Friday, January 21, 2011

Best & Worst of 2010

Zeitgeist of the Year - “Tight Pants/Body Rolls”

Local artists overflowed the spandex confinements of discipline and genre by manipulating new media. CeWEBrity diva Leslie Hall merged high and low culture while her latest video approached a million hits on You Tube ( and her gem sweater visions of American yearning were reified at in a Des Moines Art Center exhibition. Similarly Brent Houzenga’s painting, printing, music and film burst their levees and into flowed into a flood plain of hybrid culture.

Artist of the Year - Jeremiah Elbel

After winning a world wide competition, painter Jeremiah Elbel’s painting “Crowd Study 19“ is being displayed at the new Saatchi Gallery in London. It’s part of an annual show that drew over 400,000 visitors last year, a record for contemporary art in the UK. Chinese cultural magazine Vision did a major feature on Elbel’s work. Such successes landed Elbel representation with international dealer Quantum Fine Arts of Los Angeles. A Greek collector bought two of his paintings and Elbel signed for a September exhibition at Iowa State University. Elbel says his biggest problem now is inventory - demand exceeds his repertoire. “I absolutely have to get busy. I can’t let this moment pass.”

Gallery owner Steve Vail, who first touted Elbel in 2007, explained his style: “Jeremiah’s artistic ancestry hop scotches from Luc Tuymans to Gerhard Richter, all the while having a very distinctive voice of its own…In years to come I look forward to watching Jeremiah becoming increasingly recognized in the international art arena.”

We do too.

Person of the Year - Marlene Olson

Olson retired this year after more than 30 years running Olson-Larsen Galleries where she did as much to legitimize Iowa art as anyone. Consider her reflection on her 30th anniversary.

“When we opened, everyone wanted wildlife art. Not just Maynard Reece either, there were lots of others. No one calls about that anymore,” she said, smiling.

Exhibition of the Year (museum) - “Robyn O’Neil: Origins of the Universe” at the Des Moines Art Center
DMAC again debuted a major young talent by presenting an obsessive-compulsive recluse’s version of Armageddon, drawn over seven years with the nothing more than the smallest lead pencil and the largest commercial paper.

Exhibition of the Year (gallery) - “Fred Truck” at Steven Vail Fine Arts
Anaglyphic and stereographic photography, complete with 3-D glasses, provided gallery visitors a new way of looking at things.

Exhibition of the Year (non-traditional venue) - AVIVA corporate headquarters

This corporate collection simulates a museum of contemporary Iowa art.

Story of the Year - “Shattering Silence Project” by James Ellwanger with Beeline & Blue

Ellwanger followed up a massive undertaking (28 feet by 32 feet sculpture) at the Iowa Supreme Court) with a layered Plexiglas composition for the Iowa Historical Building.

Design of the Year - Stacey’s Prom, Bridal & Lingerie
by Invision

This stunning dress shop in an Urbandale strip mall blew away architectural critics and high school girls.

Best New Website -
Master of many disciplines, Ignatius Widiapradja designed an art site for art lovers showcasing his paintings, prints, designs, etc.

New Artist of the Year - Nick Naughton

Big themes and big canvasses characterized the work of this painter of black & white realism who debuted at Moberg Gallery.
Song of the Year - “Mortgage Day” by Darren and Molly Mathews
This folk rock duo brings a slightly sweeter, Iowa take on the same dark lands that obsess singer-songwriters like Cowboy Junkies and Townes Van Zandt. Catch them before they move to the big time.
Thanks for the Memories

Don Dunagan, East Village Arts Coalition

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Art Inflation Terrorizes Recession

To whatever degree the art world parallels the real world, early signals from this year’s holiday season are wildly hopeful. Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the largest art dealers on the planet, sold half a billion dollars worth of art in this month’s auctions, setting three astonishing world records in the process as buyers consistently bid works up 30 per cent over top end estimates.

It takes awhile for such appreciation to trickle down to Main Street galleries.

This year’s holiday exhibition at Olson-Larsen Galleries featured a “Small Works Show” by eight artists, an overture to buyers whose spending is not influenced by the news from New York auctions. Richard Black, John Beckelman, Carlos Ferguson, Amy Worthen, Yuko Ishi, Peter Feldstein and Joel Elgin comprise the roster for that show, while larger works by Priscilla Steele and Wendy Rolfe simultaneously debut.

A peak into Alex Brown’s studio at the annual Art 316 Open House suggested that even big time artists are downsizing this year. Among Central Iowa painters, Brown is in a league of his own, showing at Feature, a New York gallery of cutting edge renown, and in Europe. He says he lives in Beaverdale so he can have a downtown studio twice the size of his house, trading exposure and networking opportunities of New York for Des Moines’ lack of distractions. A eye-catching stylist, Brown composes on a grid template by creating similar miniature images of an evolving larger image with geometrically precise brushstrokes. That’s not something one does while distracted.

Brown is known for big paintings. He’s composing a series of such for his upcoming exhibition in Belgium but he’s is also creating a series of “light” drawings that reveal portraits of renowned terrorists. It might be an escape for the artist but it’s certainly a more affordable option for collectors interested in owning an Alex Brown.

How about an affordable Sol Lewitt? Seriously. The godfather of conceptual art is known for huge works, like entire walls at the Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Center, the latter so brilliantly lighted at night for westbound traffic. Before Lewitt, conceptual art was mostly about language and philosophy. Plato and Liebniz were its dominant figures and both were long dead. As art critic Richard Lacayo noted, Lewitt created “eye candy that starts like an algebra lesson but ends like a Renaissance fresco.”

“Cubes, Whirls & Twirls, Loops & Curves & Wavy Brushstrokes: The Prints of Sol Lewitt” opens November 18 at Steven Vail Gallery. That title riffs off “Arcs, Circles & Grids,“ Lewitt’s 1972 book that helped take the artist into mainstream culture. The show at Vail offers prints from the estate of Sofia Lewitt, for as little as $2000, up to $22,000 for a set of five works. It runs through February 28.

Art economics in Iowa received a jump start this autumn at AVIVA’s new West Des Moines headquarters. Those who have penetrated the building’s formible security system rave about the regional art, perhaps the largest such installation anywhere. Bill Luchsinger and Karen Strohbeen, primary artists in the AVIVA installations, worked 10 to 14 hours a day for 72 straight days to meet their deadline, creating 55 of the largest prints they’ve ever done.

“And then, the building just swallowed them up,” Luchsinger said with admiration.

The Madison County couple’s annual exhibition at Moberg Gallery features a series of digital meditations culled from their Big Thompson project. That small river is the midpoint of daily walks they took for a year with cameras shooting. Their work simulates Thoreau’s Walden Pond meditations.

“It allowed us to fall in love with our place in new unexpected ways,” explained Luchsinger.

This year’s Luchsinger-Strohbeen exhibition runs through January and includes botanical paintings by Laura Luchsinger.