The wild times of Iowa artists
People talk about starving artists, but significant art scenes usually keep company with sustained periods of prosperity. The recently completed decade began with an all-time-high stock market. Ten years later those same markets had climbed back to within 10 percent of where they began. Iowa’s art scene experienced similar highs and lows.
The Story of the Decade —
Des Moines’ artistic magnetism
Prior to the last decade, almost all young artists in Iowa had to choose between making a living as an artist and staying in Iowa. Most left. Artists who stayed usually needed day jobs to make ends meet. That changed during the last ten years. Sticks, the artistic furniture company created by Des Moines artist Sarah Grant, became a magnet for artists, reversing the “creativity drain” that obsessed focus groups from coast to coast. Alex Brown maintained his residence and studio in Des Moines even after making it in old New York. A group of young artists with eastside backgrounds, signed with fledgling Moberg Gallery and soon discovered they could make a living as artists without leaving town, even for representation. Before the end of the decade, artists were moving to Des Moines and not just to work at Sticks. One of them, Zach Mannheimer, established the Des Moines Social Club, a serious theatrical company that also provided a place for all kinds of artists to hang their berets.
Other Top Stories: The Temple of the Performing Arts is saved from civic rubble lust; The Faulconer Gallery opens with generous endowment; The Pappajohn Sculpture Garden shows off a magnificent gift to the city.
Person of the Decade — TJ Moberg
Jackie Moberg says that one day in 2003 she came from work and her husband, sculptor TJ Moberg, told her to quit her job because he had purchased an art gallery. The Mobergs spent the next six years getting people to take local artists seriously. They began with all Iowans and mostly young artists. By decade’s end, they had expanded to Beverly Hills and their stable included known artists from coast to coast. Meanwhile, TJ’s career as a sculptor took a serious turn. His work moved from realistic representations of client’s visions, to unpredictable personal abstractions, as he became the most interesting public artist in the state.
Painter of the Decade — Michael Brangoccio
This painter of magical realism delineated a place for grace and faith within a post-quantum universe of alternate realities. His investigations into the laws of physics arrested the eye and engaged the mind with a religious sense of awe.
Designers of the Decade — Kirk Blunck & Greg Wattier
I hate ties as much as anyone, but these two guys shared the workload that turned East Village and Court Avenue into the most arty hoods in town. They did it with distinctively different visions, too. Blunck’s minimalism suited the revival of East Village’s marvelous historic brick buildings. His café Lucca was designed to remind people that the food was the attraction. Wattier restored other historic buildings with more flair. His Alba café is the most theatrical in town. Apples and oranges.
Gallery Exhibitions of the Decade — “Jules Kirschenbaum: A Matchless Clarity” at Anderson and Olson-Larsen, 2000
This Des Moines master anticipated the style of the YBA’s by decades. His posthumous retrospectives increased his international profile and led to museum exhibitions.
Museum Exhibition of the Decade — “Andy Goldsworthy” at the Des Moines Art Center, 2002
The great Scottish sculptor created three remarkable cairns for this show. They are now civic icons.
Architecture’s up and downs
Two sports arenas demonstrated a decade of great contrasts. Rob Whitehead’s (HLKB) McLeod Center retained traditional Iowa values with a democratic aesthetics that included a single seating area, intimacy and great sight lines. Wells Fargo Arena (by ironically named Populous) shucked all that for the trappings of apartheid — valet stations, segregated seating areas, elitist entrances and tiers, etc.
Top 10 breakthrough artists
TJ Moberg, Frank Hansen, John Phillip Davis, Chris Vance, Mathew J Clark, Jean Marie Salem, Larassa Kabel, Jessie Fisher, Ryan Clark and Lee Ann Conlan all came out of nowhere to mark the Iowa artscape. CV