang Tillmans zeroes in on a man extracting splinters from his foot. Hilda and Bernd Becher focus on ominous blast furnaces with horrible historical suggestiveness. Andreas Gursky observes a crowded beach scene at Rimini where bathers appear to metastasize. For levity, Gerhard Richter presents an “abstract landscape” that evokes the great German Romantics. One of Joseph Beuys’ famous blackboards and a piece by Martin Kippenberger also make statements without ominous undertones. Works by artists of Germanic descent are much mellower. Jeff Koons, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Diebenkorn, George Segal and Alex Katz are at their whimsical best here. Even Julian Schnabel and Britain’s Lucien Freud seem light hearted in the company of the German Germans.

“Kill Them Before They Multiply” (through Sept. 26) continues DMAC Print Gallery’s string of intriguing, themed shows. This historical review of artistic anxieties plays in visions of multiplication and subdivision - a theme that allows artists to unleash their imaginations. Media range from prints, photos, drawings and watercolor paintings to conventional sculptures and hair sprayed rubber bands. Subjects range from Biblical (Jehan Duvet’s “The Beast with Seven Heads and Ten Horns”) to the historical (Dennis Kardon” “Death of Marat” and Pablo Picasso’s “The Lie of Franco”) to modern things like suburban sprawl (Ross Racine’s “Subdivision: Heavenly Heights”) and cell phone obsessions (Iowan Timothy Wehrle’s “Inner Kingdom, Thieving Speedway’). Everything in the exhibition seems to make a common, modern observation - be it a dictator’s polyps or a land developer’s business plan, growth is cancerous. Curator Amy Worthen tried to sum up the exhibition’s theme in its catalogue.

“ Although individuals and societies are supposed to benefit from material and technological advances, we ultimately experience overload. The world reaps the consequences of immoderation, over extension, greed, disparity and injustice.”
Tout

“Crockett” and
“Tubb’s,” TJ Moberg’s latest mixed media paintings at Moberg Gallery, celebrate 1980’s American style.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Des Moines Metamorphoses




I bellied up to the bar of local hotel restaurant. This guy sitting next to me sized me up and said, “You look too old for the music thing. So, you here for the bike show or the car show?” I explained that I was simply a local guy having dinner. My inquisitor looked disbelieving but quickly bonded with a band of biker brothers who had descended on Des Moines over Fourth of July weekend, pretty much selling out every hotel room in town and packing bars and restaurants. This is not your parents’ Des Moines. It isn’t even your teenaged brother’s Des Moines.

“I remember, because it wasn’t very long ago at all, when everyone left Des Moines on the Fourth of July. When there wasn’t much of anything to do here,” recalled architect Kirk Blunck.

Blunck takes pride in the changes. His renovations of historic East Village buildings have done more than anything else to attract visitors to formerly repulsive parts of downtown. Watching people file into Lucca, Kitchen Collage, Miyabi 9 and a dozen other bustling businesses in his buildings, Blunck declared a milestone.

“Having Steve Vail here is just a huge thing. It’s a major, major deal to have an international gallery,” he explained.

Steven Vail Fine Arts (SVFA) opened in February on the second floor of the Teachout Building. An exhibition of Jan Frank paintings followed by a show of prints by the artists in the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden placed SVFA many levels above other downtown exhibit spaces, at least by measurements such as the insurance value of inventories and artists’ renown with Google.

Vail’s next exhibit is by Not Vital (a real name), who is as avant garde as an artist can be. The 62 year old Swiss aristocrat lives much of each year in a mud and barbed wire hut in Niger next to a pile of waste from local butchers. There he cultivates his sense of smell, works with silversmiths on sculptures that sometimes look like instruments of torture, and casts cow dung. Vail has actually sold some of the latter for him. For his show at opening July 29 in Des Moines, Vital will exhibit more conventional art - a portfolio of lithographs.

Originally representing only Iowa artists, Moberg Gallery has readjusted its scope. It’s currently hosting an impressive exhibit of 16 “Visiting Artists.” Missourian Nick Naughton’s large wood cut prints document the toil of migrant workers in dramatic fine detail. Colorado painter John Hull peaks into the world of carnies and trailer park police calls. Sculptor Thomas Stancliffe’s freaky environmental reflections presage the Gulf oil disaster.

Things are also changing on a personal level for local artists. Many received big career breaks this summer. The National Academy Museum selected Phillip Chen's print "Lucky 8" for its Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary American Art. Painters Ignatius Widiapradja and Larassa Kabel were both signed by 101 Exhibit, an esteemed contemporary gallery in Miami, Florida. Their works are part of a show which runs through midsummer there. Kabel’s works also will travel to a 101 Exhibit in East Hampton, New York in August.

Painter Jeremiah Elbel won the second round of the Saatchi Showdown. His paintings are now displayed with those of 11 other showdown winners at the new Saatchi Gallery in London. Last year, over 400,000 visitors saw the Showdown finalists’ works, a record for a contemporary art exhibition in England.

Painter Alex Brown signed for a one person January show at Twig Gallery in Brussels, Belgium and also for a Frances Young Tang Museum show this September in Saratoga Springs, NY. Brown’s legendary New York City gallery Feature Inc also rebounded after a chaotic year of untimely expansion and retraction.

Sculptor Mitchell Squire won a residency at Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, perhaps the most notable program of its kind. Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, William King and Janet Fish are among its alumni. Squire is one of 65 participants selected this year from 2045 nominees worldwide. He also won a residency at Ox-Bow in Michigan. Joan Mitchell, Keith Achepohl, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Paschke and Miyoko Ito are Ox Bow alums.
 

Fall Arts Guide

Karen Strohbeen's "Doll Heads & Lace"


Dire Fetes: Fall Exhibitions Play Grave Tunes

For Des Moines‘ art scene, fall is the sobering, back-to-work season that follows carefree summers packed with big festivals and light entertainments. This year‘s autumnal calendar reinforces such sobriety with a barrage of deadly serious exhibitions.

Currently playing at Moberg Gallery, master painter Richard Kelley presents a pre-Apocalyptic vision of housing developments, traffic nightmares, mesmerizing women, and escaped zoo animals.

The Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) has a current show, “Kill Them Before They Multiply,” that is themed around visions of grave anxieties bonded by the common observation that growth, be it suburban sprawl or cell phone proliferation, is cancerous. Steven Vail Fine Arts’ continues its exhibition of deconstructed Scandinavian symphonies by Not Vital, a Swiss artist who cultivates his worldview in a mud hut in Niger.

More gravity is on the way too. DMAC’s next major exhibition brings Jeanne Mammen’s street smart visions of pre World War II nightclubs and prostitutes to Greenwood Park. By Halloween, her work will be joined there by an anthology show, “Bad Dreams,” that promises to be seriously disturbing. In late September, Olson-Larsen Galleries will premiere Sharon Booma‘s highly emotional paintings that attempt “to control the chaotic forces that control our lives.” The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will feature “Goya’s Disasters of War,” with all the horror of war and none of its heroics nor romance.
As fall winds its way toward winter, lighter spirits begin to influence the muse of curators. Wendy Rolfe and Priscilla Steele will bring their earth goddess visions to Olson-Larsen. Frank Hansen’s latest pictorials on human frailty will follow Kelley at Moberg. Quilt Walk will keep Valley Junction in stitches and various artists’ studio spaces will host open houses during the holidays. Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen shall deck the holiday season with their latest meditations on beauty and prairie life. But Chuck Close has the last word and that's as stark as winter.

