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.”

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

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