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.

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