Calendar
(*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

Festivals

September 24-25
Art Stop - ( www.myspace.com/artstop, http://www.artstopinfo.com/ )
A two day visual and performing arts event, with shuttle busses to Valley Junction, East Village, Ingersoll, Gateway West and Roosevelt, but not Drake.

October 1-3
Northeast Iowa Artists Studio Tour (Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-463-4692, http://www.iowaarttour.com/ ) APT
Iowa’s original art studio tour takes places around Decorah‘s autumn majesty.

October 6-9
“Quilt Walk”
Nine Historic Valley Junction merchants feature quilt-related exhibitions and demonstrations, and hosting opening receptions with artists.
Galleries

Ongoing

Art Dive (1417 Walnut St., http://www.artdive.com/ )
Des Moines’ original alternative gallery plans alternative exhibitions. Be surprised.

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

Finder's Creepers (515 18th St. http://www.finderscreepers.com/)
Alternative to alternative.

Kavanaugh Gallery (131 5th Street West Des Moines, 279-8682, http://www.kavanaughgallery.com/)
Specializing in purchased estate collections, there’s no telling what you might find here.

Octagon Center for the Arts (427 Douglas Avenue, Ames http://www.octagonarts.org/)
Usually a fabulous fiber art show each fall.

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

Special Exhibitions

Olson-Larsen Galleries (203 Fifth, West Des Moines, http://www.olsonlarsen.com/ )

Through September 4
“Yuko Ishi, Ken Smith and Mary Merkel Hess”
Ishi’s multimedia studies of birds are a bird watchers’ dream.

September 24 - November 27
“New Works by Sharon Booma” ATP
A rare one person exhibit for Olson-Larsen.

October 22 - November 27
“Kim Hutchison, Brian Roberts, Lee Emma Running”

December 3 - January 15, 2011
“Wendy Rolfe, Priscilla Steele”
“Small Works Show”
Includes pieces by Carlos Ferguson, John Beckelman, Richard Black, Pat Edwards, Yuko Ishi, Amy Worthen
APT

Moberg Art Gallery (2921 Ingersoll Ave., http://www.moberggallery.com/ )

Through September 18
“Richard Kelley” APT
Des Moines‘ master painter creates his own magical world.

October 1 - November 13
“Frank Hansen” APT
Hansen’s exhibition are Des Moines most raucously attended as a range of folks respond to the artist’s blue collar wit. Last year’s exhibit featured over 60 new works and a movie premier.

November 19 - January 2011
“New Works by Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen” APT
Creating their first prints in 1970, Karen and Bill were among the nation’s digital print making pioneers, even before David Hockney made it cool. The exhibit will showcase new work on paper, canvas, and ceramic tile.

Heritage Art Gallery (111 Court Ave., http://www.heritagegallery.org/)

Through September 10
“Charitable Print Trust”
Robert Schulte leads a group of artists who create prints to sell and also to donate to non profits and charities to use in their fundraising auctions. James Conn, Matt Welbourn and Jim Engler are also included.
September 13 - October 21
“Contemporary Fibers”

October 25 - December 2.
“Works by Mary Muller, Leslie Leavenworth, and Joyce Lee.”

December 6 - January 2011
“Greater Des Moines Exhibited 17”

Instinct Gallery at Des Moines Social Club (1408 Locust St., http://www.instinctgallery.com/)

September
“Juried Photography Show”

October
“Creepy Crawlies”
DMSC’s second annual Halloween themed show.

November
“Hybrid: Holly Jensen and Michelle Holley Installation”
Steven Vail Fine Arts (Teachout Building, East Village, 309-2763, http://www.stevenvailfinearts.com/

Through October
“Not Vital - Dirigerer” APT
Swiss artist paints impressions of great musical compositions by Sibelius, Grieg and Nielsen.

September
“Fred Truck“
Anaglyph and 3D photographs

November
“Sol Lewitt”
Selected Prints from the Estate of Sol LeWitt

January - March
“Chuck Close – Works in Edition”
Museums
Des Moines Art Center (4700 Grand Ave., http://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/ )

Through August 29
“The Bike Riders - Danny Lyon”
American photographer documents his years with the Chicago Outlaws biker club.

Through September 26
“Kill Them Before They Multiply” APT
Fifteen artists’ visions of viral growth, obsessive repetition, and overcrowding - from the colorful, beehive world of fast food courts, through traffic jams, people on cell phones and suburbia gone amok.

Through September 19
“Iowa Artists Exhibited”
Fifteen artists ranging from performance diva Leslie Hall to realist oil painter Larassa Kabel. Des Moines’ Dan Weiss, Nate Morton and Benjamin Gardner represent the metro.

September 10 - December 12
“Jeanne Mammen” APT
Working as a magazine illustrator in the years just before World War II, Mammen captured a world of nightclubs, street singers, fashionable cafes, and prostitutes in her stylized and often critical images.

October 1 – January 23, 2011
“Another Dimension: Sculpture Park Artists’ Prints, Drawings, and Objects”
Works on paper by artists represented in the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

October 8 – January 9, 2011
“Bad Dreams” APT
Drawn primarily from the Art Center’s permanent collections, Bad Dreams presents the imagery of nightmares, from literal depictions of our worst fears to surrealistic visions that inexplicably conjure up anxiety and unease.

Ankeny Art Center (1520 SW Ordnance Rd., http://www.ankenyartcenter.com/ )

Through September
“Robert Mullinex”
Teeple Hansen Gallery (108 W. Broadway, Suite 206. Fairfield)

August 6 - September 18
“Four Dimensions”
Fairfield artists Judy Bales, Manuel Coradin and Shannon Kennedy and Deborah Vanko of Des Moines show multi media works.

Brunnier Museum of Art (University Museums, 290 Scheman Bldg., Ames, 515.294.3342, http://www.museums.isu.edu/ )

Through August 2010
“Exquisite Balance: Sculptures by Bill Barrett”
Sculptures recall fluid effortlessness of calligraphy and betray a positivism to which many viewers feel drawn.

August 24 - December 17
“Relationships: Drawn, Analog to Digital”
“The Observant Eye: Beth Van Hoesen”
“Mark Adams: Translation of Light”
“N.C. Wyeth’s America in the Making”

The Vesterheim (523 W. Water St., Decorah, http://www.vesterheim.org/)

Through March 2011
Pieces of Self: Identity and Norwegian-American Quilts”Expressions of family, religious, and ethnic identity in quilts from Vesterheim’s collection.

“2010: The International Year of the Nurse”Featuring WWII, Red Cross, and deaconess nurses.

Faulconer Gallery (Grinnell College, www.grinnell.edu/faulconergallery)
Through September 5
“Harry Shearer: the Silent Echo Chamber”
A who's who of American politics and punditry in the moments before they go "live" on television.

Through September 5
Michael Van den Besselaar: Unconscious Optics
Paintings, resembling old Zenith and RCA televisions, freeze fleeting images once beamed into collective consciousness.

September 17 - December 12
Culturing Community: Projects about Place
Projects will include an examination of attitudes towards work and a look at current and pending environmental issues facing the Grinnell community.

Through December 12
Young Pioneers: Lithographs from the Johnson-Horrigan Collection
Examines the role of children in works produced by the Soviet Artists Union in the early and mid 1970s.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (410 Third Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids), http://www.crma.org/

September 4 - December 12
“Goya‘s Disasters of War”
All the gruesome horror of war without heroics or romance.

October 9 - December 31
China: Insights. New Documentary Photography from the People's Republic
Emerging and vanishing China, through the eyes of seven mainland photographers.

November 27 - October 9, 2011“Earth Transformed: Ceramics from the Collection”Celebrates the growing section of decorative arts in the CRMA's collection.

