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Dancing at armageddon: best and worst of 2009

 

Despite an utterly bleak year for business in general, Des Moines’ art scene thrived in 2009. Our annual review of the best and worst in central Iowa art illustrates what an odd and amazing year it was.

 

Zeitgeist of the year — eat, drink and be merry
In the midst of the most volatile economy in 75 years, larger than ever crowds consistently turned out for art openings and not just for free wine and cheese. The Des Moines Art Center oversold its wildest expectations for a tent party at the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (PSG) at $500 per couple. One observer compared that gala to the most famous ball in history, that of the Duchess of Richmond on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Painter Shawn Colvin debuted his first art exhibition at another gala, in the Hotel Kirkwood Ballroom. Bachata, a Dominican dance that electrifies the sexual tension of tango, stormed our nightclub culture.

 

Artist of the year — Matthew J. Clark
This 35-year-old sculptor burst upon the art world like Barack Obama taking the White House. Clark’s “Simulation of the Triumphal Entry of the Christ,” performed on the eve of the Presidential inauguration, was a prelude to his stunning sense of artistic relevance and the unrealistic expectations of these times. Consider that the day Clark’s Obama/Christ simulated the coming of the new Messiah, the Dow Jones Industrial Average completed its largest ever dive (1,400 points) between a president’s election and inauguration. And yet, most newspapers characterized the country, and economy, that day as “surging with optimism,” even as the Dow began to dive another 1,400 points.

Clark began to visualize his 2009 works while reading Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation.” That philosophical treatise is popularly known as the inspiration for “The Matrix” films (though Baudrillard claims it was completely misapplied).

“I started thinking about the hyperreal and how it relates to reality and to the existence of objects of hope,” Clark explained.

His summer studio show revealed hyperrealist, silicone sculptures further reflecting on displaced faith. “Our Little Jimmy Can Do Anything If He Puts His Mind To It,” “Took $1.37 from the Offering Plate,” and “No You May Not Borrow a Cup of Sugar” all dared to reveal that prevailing, empirical wisdom was dressed in invisible clothes.

Person of the year — Jeff Fleming
The Des Moines Art Center Director edged out John & Mary Pappajohn by shepherding that couple’s largess into the PSG. Fleming’s big year also included bringing to Des Moines both the largest ever retrospective of American Regionalism (including Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”) and also the most cutting edge retrospective (“Tara Donovan”) in America. Fleming had astutely signed Donovan four years ago, anticipating her leap to fame.

Exhibition of the Year

 

Museum — “Tara Donovan” at the Des Moines Art Center; “Molecules That Changed the World” at the Faulconer.

 

Gallery — “New Works by Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen,” currently at Moberg

 

Non-traditional venue — Mathew J. Clark’s “Twisted Words”

 

Design of the year — Kyle and Sharon Krause house by Thomas Phifer, and Henning Construction
The “architect of light” brought visually spectacular, state of the engineering science, environmental vision to central Iowa, much like the Chipperfield library was supposed to do. Runner-up — Simonson & Associates Headquarters by Simonson & Associates.

 

New artist of the year — M. Shawn Crahan
Slipknot’s Clown debuted paintings and manipulated Polaroid art that took a Bosch-inspired view of Dante’s hell from the point of view accessed with a rock star’s backstage pass.

 

Story of the year — The PSG
The PSG became a downtown tourist attraction the moment it came online, greeting eastbound traffic with a contemporary, cosmopolitan first impression of Des Moines. Runners-up — Steven Vail reopens his gallery; Des Moines Social Club opens.

 

Worst design — Ingersoll Dahl’s
The design for the new Ingersoll Dahl’s brought displaced suburban aesthetics to the inner city, emphasizing wasted space and customer inconveniences in parking, entrances and displays. CV

 



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