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December 16, 2010

The good and the bad of 2010


Zeitgeist of the Year — “Tight Pants/Body Rolls”

Local artists overflowed the spandex confinements of discipline and genre by manipulating new media. CeWEBrity diva Leslie Hall merged high and low culture while her latest video approached a million hits on YouTube ( and her gem sweater visions of American yearning were reified at in a Des Moines Art Center exhibition. Similarly Brent Houzenga’s painting, printing, music and film burst their levees and into flowed into a flood plain of hybrid culture.


Artist of the Year — Jeremiah Elbel

After winning a worldwide competition, painter Jeremiah Elbel’s painting “Crowd Study 19” is being displayed at the new Saatchi Gallery in London. It’s part of an annual show that drew more than 400,000 visitors last year, a record for contemporary art in the UK. Chinese cultural magazine Vision did a major feature on Elbel’s work. Such successes landed Elbel representation with international dealer Quantum Fine Arts of Los Angeles. A Greek collector bought two of his paintings, and Elbel signed for a September exhibition at Iowa State University. Elbel says his biggest problem now is inventory demand exceeds his repertoire. “I absolutely have to get busy. I can’t let this moment pass.”

Gallery owner Steve Vail, who first touted Elbel in 2007, explained his style, “Jeremiah’s artistic ancestry hop scotches from Luc Tuymans to Gerhard Richter, all the while having a very distinctive voice of its own…In years to come I look forward to watching Jeremiah becoming increasingly recognized in the international art arena.”

We do, too.

Person of the Year — Marlene Olson

Olson retired this year after more than 30 years running Olson-Larsen Galleries where she did as much to legitimize Iowa art as anyone. Consider her reflection on her 30th anniversary.

“When we opened, everyone wanted wildlife art. Not just Maynard Reece either, there was lots of others. No one calls about that anymore,” she said, smiling.

Exhibition of the Year (museum) — “Robyn O’Neil: Origins of the Universe” at the


Des Moines Art Center

DMAC again debuted a major young talent by presenting an obsessive-compulsive recluse’s version of Armageddon, drawn over seven years with the nothing more than the smallest lead pencil and the largest commercial paper.

Exhibition of the Year (gallery) — “Fred Truck” at Steven Vail Fine Arts

Anaglyphic and stereographic photography, complete with 3-D glasses, provided gallery visitors a new way of looking at things.


Exhibition of the Year (non-traditional venue) — AVIVA corporate headquarters

This corporate collection simulates a museum of contemporary Iowa art.


Story of the Year — “Shattering Silence Project” by James Ellwanger with Beeline & Blue

Ellwanger followed up a massive undertaking (28 feet by 32 feet sculpture at the Iowa Supreme Court) with a layered Plexiglas composition for the Iowa Historical Building.


Design of the Year — Stacey’s Prom, Bridal & Lingerie by Invision

This stunning dress shop near an Urbandale strip mall blew away architectural critics and high school girls.


Best New Website —

Master of many disciplines, Ignatius Widiapradja designed an art site for art lovers showcasing his paintings, prints, etc.

New Artist of the Year — Nick Naughton

Big themes and big canvasses characterized the work of this painter of black and white realism who debuted at Moberg Gallery.


Song of the Year — “Mortgage Day” by Thankful Dirt (Darren and Molly Mathews)

This folk rock duo brings a slightly sweeter, Iowa take on the same dark lands that obsess singer-songwriters like Cowboy Junkies and Townes Van Zandt. Catch them before they move to the big time.

Thanks for the Memories

Don Dunagan, East Village Arts Coalition. CV


caption: Fred Truck at his exhibition at Steven Vail Fine Arts


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