January 22 - May 1, 2011
Wizards of Pop!”More than 60 images from 13 picture and pop-up books reveal a variety of media and techniques in batik, marbleized paper mosaic, and delicate cut-paper, and pop-up books rendered in pencil, marker, watercolor, acrylic, and linoleum block print

University Museum (3219 Hudson Road, Cedar Falls, www.uni.edu/museum)

September 13 – December 23
“Object as Subject”
It does itself, plus other tricks of self absorption.

January 2011
“Our World in Focus”Clearing things up.
Blanden Art Museum ( 920 Third Avenue SouthFort Dodge, 515-573-2316, http://www.blanden.org/ )

Through Sept. 22
“Iowa in Pastel - Mary Muller”
MacNider Art Museum (303 2nd Street Southeast, Mason City,641- 421-3666, http://www.macniderart.org/

October 29 – January 8, 2011 “Marc Sijan: Being Alive”
Hyper-realistic sculptures of Wisconsin artist.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

July 2010

Des Moines Metamorphoses

I belly up to the bar of local hotel restaurant. This guy sitting next to me sizes me up and says, “You look too old for the music thing. So, you here for the bike show or the car show?” I explained that I was simply a local guy having dinner. My inquisitor looked disbelieving but quickly bonded with a band of biker brothers who had descended on Des Moines over Fourth of July weekend, pretty much selling out every hotel room in town and packing bars and restaurants. This is not your parents’ Des Moines. It isn’t even your teenaged brother’s Des Moines.

“I remember, because it wasn’t very long ago at all, when everyone left Des Moines on the Fourth of July. When there wasn’t much of anything to do here,” recalled architect Kirk Blunck.

Blunck takes pride in the changes. His renovations of historic East Village buildings have done more than anything else to attract visitors to formerly repulsive parts of downtown. Watching people file into Lucca, Kitchen Collage, Miyabi 9 and a dozen other bustling businesses in his buildings, Blunck declared a milestone.

“Having Steve Vail here is just a huge thing. It’s a major, major deal to have an international gallery,” he explained.

Steven Vail Fine Arts (SVFA) opened in February on the second floor of the Teachout Building. An exhibition of Jan Frank paintings followed by a show of prints by the artists in the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden placed SVFA many levels above other downtown exhibit spaces, at least by measurements such as the insurance value of inventories and artists’ renown with Google.

Vail’s next exhibit is by Not Vital (a real name), who is as avant garde as an artist can be. The 62 year old Swiss aristocrat lives much of each year in a mud and barbed wire hut in Niger next to a pile of waste from local butchers. There he cultivates his sense of smell, works with silversmiths on sculptures that sometimes look like instruments of torture, and casts cow dung. Vail has actually sold some of the latter for him. For his show at opening July 29 in Des Moines, Vital will exhibit more conventional art - a portfolio of lithographs.

Originally representing only Iowa artists, Moberg Gallery has readjusted its scope. It’s currently hosting an impressive exhibit of 16 “Visiting Artists.” Missourian Nick Naughton’s large wood cut prints document the toil of migrant workers in dramatic fine detail. Colorado painter John Hull peaks into the world of carnies and trailer park police calls. Sculptor Thomas Stancliffe’s freaky environmental reflections presage the Gulf oil disaster.

Things are also changing on a personal level for local artists. Many received big career breaks this summer. The National Academy Museum selected Phillip Chen's print "Lucky 8" for its Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary American Art. Painters Ignatius Widiapradja and Larassa Kabel were both signed by 101 Exhibit, an esteemed contemporary gallery in Miami, Florida. Their works are part of a show which runs through midsummer there. Kabel’s works also will travel to a 101 Exhibit in East Hampton, New York in August.

Painter Jeremiah Elbel won the second round of the Saatchi Showdown. His paintings are now displayed with those of 11 other showdown winners at the new Saatchi Gallery in London. Last year, over 400,000 visitors saw the Showdown finalists’ works, a record for a contemporary art exhibition in England.

Painter Alex Brown signed for a one person January show at Twig Gallery in Brussels, Belgium and also for a Frances Young Tang Museum show this September in Saratoga Springs, NY. Brown’s legendary New York City gallery Feature Inc also rebounded after a chaotic year of untimely expansion and retraction.

Sculptor Mitchell Squire won a residency at Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, perhaps the most notable program of its kind. Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, William King and Janet Fish are among its alumni. Squire is one of 65 participants selected this year from 2045 nominees worldwide. He also won a residency at Ox-Bow in Michigan. Joan Mitchell, Keith Achepohl, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Paschke and Miyoko Ito are Ox Bow alums.
 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Sculpt a New Civic Image

As the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (PSG) completes its debut season most of its skeptics have gone underground.

Bustling every weekend with camera-laden visitors, the the garden park has become extraordinarily popular with locals and tourists alike. A bright happenstance during an economic recession, the New York Times even proclaimed the PSG a “cure from urban blight.” As its novelty ages and the value of free entertainment depreciates in a hopefully revived economy, now’s a good time to ponder what might be the city’s next move. I posed the following question to some keen observers of Des Moines culture:

“What can be done to capitalize of the Pappajohn’s largess to help Des Moines become known as “a sculpture town” rather than just a town with a downtown sculpture park?
Des Moines Art Center Director Jeff Fleming likes what’s already been done.

“I think that we’re already moving in this direction. The Principal River Walk project has two major sculpture works in progress. The Parks Department has completed one project by creating a sculpture map to downtown and they have another in the works that identifies, with consistent standards of identification, sculptures of note all over the entire metro area. I think the most important thing is to progress with a focus on maintaining an enhancement of quality,” he said.

Journalist Chuck Offenburger also thinks the Parks Department map will lead to more good things.

“First, I’d say a detailed study should be done to identify and locate the most interesting existing sculptures around metro Des Moines. Of course there’s “Crusoe Umbrella.” But we forget some of the intriguing ones – like the tricycle rider in Merle Hay Mall, the tree carvings at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, some of the statues in the Iowa Hall of Pride, the string quartet at Drake, the stylized baseball outside Principal Park, the new Paragon Prairie Tower in the extreme northwest corner of the metro, those at the Art Center, the various military-related statues, some of the best church ones, those on the State Capitol grounds, some great ones in businesses (Mac Hornecker’s in the Iowa Farm Bureau headquarters lobby), and some good ones that might be accessible to the public at private residences.

“That could 1) make it possible to put together a new self-guided “Sculpture Tour” of the city, with occasional escorted tours. 2) It could also identify areas of the city that are really short of sculptures and may stir ideas of what new pieces could go there and 3) If we’re really paying attention to sculpture in Des Moines, that might lead to some new funding sources to commission new pieces – and one of the first ones we should get done is a big one by Sticks, since their headquarters is in Des Moines,” he said.

Sculptor James Ellwanger, who created several of the pieces Offenburger mentioned, agrees that new commissions could stimulate a positive image for the city. He’d like to see it result from a sculpture prize though. Noting that Chicago’s image as America’s greatest architectural city was boosted by the Pritzker Prize, he mused about a competition at the Iowa State Fair.

“They have a million visitors and lots of open space. They already have arts competitions and they’re moving those into a new venue. It would be a great place for sculptors to bring works,” he said.

Author John Domini likes the prize idea and adds that legislation requiring sculpture in new developments has worked imaging miracles in Portland, Oregon and New York City.

