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Grandeur & Glamour: lost & found
By Jim Duncan
Anyone with a cell phone is a photographer today. So what does it take to catch the eye of museum curators? This year’s Iowa Artists Exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) provides two very different answers.
Ranked the No. 12 most watched musician on YouTube, Leslie Hall is a bona fide “ceWEBrity.” CNN profiled her. Wired.com reported 900,000 downloads during the launch period for her song “How We Got Out Version Two.” She was featured on a VH1 special of the 40 greatest Internet stars. Hall recently completed her fourth national tour to rave reviews, has a Los Angeles booking agent and is in talks with HBO about her own show. Why is she still living in Iowa?
“I am not appreciated here, and I have a deep Midwestern need to earn hometown love. I also love cheap rent. In New York or Los Angeles, I’d be a starving artist with a day job I hated. I can’t do that, and I don’t have to do that in Ames. I have a big apartment and a car, too. Besides, Iowa thrift stores and garage sales remain relatively unplundered,” Hall explained.
Garage sales and thrift stores are the mother lode of her art career. While a student in Boston, she photographed herself in each of 400 gem sweaters she had collected. She posted those shots on a Web site and that became an Internet sensation. Today she uses the Web to sell her musical albums, original artwork, T-shirts and a line of custom spandex outfits under the label “Midwest Diva.” The best of her famous gem sweaters are now enshrined in a museum that also serves as a gay wedding venue.
“An artist today has to make a living any which way,” she said.
Hall began posing in second hand clothing for publicity at Ames High School. She entered the homecoming parade in a neck brace, a sparkling pink Goodwill gown and a tiara her mother had worn when crowned Miss Auburn 1970. The Ames Tribune ran Hall’s photo on the front page, and that sparked her successful campaign to become prom queen. Hall had that stunt in mind when she began performing “large sized hip hop” to turn heads in Boston.
“It worked as a publicity generator. I dressed up in glitter and big hair and spandex, and the media picked up on the act. People came to the shows, and things just took off. That probably would never have happened in Iowa,” she explained.
Hall admits there are drawbacks to being a rap star in Iowa.
“The Iowa Dream is killing my music career. Back-up singers keep pursuing that dream — having babies and moving away. They also experiment with weight loss fads and become sassy,” she complained. Hall’s gem sweater photos, including one dedicated to her “main dead man” (Elvis), are part of the DMAC exhibition.
Economic transitions through a lens
Richard Colburn of Cedar Falls has spent years chronicling the effects of economic transitions in the Midwest.
“I came from Pennsylvania where the decline of the American steel industry effected so many lives. So, I started these projects interested in how that also effected the Iron Range,” he said.
In the DMAC exhibition, a Colburn series on closed schools reveals Midwestern ingenuity (schools converted into tornado shelters, private homes, fire departments, a City Hall, and haunted houses) as well as lost grandeur (empty swimming pools in once wealthy towns.)
“I wanted to photograph from the point of view of a student in the school, not like a realtor,” Colburn explained of his preference for close-ups and details.
Colburn and Hall’s works debut June 11 along with those of sculptors Josh Block, Daniel Weiss and Jim Shrosbee, painters Micah Bloom, Megan Dirks, Laura Farrin, Larassa Kabel, Teresa Paschke and Kristin Quinn, installation artists Nathan Morton and Benjamin Gardner and ceramicist Ingrid Lillgren. CV