Thursday, July 18, 2013

The New Fangled Mirth of Spring

 Art driven image makeovers are being created around the metro this merry month of May. Consider Clive, surely the largest city in Iowa without a high school. Most towns identify predominantly with their schools, particularly with their high schools. Residents wear their colors, call themselves after their mascots, cheer their teams, and stay connected for decades through their reunions. How does Clive manage to build an identity without a school system?

The town has developed a park system that is the first thing many outsiders learn about Clive. Its Greenbelt Park & Trail System particularly projects a positive image. Each year, Clive’s park board, art council, city council, and chamber of commerce collaborate to commission sculptures of temporary public art for prominent placement along that 11.3 mile trail. Each May new works are installed for display through October. Art fans are then encouraged to vote for their favorite piece
( The Clive Public Art Advisory Commission then chooses one of the top two vote getters for purchase for the city’s permanent public art collection. James Bearden’s “Paths Unite” was selected last year.

Last week I wistfully watched the installation of the late Mac Hornecker’s steel and ferroconcrete “Prairie Breeze” in Campbell Park, the site of the dedication ceremony for this year’s project (at 5 p.m. May 21.) A generation of students who were influenced by the charismatic Buena Vista University professor should be touched to view it. Other 2013 artists, their pieces and locations along the Clive Greenbelt Trail are: John Brommel – “Mist of Time” – University Boulevard & 78th Street Trailhead; Anna Modeland – “Devine Intertwine” – 100th Street & Maddox Parkway Trail Access; Sue Berkey – “The Red Coyote” – NW 114th Street Bridge over Walnut Creek; James Bearden – “Tranquility” – Lakeshore Drive & Woodlands Parkway Trail Access; and Hilde DeBruyne – “Hope” – Wildwood Park.

In East Village, Metro Waste Authority cleaned up their image by commissioning a three story mural by Chris Vance, a Bondurant artist who has created a personal iconography that is adored and collected by many. For this project Vance incorporated typical metro waste - plastic bottles, newspapers, refrigerators, etc. into his narrative. Many locals already love the mural, and some don’t, as usual. Not to blow wind on a dumpsite but let us hope this is legal. Just a few years ago the city demanded that a similar mural, commissioned by Rosa Martinez on a wall at La Rosa restaurant, be painted over. Despite hundreds of letters of support, and no complaint, it was declared illegal in Des Moines because its dancing foods “referred to the product of the business.” Don’t plastic bottles and refrigerators also refer to the product of Metro Waste’s business? Or has the city lightened up?

Polk County’s Heritage Art Gallery needs a new image. Mainly it needs its own image. When I searched for it on Google last week, the main result directed me to a web site ( that displayed links to “free adult web cam sex,” “the You Tube of porn,” “American heritage girls” and several similar things. The real Polk County Heritage Art Gallery ( is trying to become younger and edgier but a visit to its current show is unlikely to offend anyone.

"III" A Medley of Sculpture, Light, and Canvas” is the first of multiple shows at the gallery for which Thee Eye’s Ian Miller will act as curator. It features oil paintings of blogger, and Juice columnist, Cat Rocketship, a reconstruction of a burned piano by photographer Dan Welk, and an installation of symbolic stop signs by screen printer Jon Pearson. On opening night, Pearson laid under one stop sign while Welk simulated burning piano aromas. Only Pearson’s feet were nude.
Love's Labour

After a longer than usual winter, Shakespeare‘s “new fangled mirth” of spring will be appropriately celebrated around central Iowa’s art scene. For the first time, Des Moines Art Center’s (DMAC) Iowa Artists’ Exhibition will include theatrics - three productions, in three different DMAC venues, of the Bard of Avon’s “Love’s Labours Lost” (April 26-28) by The Foss Projects. Last year this same troupe’s “A Hamlet Behind the Burger King in Ames” turned Shakespeare’s tale of woe amongst Denmark’s most dysfunctional family into an evening of humor and delight. Imagining what this creative Iowa State University based group does with genuine farce makes me giddy as one of the characters from the comedy. Also in the Iowa Artists’ show, Kathranne Knight’s bright works on paper explore the horizon line as both a pictorial device and a psychological space (through July 28 with an artist‘s talk on April 19).

The DMAC is also now displaying their prized new acquisition, Ai Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds," in the lower level of the Meire wing. That pile of hand painted porcelain beads derives from a legendary 2010 exhibition of 100 million such seeds at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London. That show was considered a seminal statement on mass consumption and famine. Ai is sometimes considered "the new Andy Warhol" because of his mastery of many different, pop media. An outspoken critic of the Chinese government, he was runner-up for Time magazine's Person of the Year award in 2011. His latest headline maker is a cover of "Gangnam Style," an international phenomenon by South Korean rapper PSY.  Ai’s four-minute long parody on YouTube criticizes the Chinese government's attempt to silence his activism.

In the spirit of the season, Olson- Larsen Galleries' new show (through June 1) features Tilly Woodward who presents super realist paintings of eggs and nests. In the same show Sarah Grant brings works titled “The Promise of Spring” and “Ice Going Out” while Scott Ross exhibits his trademark geometric abstractions. Chris Vance, Iowa’s most collected young artist and likely its most mirthful too, opened his seventh annual spring exhibition at Moberg Gallery (through May 18). Expanding on his usual cast of street characters and children‘s fantasies, Vance built murals out of individual pieces and also offered several that stood alone. He commences soon on a giant singular mural in East Village, a three story building that should bring some mirth to all seasons there.

The Anderson Gallery at Drake University is hosting an exhibition, “Proximity,” that features four graduating seniors in the springtime of their careers - Meanz Chan, Aron Johnston, Cecily Pincsak, and Hannah Pink (through April 28). Recently at the Anderson, Lauren Oliver won the Provost Purchase Award for “Prurock” her intaglio deconstruction of an old Singer sewing machine, Padraic O’Connell’s housepaint canvas of garbage in a coral reef won the Juror’s Choice Award for painting, while Katlynn Sammons won for sculpture with a construction assimilating furniture with Styrofoam, paper and video projection.


Grinnell’s Faulconer Gallery is exhibiting "Animals Among Us" which studies the intermingled destinies of humans and other animals…  Steven Vail Fine Arts began appraisal and consignment services for prints and works on paper (309-2763)... The Ankeny Art Center will offer week long summer art camps for students K- 4th  grade and 5 -8th grade. $50, all materials included (965-0940)… Iowa artists are invited to submit to the second annual “Celebration of Iowa: Agricultural Art Award” sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and Iowa Farm Bureau. The theme this year is “Cultivating Change.” Youth first prize is $1,000, for adults it’s $1,500 (281-3858)… Des Moines Metro Opera will hold a ball to celebrates the 20th anniversary of their endowment vision, in The Temple for the Performing Arts on May 3. Tickets are priced from $150.