“The Portland legislation is called "1% for Art," and it's meant that even the city-center shopping malls Lloyd Center & Pioneer Place have eye-catching, mind-bending sculpture installations at all four entrances. Even parking garages have them, lightening the tomb effect. As for New York, Manhattan has recently grown full of sculpture in public, on block after block, park after park,” he noted.

Grandeur & Glamour: Lost & Found

Anyone with a cell phone is a cameraman today. So what does it take for a photographer to catch the eye of museum curators? This year’s Iowa Artists Exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) provides two very different answers.
Ranked the #12 most watched musician on You Tube, Leslie Hall is a bona fide “ceWEBrity.” CNN profiled her. Wired.com reported 900,000 downloads during the launch period for her song “How We Got Out Version Two.” She was featured on a VH1 special of the 40 greatest internet stars. Hall recently completed her fourth national tour to rave reviews, has a Los Angeles booking agent and is in talks with HBO about her own show. Why is she still living in Iowa?

“I am not appreciated here and I have a deep Midwestern need to earn hometown love. I also love cheap rent. In New York or Los Angeles I’d be a starving artist with a day job I hated. I can’t do that and I don’t have to do that in Ames. I have a big apartment and a car too. Besides, Iowa thrift stores and garage sales remain relatively un plundered,” Hall explained.
Garage sales and thrift stores are the mother lode of her art career. While a student in Boston, she photographed herself in each of 400 gem sweaters she had collected. She posted those shots on a web site and that became a internet sensation. Today she uses the web to sell her musical albums, original artwork, T-shirts, and a line of custom spandex outfits under the label "Midwest Diva." The best of her famous gem sweaters are now enshrined in a museum that also serves as a gay wedding venue.
“An artist today has to make a living any which way,” she said.

Hall began posing in second hand clothing for publicity at Ames High School. She entered the homecoming parade in a neck brace, a sparkling pink Goodwill gown and a tiara her mother had worn when crowned Miss Auburn 1970. The Ames Tribune ran Hall’s photo on the front page and that sparked her successful campaign to become Prom Queen. Hall had that stunt in mind when she began performing “large sized hip hop” to turn heads in Boston.
“It worked as a publicity generator. I dressed up in glitter and big hair and spandex and the media picked up on the act. People came to the shows and things just took off. That probably would never have happened in Iowa,” she explained.

Hall admits there are drawbacks to being a rap star in Iowa.
“The Iowa Dream is killing my music career. Back up singers keep pursuing that dream - having babies and moving away. They also experiment with weight loss fads and become sassy,” she complained.

Hall’s gem sweater photos, including one dedicated to her “main dead man” (Elvis), are part of the DMAC exhibition.

Richard Colburn of Cedar Falls has spent years chronicling the effects of economic transitions in the Midwest.

“I came from Pennsylvania where the decline of the American steel industry effected so many lives. So, I started these projects interested in how that also effected the Iron Range,” he said.
In the DMAC exhibition, a Colburn series on closed schools reveals Midwestern ingenuity (schools converted into tornado shelters, private homes, fire departments, a City Hall, and haunted houses) as well as lost grandeur (empty swimming pools in once wealthy towns.)


“I wanted to photograph from the point of view of a student in the school, not like a realtor,” Colburn explained of his preference for close-ups and details.
Colburn and Hall’s works debut June 11 along with those of sculptors Josh Black, Daniel Weiss and Jim Shrosbree, painters Micah Bloom, Megan Dirks, Laura Farrin, Larassa Kabel, Teresa Paschke and Kristin Quinn, installation artists Nathan Morton and Benjamin Gardner, and ceramicist Ingrid Lillgren.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Des Moines’ Festive Season

Picasso mused that artists are children who never grow up, a metaphor encouraged by the school like calendar on which the traditional arts keep time. As if air conditioning had never been invented, the art world still closes shop and heads for the hills and beaches at the first utterance of the phrase “It‘s not the heat, it‘s the humidity.” For centuries, summer art festivals have been held almost exclusively in resorts from Salzburg to Spoleto, and Newport to Carmel. Yet summer has become prime time for the fine arts in Des Moines where reputations have been built against the winds of tradition.

With little more than the sheer force of their personalities, Maestro Robert Larsen and the late Mo Dana created two summer festivals of national repute in Central Iowa‘s unlikely fields of dreams. Like corn, Larsen’s Des Moines Metro Opera 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. The Des Moines Arts Festival grows every year and now fills the city’s hotels and restaurants with eager shoppers from near and far. These two festivals have persuaded itinerant artists to pitch their tents in the farm belt summer and convinced locals to support those artists with endearing enthusiasm.

This year for the first time, both festivals play on after their guiding muses have handed off their batons. DMMO’s first season without Larsen will feature “Figaro,” “MacBeth” and “Susanna” - from the formula of one comic, one tragic, and one modern opera that Larsen developed to win respect for his corn belt company.

Together these two festivals transformed the image of summer in Des Moines while inspiring other notable festivals. ArtFest Midwest and Iowa Sculptural Festival now have followings of their own. Festivals also inspired brick and mortar institutions to bump up their summer programs. 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 John Preston, Bobbie McKibbon, Dennis Dykema.

Summer also dances in festive light at Central Iowa’s main museums. Minimalist sculpture will glow at the Brunnier Art Museum and Iowa artists of all media, from hip hop to photojournalism, will dazzle the Des Moines Art Center in the 2010 edition of its Iowa Artists exhibition. The city’s burgeoning metal and gem art galleries (Susan Noland, Elements and 2Au) have also been busy working with odd stones with magical properties - freaks of nature set in metals too durable to succumb.

Calendar (*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

Third Wednesdays of the month, Art Walks on Iowa State University campus.

Special Events

Festivals

Des Moines Metro Opera 38th Summer Festival (Simpson College, Indianola, http://www.desmoinesmetroopera.org/)

June 4
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.

June 16
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 17 (twice) & 19
Peanut Butter & Puccini Family Opera Adventure, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Blank Center
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*
“Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart (June 25, July 2, 10 & 13 with 7:30 curtainsJune 27 & July 18, at 2 pm )
An opera adored equally by critics and audiences, this buffa was written at the height of Mozart’s career. DMMO’s performance, the debut for conductor David Neely will bring back two audience favorites, Larsen’s student Craig Irvin and Sarah Jane McMahon.

“MacBeth” by Giuseppe Verdi (June 26, July 6, 9, 14 & 17 at7:30 and July 4 at 2 p.m)
No one ever called MacBeth light and Neely recruited big voices including DMMO favorite baritone Todd Thomas, Acclaimed bass baritone John Marcus Bindel and off beat specialist Brenda Harris.

“Susanna” by Carlisle Floyd (performances June 25, July 2, 10 & 13 at 7:30 and June 27 & July 18 at 2 p.m.)
The Bible’s apocryphal tale of Susanna and the Elders is reset in Appalachia. Home girl Beverly O'Regan Thiele (debuted at DMMO as Abigail in The Crucible) returns to sing the title role and Joseph Mechavich conducts in his DMMO debut.

July 15
“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 6, 9, 12, 17, 19, 26, 30 July 3, 7, 10, 15, 17
“Apprentice Artist Program Performances,” times vary, at Lekberg Hall, Des Moines Social Club, and Sheslow Auditorium
The troupe performs scenes and entire acts from both popular operas and rarely seen works. Most performances are free!
 
Iowa Sculpture Festival, Maytag Park, Newton, http://iowasculpturefestival.org/ $2

June 12-13
The 8th 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, http://www.desmoinesartsfestival.org/ Free

June 26 - 27
A 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 185 national artists of all media, and 24 emerging local artists, to the river banks of downtown Des Moines. Plus, there’s enough food and music to turn shopping into a mega-event and source of civic pride.

