Monday, January 21, 2013

The Year of Exalted Memories

The Des Moines Art Center’s (DMAC) exhibition year began with three brilliant films by Argentine Miguel Angel Rios and concluded with three more by Bavarian Thomas Demand. Both artists went to painstaking ends to preserve incidents that most people might quickly dismiss from memory. Angel Rios wistfully revisited his native Calchaqui Valley to film the boleadores he wielded as a child, filmed a dangerous game played in the slums of Columbia, and recreated a peyote trip he took in Mexico. Demand spent three and half months, with a staff of 14 animators, recreating paper models of a cruise ship dining room rocking in high seas, filmed a model of a surveillance camera in a Brazilian airport, and simulated rain by shooting candy wrappers through layers of glass.

Some of the best exhibitions of the year similarly recreated images that artists found irrepressibly significant. Lee Ann Conlan‘s “Souvenirs” at Thee Eye was a painfully autobiographical diary of a lifetime of absorbed cruelties, mostly from bad romances.

At Moberg Gallery, Frank Hansen’s “Growing Up Hansen” depicted the artist’s “bad-assed drunk” father, extracting teeth in the family kitchen, using an ax on the clothes dryer and taking gunshots at airplanes. Every piece in Steven Vail Fine Arts’ s current show “Sourced” demonstrates how photographic images inspire original art. In one, Phillip Chen recalls the relationship between his father and John Dillinger through trappings of the family restaurant and a death mask of the gangster. DMAC’s “The Whole World Was Watching” brought a collection of historic civil rights ear photos to town.

These are a few of our favorite memories of 2012:

Artist of the Year -  Larassa Kabel held her second exhibition at Houston's Peel Gallery this year finding that her large paintings of floating horses now sell out as quickly as she is willing to paint them. She also exhibited at Miami's 101 Gallery and at Art Hamptons International Art Fair in New York's summer retreat. To complete a very good year, a painting of Kabel’s was chosen to grace the White House’s Christmas cards, landing the artist an invitation to a White House Christmas party. For that occasion she wore a vintage broach and earrings by Nicole Miller’s - a Moberg Gallery artist like Kabel.

Exhibition of the Year (museum) -  Tony Feher brought imagination and a generous spirrit to his self titled show at Des Moines Art Center.

Exhibitions of the Year (gallery) - 1.) Moberg Gallery’s Ten Year Anniversary Show showed what a novice gallery can accomplish in just ten years. Represented were 12 local and 13 regional artists. Most showed up at the opening, many from long distances; 2.) Steven Vail Fine Arts collaborated with Osborne Samuel of London to bring “Exposition Henry Moore” to Des Moines - an American debut of the artist’s drawings for two of his iconic statues.  

Exhibition of the Year (non-traditional venue) -  Robert Spellman’s one night show was held in a parking garage under an East Village pub. His dazzlingly colored impressionist paintings rocked the dark bowels of that venue

Design of the Year -  RDG Planning & Design’s work on the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates modernized the building without detracting at all from historic preservation.

Rising Star - Rachel Buse’s “Inverted Mountain” showed original talent for both irony and nostalgia. The Art Beacon, which she founded, became an exceptional outlet for art criticism.

Event of the Year - Jackson Pollock’s masterpiece “Mural” made a surprise visit to Des Moines, inspiring a host of Pollock themed events.

May Bands of Angels Sing You to Your Rest - A retrospective of paintings by the late Byron Burford played at Olson-Larsen Galleries… University of Iowa art school icons Mauricio Lasansky and Elizabeth Catlett died in April, just days apart from each other, and each just weeks one side or the other from their 97th birthdays.

Cameras & Conceptualism 

Conceptual artist Thomas Demand built his considerable reputation photographing paper models of mostly famous places - the New York City hotel room where l. Ron Hubbard created Scientology, the studio of Jackson Pollock, the podium from which Slobodan Milošević gave his most infamous speech, the hole where Saddam Hussein was captured, and the Fukushima Daiichi control room where Japanese scientists faced certain death to save others from nuclear meltdown.

The Des Moines Art Center is currently exhibiting “Animations,” Demand’s first ever video-only show. The centerpiece is the 100 second long video “Pacific Sun” shot from a model Demand built (with 12 Disney animators over 3 and a half months) to resembles a dining room on a New Zealand cruise ship being rocked by heavy seas. Because the event being recreated caused little injury and no deaths, why would Demand spend so much time and effort on this relatively trivial subject?

“I am obsessive but I loved the choreography of the event. At first, I thought it was slapstick, one object is made to suggest Buster Keaton. Then by trying to analyze the movement, I realized that it had commonality with science. We were doing the same thing that those who study tsunamis, earthquakes and wave/particle duality do,” he answered.

Because the video appealed to the scientist Demand, he realized mid-project that he needed to film 240 frames per second, not the standard 120 of most animation.

“It looked too much like slapstick at 120. I didn’t want that. I wanted a beautiful dance,” he explained.

The sound of furniture sliding back and forth across the ship was created by rolling petrified oranges in a crate. Similarly the sound track in “Rain’ was made by recording eggs frying in considerable grease. That video shows candy wrappers being shot through layers of glass.  A third video, “Camera,” shot a paper model surveillance camera resembling one Demand saw in a Brazilian airport. Its sound track took Portuguese announcements and muddled them into a Babel that Demand calls “the voice of Big Brother.”

At Steven Vail Fine Arts, prints by local artists Jeremiah Elbel and Phillip Chen join those of 13 internationally famous artists in the exhibition “Sourced.”

“Jeremiah and Phillip not only hold their own in this company, in many ways they are technically more ambitious,” said curator Breianna Cochran.

Much like Demand’s work, all “Sourced” prints either incorporate photography or were inspired by it. Elbel’s dramatic charcoal rubbing was modeled after a photo of self-immolation, perhaps the one that inspired Arab Spring. (Elbel won’t say.) Chen’s two etchings link his father and the gangster John Dillinger, who employed him. Blueprints of a Colt .45, Chinese restaurant trappings and an abacus are superimposed over a photo of the elder Chen’s apron and jacket. In the other half the work, Chen created a death mask portrait of Dillinger using software that plastic surgeons employ.

Also in the show: Mel Ramos’ take on a Velasquez nude, with the subject looking into a mirror reflecting a photo that looks like Christy Brinkley; Carmen Calvo blindfolding a 19th century Spanish solider with a beheaded Barbie doll; Nicky Hoberman’s disturbing study of pubescence; Brian Alfred’s dramatic rendering of a woman in front of his work in an Israeli museum, inexplicably blindfolded; Silvie Fleury’s marvelously accessorized corpse, arm sticking out of car trunk; Vik Munoz’s self portrait made entirely out of paper punches; John Baldessari’s depiction of a human arm fighting with a python; Donald Sultan’s choreography of cigar smoke rings; Eric Fischl’s rhythmic nude dancers; Graciela Sacco’s slingshots and Yankee caps in an Argentine protest; Jane Dickson’s homage to American neon; Julian Schnabel’s musing on old postcards, and Joe Andoe’s celebration of horses.

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