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Galas in perspective

9/17/2014

Andy Warhol’s “Liz” from “Halston and Warhol” at the Des Moines Art Center

Andy Warhol’s “Liz” from “Halston and Warhol” at the Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center’s (DMAC) new exhibition “Art Meets Fashion” will likely become the grandest undertaking in that museum’s history, at least in number of events, money raised, community buzz, and number of volunteers involved. Yet it all began as a glorified garage sale.

Ellen Hubbell, who is co-chair with Lulu Kane, worked for years at Meredith Corporation in consumer research and new product development. She recalled one such discovery that ignited things.

“I learned that women almost all have things in their closet to which they are emotionally attached but for one reason or another they know they will never wear again,” she said. “A bunch of us got together, drank some wine, and decided it would be fun to have a trade-off event.”

Hubbell organized a focus group of friends in which she learned that women loved the idea of buying old things from people they knew, complete with stories that aren’t available on eBay. The emotional connection of the seller translated to the buyer. So the ladies took there idea to Jeff Fleming, the DMAC director. He lit up. As it turned out he was already working on “Halston and Warhol/ Silver and Suede,” the art exhibition that debuts this Friday and anchors the “Art Meets Fashion” series of events. That all took place more than two years ago.

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The event continued to gain momentum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held a fashion gala that turned out to its biggest event ever. The local group used local volunteers as focus groups, mainly for pricing purposes, and learned that they had probably undervalued what people would pay for hand-me-downs. They then hired a curator from Chicago who visited the closets of Des Moines women. The event attracted the interest of the DMAC’s Art Noir group, bringing a younger generation into the game.

“We haven’t held our first event yet, and we already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the museum,” Hubbell said last week, before the kick-off event in East Village which revived the lost art of window dressings. “Fashion is art, especially in a woman’s psyche. Great art appreciates with time. Maybe fashion does, too,” mused Hubbell.

Des Moines’ appreciation for such events has definitely grown. In 1976, The Des Moines Register covered a DMAC sponsored fashion gala at the Younkers’ Tea Room. The story described the event as “the gala of the season” and used italics to emphasize that “everyone was there,” going on to describe what they wore. In Melva Bucksbaum’s case, it described the dress she did not wear as six months notice turned out to be insufficient time for a Halston, a Des Moines-raised fashion designer to the stars, to arrive. Halston was there along with a bevy of his famous models.

That “gala of the season” raised all of $15,995, just enough to match a national Endowment for the Arts Grant. This year, patrons are shelling out $5,000 each at the top level. Among future highlights: Friday brings a gala party ($300, $150 for those younger than 35) which sees the World Food Prize Headquarters transformed to the Warhol-Halston zeigeist; a three-week fashion photography studio class ($75/60); “Warho & Waters – Fame & Filth,” an evening with film maker John Waters (free at Hoyt Sherman, Oct. 14); and a three-film fashion film festival in November.

Art Tout Moberg Gallery’s current “Works on Paper” exhibition is setting gallery records, too. At least 64 artists’ works cover the walls. Opening-night attendance surpassed anything previously seen there. Sales were brisk, as expected for an exhibition of relatively inexpensive works. Jordan Weber excavated dirt and trash from Ferguson, Missouri, to mix his own paints for two portraits he did of Michael Brown, who was killed by police in that town. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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