ArtFest Midwest, Varied Industries Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, http://www.artfestmidwest.com/ Free
June 27 - 28
Piggybacking on the big shoulders of DMAF, the eighth annual “Other Art Show,” boasts lots of demonstrations (glassblowing, pastel portraits, lampwork jewelry, pottery etc.) plus free parking and regional chauvinism. Over 210 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. 10-11
The fourth annual shuttle bus tour of Central Iowa’s art galleries, studios and museums.

Galleries

Ongoing

Art Dive, 1417 Walnut St., http://www.artdive.com/
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. http://www.desmoinesocialclub.org/
Circus, wrestling, tai chi, akido, theater, belly dancing and other acts of sociability make the club’s Instinct Gallery the most alternative to alternative in town.

Finder's Creepers, 515 18th St. http://www.finderscreepers.com/
Alternative to alternative.

Kavanaugh Gallery
131 5th Street West Des Moines, 279-8682, http://www.kavanaughgallery.com/
Specializing in purchase estate collections, there’s no telling what you might find here.

Steven Vail Gallery, 500 E Locust St.
Focuses on late 19th century, and 20th century European and American art. Open by appointment only.

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, http://www.olsonlarsen.com/

Through July 10
“Landscape Show”
New works by the gallery’s big picture stars Barbara Fedeler, John Preston, Dennis Dykema, Bill Barnes and Bobbie McKibbon *APT*

July 10 - September 4
“New Works”
New works by Ken Smith, Yuko Ishii and Mary Merkel-Hess

Moberg Art Gallery, 2921 Ingersoll Ave., http://www.moberggallery.com/

Through July 31
“Larassa Kabel"
Realist painter *APT*

“Small Works Exhibit” by various gallery artists

August 6 - Sept 18 (reception August 7)
“Richard Kelley”

New developments in housing, color and human obsessions from the unique world of Des Moines‘ master painter. *APT*

Octagon Center for the Arts , 427 Douglas Avenue, Ames http://www.octagonarts.org/

June 3
ARTini Bash
Silent auction fundraiser with free martini bar and music by Soul Searchers.

Heritage Art Gallery, 111 Court Ave., http://www.heritagegallery.org/

Through June 2
“A World of Water, Wax and Wonder: The Art of Janet Heinicke”June 7 - July 20. Iowa Exhibited XXVThe annual exhibition of work by artists across the state, professional and amateur, juried by Jack Wilkes

August 8 - September 10“Robert Schulte and The Charitable Print Trust”A new venture by a team of DM Printmakers who unveil their plan and their recent work.

September 13 - October 23“Contemporary Fabrics: inspired by the art of quilting”
Local artists show innovative works in fabric and decoration. This show will be up for ARTSTOP

Museums

Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Ave., http://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/
Through August 20
Summer classes. Day camps and family workshops. Call 271-0306.
June 11 – September 19, reception and preview party

June 10
“Iowa Artists 2010” APT
Fifteen artists this year range from performance diva Leslie Hall to realist oil pinter Larassa Kabel. Des Moines’ Dan Weiss, Nate Morton and Benjamin Gardner represent the metro.

June 11
“Leslie Hall’s School for the Precocious”
A diva tutorial for large sized appetites and ambitions.
June 17 & July 15
“Artist Gallery Talks” (6:30 p.m.)

June 18 - September 16
“Kill Them Before They Multiply”
Print artists from Picasso to Tara Donovan interpret multiplicity and excess.

Through August 29
“The Bike Riders - Danny Lyon”
American photographer documents his years with the Chicago Outlaws biker club.

August 5
“The Wild One”
Brando‘s bad ass biker became a cult favorite.
August 8
“Easy Rider”
Dennis Hopper’s anthem to the 1960’s open road.

Ankeny Art Center,1520 SW Ordnance Rd. http://www.ankenyartcenter.com/

June “Mary Kline-Misol”
Iowa’s inimitable painter of wonderlands within and without.

“Annick Ibsen ”

July
“Gary Tonhouse & Denny Peterson”

August
“Kyle Tyhe”

Brunnier Museum of Art, University Museums, 290 Scheman Bldg., Ames, http://www.museums.iastate.edu/

Through August 2010
“Exquisite Balance: Sculptures by Bill Barrett”
Sculptures recall fluid effortlessness of calligraphic strokes, and betray a positivism to which many viewers feel drawn.

Through August 6
“Polyphonic Abstraction: Paintings and Maquettes by Bill Barrett” in Morrill HallThis exhibition “juxtaposes his expressive canvases with his sculptural maquettes.”

The Vesterheim, 523 W. Water St., Decorah, http://www.vesterheim.org/

Through March 2011
“Pieces of Self: Identity and Norwegian-American Quilts”
The exhibition will highlight the ways Norwegian Americans have expressed gender, family, community, religious, and ethnic identities through quilt making.

July 17 - 24
“National Exhibition of Folk-Art in the Norwegian Tradition”Exhibition of knife making, rosemaling, weaving, and woodworking by the very best contemporary American artists working in the Norwegian tradition will be on view again next year during Nordic Fest, the last full weekend in July.

Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, www.grinnell.edu/faulconergallery

June 18 - September 5
Harry Shearer: The Silent Echo Chamber
See President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, cable news anchormen and other "talking heads" in the moments before they go "live" on television.

“Michael Van den Besselaar's Unconscious Optics”
Paintings, resembling 13 inch televisions freeze fleeting images once beamed into our collective consciousness of America.

“Mark Wagner: Art/Appreciation”
Wagner collapses all pretense between art and money, archly appraising the status and intersection of both without devaluing either.


“Bryan Drury - The Feast” APT
Artist’s solo show focuses on a single painting, The Feast.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids, http://www.crma.org/


Through September 19
“From Monet to Picasso ”
Significant but little-known works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Chagall, Cassatt, Dufy, Matisse, Léger, Mondrian, Miró, Dali, Braque, and Picasso - the Riley Collection has become one of the most significant private collections in the state of Iowa.

June 19 - November 14
Grant Wood Windows”
Wood‘s drawings for his stained glass windows displayed for the first time.

MacNider Art Museum, 303 Second Street SE, Mason City,
http://www.macniderart.org/

Through July 24
Martin Weinstein’s “The Teresa Paintings”
Works focus on the artist’s wife, in the landscape of the shared family home on the Hudson River.

University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1375 Highway One West, Iowa City, http://uima.uiowa.edu/

Through June 22
Two Turntables and a Microphone:Hip-Hop Contexts” at the Memorial Union
Features Harry Allen's "Part of the Permanent Record: Photos from the Previous Century"

Figge Art Museum, 225 West Second St., Davenport, http://www.art-dma.org/

Through August 15
“10 Years: The Brand Boeshaar Scholarship Program”
Highlights the successes of several scholarship recipients who are fulfilling their career dreams of working in art-related fields.

June 6 - August 29
“Scale: Ceramic Forms and Photographic Landscapes”
Gerry Eskin’s primary interest remains ceramics but he returns here to an early interest, photography.
 

Des Moines’ Avant Garde: Rising from the Dead

The avant garde ain’t what it used to be. Appropriated from the military after the Napoleonic Wars, the term has been deployed ever since by marginalized artists, writers, composers and intellectuals who oppose mainstream values. That got tricky after the Industrial Revolution when new technologies began shortening the gap between culture’s margins and mainstream. The Surrealists were self proclaimed revolutionaries in the 1920’s but by the next decade surrealism was part of the commercial establishment in advertising and mass produced art. In the Information Age, the gap’s virtually non existent - social media bypasses the old arbiters of cultural validation. If your You Tube video gets ten million hits in the right demographic group, the opinions of producers, editors, publishers, critics, museum directors, grant committees, and gallery or club owners don’t much matter.

