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


Des Moines Metro Opera 38th Summer Festival (Simpson College, Indianola,

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, $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, 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, 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.



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 alternative to alternative in town.

Finder's Creepers, 515 18th St.
Alternative to alternative.

Kavanaugh Gallery
131 5th Street West Des Moines, 279-8682,
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,

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.,

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

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

Heritage Art Gallery, 111 Court Ave.,

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


Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Ave.,
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.

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

“Annick Ibsen ”

“Gary Tonhouse & Denny Peterson”

“Kyle Tyhe”

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

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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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.