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Haute and low culture

— more than coincidence


As the equinox passed, haute and low culture in Des Moines celebrated shining moments on three successive nights. Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (PSG) opened with dignitaries present and the Governor conspicuously absent. Shawn Crahan and Frank Hansen opened two nights of joint shows and celebrations with indignities present and bodyguards active.

PSG’s gala tent party oversold its most hopeful estimates, at $500 per couple. Polity ruled that night: No one mentioned the more than coincidental closing of Des Moines Art Center’s Downtown Gallery. Slipknot clown Crahan celebrated his new career as a visual artist (and his birthday) with more raucous crowds at the Azalea Ballroom and Moberg Gallery. Art ruled his more than coincidental joint exhibitions with Hansen. Both artists have synthesized unique personal styles of expressionism. Crahan’s large canvasses make Bosch-like statements of hellfire and bliss, seemingly fashioned by a seasoned veteran. Hansen’s new paintings show maturity, too, with more heavily layered canvasses and sharper details accompanying his familiar narratives of wry humor and lament.

Elsewhere it’s a season of very big ideas, the biggest being stated by Faulconer Gallery’s “Molecules That Matter.” That show persuasively demonstrates that just as metals defined human eras into Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages, the non-metallic eras began with the 20th century’s Carbon Age. Celebrating the gallery’s 10th anniversary, “Molecules” gathers scientific and artistic works about ten carbon-based discoveries that rocked our world during each of ten decades in the last century. Life without them is as unimaginable today as life without metal weapons would have been to the Trojans. Yet, one hundred years ago there was no aspirin, gasoline, penicillin, plastic, nylon, DNA, birth control pill, DDT, Prozac or Buckyball. This show also does more to synthesize art and science than anything since Arthur Koestler’s “Act of Creation.” Artists like Tony Cragg, Bryan Crockett and Melissa Gwyn remind us that scientific breakthroughs are served on plates of irony: DDT may have wiped out malaria but it unbalanced ecosystems and created freaks; Gasoline and computing chips shrank the world but at uncertain costs to environments and brotherhoods. “Molecules” runs through Dec. 13.

Des Moines Art Center’s “Return to Function” demonstrates artists’ working on very specific ideas. Being artists, even their ideas seem embellished. Undaunted, they create: lamps out of kiwi packaging; box cutters out of U.S. quarters; post apocalyptic shelters on wheels; homeless shelters out of car covers and Fed Ex packaging; mousetraps from Gucci cases; dresses out of the magnetic tape from discarded cassettes; garden shovels out of pogo sticks; and coffins from IKEA furniture. The exhibition plays Jan. 10.

Lee Ann Conlan’s big idea is to survive physical abuse. Conlan has long been the reality show of Iowa fine arts (One Slipknot member bought Conlan’s post hysterectomy uterus art as a birthday gift for Crahan.) At a group show last month, she built a model house and sculpted figures participating in spousal abuse. That house was wallpapered in her drawings of her ex’s mug shots — from a series of such incidents. She burned that art at the end of that show, on camera, flames ironically engulfing a frightened image in the mug shot art. “Flutter,” her show at Fitch Gallery, opens Oct. 23 and includes the charred remains of that previous creation. New sculptures and paintings are about her recovery. Every autobiographical piece includes a reference to monarch butterflies or chrysalis. Conlan’s adult head is set on her pre-adolescent body in one series. Her adult body emerges from a black butterfly in another.

“Monarchs aren’t as innocent as people think. They are the most poisonous of all insects to non-human animals. I want to communicate that ambiguity. That’s why some of my butterflies look like moths and emerge from dreams in the paintings. The Czech word for nightmare is nocimura, literally that’s night moth,” explained an artist who shares Czech heritage with Franz Kafka, more than coincidentally. CV


Caption: Lee Ann Conlan’s art deals with personal trauma.



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