Now days counter cultures stream through young blood more hopefully than ever. In fact, today’s avant garde is seizing ground that is counter to counter culture, yet alone to mainstream culture. “Hi-Fructose” art magazine subtitles itself “under the counter culture.” When it began five years ago, its stated intention was to represent the culture “beyond the comfort zone of the ‘alternative’ norm to deliver a diverse cross section of the most influential, genre bending and defining subversive art of our time.” Yet “Hi-Fructose” celebrated its fifth anniversary with an exhibition at a prestigious Los Angeles gallery.

For today’s graphic artists, that magazine represents the aspirations of the new avant garde better than any mainstream publication. In Des Moines, Instinct Gallery began its second year of monthly exhibitions that have consistently made that point. Their latest show, “Flies in the Land of Milk and Honey” features artists from all over North America, including Jaqueline Roate and Michelle Holly from Des Moines and Chris Bent from Toronto. Like “Hi-Fructose,” they’re more apt to take style tips from surrealism, anime, comic books and science fiction than from mainstream art history. They may not be “subversive” or “genre-bending” but they are arresting to the eye and a lot of fun. Some of these artists use “virtual Easter eggs,” an avant garde term invented by Diego Rivera, Alfred Hitchcock and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but trademarked and owned now by Atari. Virtual Easter eggs are hidden personal signatures (actual Easter eggs in “Rocky Horror“) in an artist’s work.

Dancing and strutting in custom made, high performance, pink spandex jump suits that could raise Elvis from his grave, Leslie Hall has staked the most commanding position of any member of the Iowa avant garde. While others crowd under the counter culture, Hall attacks the “high end of hip hop,” plus multimedia art, gay wedding culture, and tight stretch pants style. Hall’s diva shows have been selling out in the avant garde capitals of America from Cambridge to Seattle where an “homage to her diva-ness” has been proclaimed. The Des Moines Art Center will host her “School for the Precocious” on June 11, as part of their annual Iowa Artists Exhibition. It’s limited to 16 students over age 21.

It will sell out faster than a poorly designed jump suit makes “proud lady stuff jiggle.”

In the old spirit of avant gardism, EVAC’s May Day (April 30) exhibition at Northland Studios focuses on symbolism from both Bolshevism and Mother Nature:

“To increase awareness of the connection between nature and humans. If we continue to misuse our natural resources and employees for greed, all of us are doomed,” explained EVAC artist Deborah Vanko. She will exhibit along with Janet Marie Safris, Chris Peterson, Brad Ball (whose work would fit well in “Hi-Fructose“), Bethany Springer, E.J. Wickes and new EVAC member John Sayles, a reborn former Establishment artist whose poster art could convince the proletariat that Lenin is rising from his tomb.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making a Scene

Des Moines “Paintpushers” Defy the Odds

Des Moines‘ art scene just completed a very good decade. Sticks, a professional artistic design company, expanded in the city, creating scores of jobs for artists. The nine member rock band Slipknot maintained residences in Des Moines even after winning a Grammy and hitting the top of the Billboard charts. Public art featured prominently in new developments like Davis-Brown Tower, Mercy Wellness Center and Ponderosa Village. Record setting attendance at Des Moines Art Center continued show after show and that museum produced critically acclaimed traveling exhibitions when many museums had given that up. Hollywood film makers frequented the city. Pappajohn Sculpture Garden, one of the nation’s grandest sculpture parks, opened between downtown’s two busiest streets.
In the shadow of those ballyhooed events, Des Moines’ creative culture received perhaps its biggest boost when a group of painters gave the lie to a time honored negative cliché - that a young artist had to choose between living off his art and living in Iowa. While the World War II and Baby Boomer generations produced original artists here, their art hardly ever provided a full time profession. Richard Kelley pushed a broom at the Des Moines Register. Mary Kline Misol taught at North High School, Karl Mattern at Drake. Cornelis Ruhtenberg and Jules Kirschenbaum were rising art stars in New York but when they moved to Des Moines they taught too. Others left town. Larry Zox and Richard Bauer moved to New York City, Doug Shelton and Ellen Waggoner to the Southwest. Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen made their living solely from their art here but they were rare exceptions to the ruling cliché.

That changed last decade and the emergence of the city’s new artist community can be traced to March of 2002 when a dozen young painters, many Sticks employees, produced a trunk show that has become a local legend. Determined that Des Moines painters needed other painters for collaboration, critique and support, Chris Vance started a group that Frank Hansen named Paintpushers.
John Phillip Davis joined a year later. Paintpushers met monthly to discuss one another’s art, rented space for an annual exhibition and sold their art wherever they could - street fests, trunk shows, consignment galleries. Almost simultaneously, the destinies of those three painters were being forged by a young sculptor who felt that his art was stuck in the rut of 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 why he decided to open Moberg Gallery in 2003 with his wife Jackie Moberg.Thanks to mutual support, all four artists realized their dreams of making it in Des Moines before they turned 40. What’s more, after signing exclusive contracts with the Mobergs, the three painters did it with non commercial, personal styles that Central Iowans now recognize as brands. Bigger markets opened too. Moberg Gallery added an annex in Beverley Hills, California and the internet has given their artists a wider audience.
“People in Chicago and Los Angeles look at the Moberg website and are totally impressed at the all the good art and inevitably disbelieving that the gallery is in Iowa,” said Vance.

All four artists still collaborate, each contributing something different. The others credit Davis for teaching them to take more pride in their production values.
“I remember the first time I looked at the sides and the back of one of John’s paintings. They were more professionally produced than the canvasses of many other artists. I was so impressed by that attention to detail that I started upgrading my materials and taking care with little things,” Hansen explained.

Vance is the nurturer, the only one of this group who still goes to every Paintpushers meeting, “Just in case I can help someone younger.” When he bought another artist’s work at a Des Moines Social Club exhibition last year, the word spread so quickly that within an hour, people were coming in and asking, “Which one did Chris Vance buy?”

Hansen motivates the others with context and enthusiasm.
“When we started Paintpushers, we were all novices. Frank brought so much energy to the group that I felt I had finally met someone with real passion for their painting. Frank told stories about his work, little personal histories behind each painting that brought out that passion,” Vance said.

TJ is considered the voice of reason. He says that Vance and Hansen are more receptive to his advice than Davis.

“I tell John that a painting is perfect and a week later I will go back to his studio and see that he has painted it over completely,” he said, soliciting a response from Davis.

“If someone likes one of my paintings too much then it becomes theirs, not mine. I don’t have anything in my studio that I think is underdone,” he explained.
All four agree that their common denominator is an Iowa work ethic. Each artist said that they were familiar with 100 hour work weeks. “It’s a cliché but as different as we all are, we have it in common. We are all work horses,” said Vance.

“And as soon as I got to know them, I knew that I wanted to be part of this gallery. TJ and Jackie work harder than any gallery owners I’ve met anywhere. And TJ really has a different way of looking at art - mostly because he‘s an artist himself,” Davis explained.
Vance, Hansen and TJ say that Davis has a genius for conceptual discipline that they lack.

“John knows exactly what he’s going to do two years in advance. I am working year by year,” Vance said.

“And I am minute to minute,” said Hansen with the others nodding.
Davis thinks each artist has a distinctive brand now but that they will always feed off each other.

“Chris is the one who’s seen as a local icon. People identify his work with the city. He’s the name artist. TJ is the gallery owner and the public artist. I’m the enigma and Frank is the crazy artist. We’re packaged quite differently but we are all afflicted with the same fetish - to make that which we love making and to figure a way to live off our labor,” he explained.

The Art

John Phillip Davis, 41, paints very large, heavily layered abstractions dealing with conflict and tension - “Push and pull, chaos with a design,” in his words. The most philosophical of the group, he consciously paints to provoke ambiguous responses, both visceral and subliminal. Subjects can veer toward the holy and the demonic. Lately, Davis has been working in tactile, three dimensional paintings and sculptures. He shows biennially at Moberg Gallery.

Chris Vance, 33, is the best known and most collected artist in Des Moines. A hundred paintings often sell at his annual exhibitions at Moberg. He paints on all kinds of media in both narrative and abstract styles. Often his paintings are meant to be re-arranged as segments of an ephemeral anthology. Known for bright attractive colors, he calls his subjects a “diary of small things,” like the tribulations of raising children and pets. 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.

Frank Hansen, 40, calls his art “Emotionalism” and combines words and subjects in ironic narratives and autobiographical reflections. He deals with modern Midwestern themes, like the transformation from rural to urban life. He paints with all kinds of media, from branding irons on Buffalo hides to canvasses moved by steering wheels. His work is collected by television stars and has appeared in Slipknot videos. Hansen was the subject of Mark Kneeskern’s 2009 documentary “Thank God I Sucked at Sports.” He designs ski ware for Neve and now has a line of T shirts with Smash of Des Moines.
TJ Moberg, 34, is best known for large, realistic sculptures such as horses racing out of a wall at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino and a “Race Car” at the Iowa Speedway. He says he will never do anything like them again. His later sculptures are multi faceted abstractions with identifiable themes. They include a symbolic landscape installation at Mercy Wellness Center in Clive and “The Homework Machine,” a walk-through sculpture for the Marshalltown Library.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

March 2010

Robyn O’Neil: Origins of the Universe

Wunderkind artist Robyn O’Neil (at the Des Moines Art Center through May 23) stalks both high and low culture for stimulation.

“I read the classics. Except for Cormac McCarthy, that’s about all I read. Walt Whitman, Nabokov, I just finished the complete Proust thing,” she said, before admitting a rather different influence.

“I love bad TV. I have it on all the time while I work,” she revealed, adding that her alter ego is a character from “Roseanne.”

“Darlene Connor is my hero. We’re virtually the same age, grew up together,” O’Neil explained.

The Texan resembles Roseanne‘s younger daughter in many ways. Both grew up in “average Middle American households” and were usually the smartest person in whatever room they occupied. Both depended upon dark humor to muddle through their teenage years with “jerk” boy friends, and both went off to art school in Chicago only to discover they missed their fathers terribly.

"Most people see me and assume the artist is late. They can’t believe these expressions come out of this demeanor. I work at it. I am product of polite Midwestern moral responsibility that demands one be cheerful amongst others. It‘s a good thing I spend most of my time alone, other than with my dog. I couldn’t handle a real social life with a job. I break down and cry when I am alone, for reasons I couldn’t explain to others.

"I need that. I have to pace. When this opening is over, I will not explore Des Moines, I will shut myself in my hotel room and read. That’s how I do it. Patrica Highsmith wrote that imagination functions better when you don’t have to speak to people. I believe that," she said.

Had she been real, Darlene Connor might have created the darkly humorous universe that O’Neil etched

“obsessively” over seven years with the nothing more than the smallest lead pencil and the largest commercial paper. That universe is populated by funny little men in track suits and sneakers, modeled after the death shrouds of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. Her men behave badly and not so badly, balancing acts of cruelty and brotherhood.

"These are my melancholy worlds, I don’t use models, it’s all my imagination. I admire the Italian Renaissance painters sense of perspective, how buildings have an unnatural awkward relationship to landscapes. My men float awkwardly like that. Unlike trees, I don’t really let them fit in, they float on the landscape, sometimes without even casting a shadow," she explained.

O’Neil gives cynical titles to her works:

“Everything that stands will be at odds with its neighbor and everything that falls will perish without grace.”

“As Ye the sinister creep and feign, those once held become those now slain.”

“As darkness falls on this heartless land, my brother holds tight my feeble hand.”

“As my heart quiets and my body dies, take me gently through your troubled sky.”

“Oh how the heartless haunt us all”

Such titles were grave enough that Artforum magazine attributed them to the “Book of Revelations.”

“That was flattering. Someone thought something I wrote sounded Biblical,” she said, before revealing that Goya’s “Disasters of War” were an inspiration for her vision.

“Who doesn’t love that?” she asked.

In O’Neil’s drawings, men are always secondary to Mother Nature. Trees, owls, bison, dogs and horses cast shadows in some works in which her soulless men do not. The latter indeed die without grace, while her trees perish in magnificent splendor and her talon-bearing oceans and skies reveal superhuman countenances.

"I am a severe weather watcher, I am obsessed with that too. I mean I am one of those geeky people who calls in weather news to the TV station. It comes from growing up in Omaha and North Texas."

Her series concludes dramatically with the end of mankind.

“That was my intention from the beginning. That’s why I never drew a woman, to remove their hope of procreation,” she explained.

Her final survivor is last seen desperately clinging to a tightrope above a sea of wrath. O’Neil thought his fate was obvious.

"I always knew I would kill all the men off. I just didn’t know when till it was time. I could have ridden off into the sunset with the men too. Could have made a nice living continuing to draw them, that’s what people want. People love these goofy guys but I could care less. They’re too goofy for me now.

"I don’t see the world that way anymore. I have a little more respect from human life now. I see the world in quieter tones, more somber and less anxious than before. I have grown more comfortable with melancholy," she explained.

The more confortable O'Neill takes others unexpected. For all practical purposes, this writer found her to be a rather cheerful young lady. She laughed when I told her that.

“People have trouble with how devastating my work is. One sweet old lady in Dallas told me that she believed he was going to climb right on up to Heaven. I guess I got what I deserved, but hat’s not how I see it,” she said.

She's not so comfortable that she wants her photo taken. After I snapped her she asked that I never publish it anywhere. Preferring to deal with the cheerful persona, I promised.

Two drawings in the Art Center show portend O’Neil’s future. One is a take on Caspar David Friedrich’s depiction of a poem by Goethe, the super ego of Romanticism and the original reconciler of high and low cultures.

"Even a purely romantic scene like that, I was drawn to the idea of a black & white rainbow - not exactly hopeful. I can’t help imposing a down note even in romance. Bird of prey die mating in free fall. That’s romantic, " she confessed.

The other places her doomed tribe within the medieval legend of Magonia - a mysterious place beyond the clouds that has inspired true believers inpredetermination, utopia, and UFO sightings. O’Neil says she’s putting her pencil down to work on an opera about that footnote to France’s Dark Ages. She brought her composer to Des Moines - Chicago singer-songwriter Daniel Knox who shares style with Tom Waits, a view point with Randy Newman and a first name with Darlene Connor’s dad. O’Neil said she’d never even listened to an opera until she was urged to write one about Magonia, by Werner Herzog. But, that’s another story in Robyn O’Neil’s brilliant career.

Touts

From Our Hands won the Niche Award for the nation’s best retail art stores… Chris Vance’s new exhibition opened at Moberg Gallery after the artist’s smash debut in Denver, where 22 of his paintings sold on the opening weekend at 44T Art Space…


Friday, March 26, 2010

Best & Worst of the Wild Times - A Decade in Review

Anna Mendietta self portrait, courtesy DM Art Center

People talk about starving artists but significant art scenes usually keep company with sustained periods of prosperity. The recently completed decade began with an all time high stock market. Ten years later those same markets had climbed back to within ten per cent of where they began. Iowa’s art scene experienced similar highs and lows.

The Story of the Decade - Des Moines’ artistic magnetism

Prior to the last decade, almost all young artists in Iowa had to choose between making a living as an artist and staying in Iowa. Most left. Artists who stayed usually needed day jobs to make ends meet. That changed during the last ten years. Sticks, the artistic furniture company created by Des Moines artist Sarah Grant, became a magnet for artists, reversing the “creativity drain” that obsessed focus groups from coast to coast. Alex Brown maintained his residence and studio in Des Moines even after making it in old New York.

A group of young artists with eastside backgrounds, signed with fledgling Moberg Gallery and soon discovered they could make a living as artists without leaving town, even for representation. Before the end of the decade, artists were moving to Des Moines and not just to work at Sticks. One of them, Zach Mannheimer, established the Des Moines Social Club, a serious theatrical company that also provided a place for all kinds of artists to hang their berets.

Other Top Stories: The Temple of the Performing Arts is saved from civic rubble lust; The Faulconer Gallery opens with generous endowment; The Pappajohn Sculpture Garden shows off a magnificent gift to the city.

Person of the Decade - TJ Moberg


Jackie Moberg says that one day in 2003 she came from work and her husband, sculptor TJ Moberg, told her to quit her job because he had purchased an art gallery. The Mobergs spent the next six years getting people to take local artists seriously. They began with all Iowans and mostly young artists. By decade’s end, they had expanded to Beverly Hills and their stable included known artists from coast to coast. Meanwhile, TJ’s career as a sculptor took a serious turn. His work moved from realistic representations of client’s visions, to unpredictable personal abstractions, as he became the most interesting public artist in the state.
Painter of the Decade - Michael Brangoccio

This painter of magical realism delineated a placeor grace and faith within a post-quantum universe of alternate realities. His investigations into the laws of physics arrested the eye and engaged the mind with a religious sense of awe.

Designers of the Decade - Kirk Blunck & Greg Wattier

I hate ties as much as anyone but these two guys shared the workload that turned East Village and Court Avenue into the most arty hoods in town. They did it with distinctively different visions too. Blunck’s minimalism suited the revival of East Village’s marvelous historic brick buildings. His café Lucca was designed to remind people that the food was the attraction.

Wattier restored other historic buildings with more flair. His Alba café is the most theatrical in town. Apples and oranges.

Gallery Exhibitions of the Decade - “Jules Kirschenbaum: A Matchless Clarity” at Anderson and Olson-Larsen, 2000

This Des Moines master anticipated the style of the YBA’s by decades. His posthumous retrospectives increased his international profile and led to museum exhibitions.

Museum Exhibition of the Decade - “Andy Goldsworthy” at the Des Moines Art Center, 2002

The great Scottish sculptor created three remarkable cairns for this show. They are now civic icons. Runner-up - Anna Mendieta at DMAC.

Architecture’s Best and Worst

Two sports arenas demonstrated a decade of great contrasts. Rob Whitehead’s (HLKB) McLeod Center retained traditional Iowa values, with a democratic aesthetics that included a single seating area, intimacy and great sight lines. Wells Fargo Arena (by ironically named Populous) shucked all that for the trappings of apartheid - valet stations, segregated seating areas, elitist entrances and tiers, etc.

Top Ten Breakthrough Artists
John Phillip Davis, Chris Vance, TJ Moberg, Frank Hansen,
Mathew J Clark, Jean Marie Salem, Larassa Kabel, Jessie Fisher, Ryan Clark and Lee Ann Conlan all came out of nowhere to mark the Iowa artscape.

Made Man of the Decade - Alex Brown

Des Moines' Alex Brown left the city behind professionally. He's represented by one of the world's top galleries - Feature, Inc. in New York City. But the painter still keeps a studio in Des Moines and even opens it up during open houses there.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

February 2010

Fire & Rain — the new media?

Photo by Bill Witt

Medium is the message. Marshall MacLuhan’s old mantra is frequently chanted these days as wireless streaming threatens just about every medium that preceded it. While newspaper and newsstand magazine sales dropped more than 9 percent this year, Meredith and Gannett continued a controlled burn of old media jobs. And with brilliant timeliness, “News & Nightmares” reminds us that there’s really nothing new under the sun. The Des Moines Art Center’s new show of wood engravings uses stunning works, by two cutting edge artists from the 19th century, to bracket the history of one short lived medium that enabled all kinds of new forms of art — including recycled art. The medium is examined from the heyday of Winslow Homer’s career as a Civil War magazine illustrator through the moral rot of Max Ernst’s lost generation between the world wars. The show’s Ernst works include an illustrated book called “A Week of Kindness, or the Seven Deadly Elements.”

This surrealist masterpiece is a novel without a plot. “Yet it’s still so compelling it has become a cult thing,” explained curator Amy Worthen, who found a rare copy of the book and persuaded the Art Center to buy it. This long lost medium still moves viewers with an exhibition that investigates the nature and substance of cruelty — from the political and physical cruelties in Homer’s Civil War to the imagined mental cruelties that fascinated the Dadaists and Surrealists of Ernst’s day. Through June 13.

Drake’s Anderson Gallery is hosting a multimedia exhibit in which medium is not only the message, it’s also the subject, the sub text and the subliminal connection to super human ecosystems. “To know the land” is also very fine art.

photo by Bill Witt

Scott Robert Hudson’s piece de resistance is a film about a fire sculpture he built near LaPorte City last autumn — eight-foot tall towers of willow, cedar and river dead fall with bison skulls enclosed. Photographing from several angles, the former U.S. Forest Service firefighter played with the hottest of all media. “Fire creates its own weather; it turns atmospheres inside out. It never behaves the same way twice,” Hudson explained.

Also in this show: Hudson’s “Western Juniper Lava Beds” shows an intricate attention to detail rarely seen in watercolors anywhere; Painted sculptures of 20 bison skulls, plus a shadow dancing,
hanging sculpture of a painted horse’s head all pay homage to the war paints of the Iowa Indian chief White Cloud, as depicted by George Catlin;

A sculpture of shot gun shells, Acoma pottery shards and beaver skulls reflect on the nature of war; Wood carvings and bobcat brush drawings reveal an artist tuned in to both the media and methods of ancient artisans working the same territory. Through Feb. 28.

At the Des Moines Botanical Center, photojournalist John Gaps III uses his medium to examine the nature of water. Abstractions from his lens play with H2O droplets in various stages of evaporation where each gaseous bubble reflects full prism globes. Different shots catch flood water on asphalt, water on windshields, floating lilies, melting ice on sheet metal, boat fuel frozen under early river ice, crepuscular light reflected off flood water, and a hail damaged pickup truck simulating Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Through March 31.

Des Moines writer John Domini has long been paying dues in myriad forms of the literary medium. Now he’s collecting some residuals. Last year Domini won a Major Artist Grant from Iowa Arts Council and the runner-up prize for Italy’s Domenico Rea Award, for his novel “Earthquake I.D.” Last month his new novel “Tomb on the Periphery” was selected one of the top nine international books by the London Book Festival in England. “Tomb” was then contracted for translation, a Domini short story was included in the prestigious anthology “Paraspheres 2,” one of his essays in the anthology “Papa Ph.D.,” and two of his poems for “Poetic Voices without Borders,” which will be published next month.