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A very good year with more to come

12/17/2014

The close of 2014 happened with a flurry of architectural promise. Demolition began on a several Ingersoll area buildings to make way for Des Moines’ first Fresh Market, a Whole Foods-like chain from Carolina. Kemin announced a handsome new headquarters in east Des Moines. The venerable buildings that housed The Des Moines Register and the Hotel Fort Des Moines were sold to developers interested

“American Dreamer” 1 & 2 by Jordan Weber earth from Ferguson, concrete, tar on paper

“American Dreamer” 1 & 2 by Jordan Weber
earth from Ferguson, concrete, tar on paper

in repurposing. That was a huge relief after similar plans for the Younkers building went up in smoke. An art incubator was planned for a rehabilitated building on Keo Way. The most exciting, and controversial, architectural news, though, was the announcement that the new Kum & Go headquarters would be built by the firm of Renzo Piano, probably the hottest architect to design a Des Moines building since I.M. Pei built a wing of the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC).

Two things stood out among architectural projects that actually came on board during the year. The Des Moines Social Club (DMSC) opened its new venue in the former downtown fire station and Michael Simonson’s design for Trellis, a café in the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center, completed its opening with the addition of the most interesting terrace/patio in town, with spectacular views of the Des Moines River.

In the photographic arts, two narratives also stood out. After discussions with teachers and designers who hire young photographers, I learned that the art form is being dominated by a new generation of female artists. That seemed to be confirmed by a ribbon count in the student sections of the Iowa State Fair photography exhibits. Secondly, a retrospective by Bill Woolston, also at the state fair, of three Iowa county fairs in 1972, dramatically revealed the power of black and white film “to document a viable institution before it vanished or was radically changed.”

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While the DMAC’s “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede” generated several of the biggest social galas in years and by far the greatest fundraising events in the museum’s history, other DMAC exhibitions did more to arrest and enlighten visitors. “From Speaker to Receiver,” examined “how contemporary artists use language as a platform for the examination and critique of authoritative and dogmatic structures.” That show included historic copies of the Bible and the Koran, both open to passages about tribal hatred and intolerance that sound much like an ISIS video. That show also included modern works of art also on the theme of intolerance. “Jesper Just: This Is a Landscape of Desire” used film and video to explore historic ideas about travel, and stunning venues, from a introspective perspective. John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park celebrated a fifth birthday with the installation of Olafur Eliasson’s “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion.”

On the gallery scene, DMSC upgraded the quality of art exhibited remarkably. James Elwanger opened the promising The Nest downtown. Transient Gallery debuted in Valley Junction. Steven Vail Fine Arts opened a second gallery, in Iowa City, and continued exhibiting anthology shows of world-famous artists. Moberg Gallery also moved more toward anthology shows, to accommodate its growing stable of Midwest and Southern artists. Olson-Larsen celebrated its 35 anniversary with a pair of all star shows, one with all 56 gallery artists and a second with three deceased painters – Jules Kirschenbaum, Cornelis Ruhtenberg and Byron Burford, all of whom moved here when still young and educated several generations of Iowa artists.

No artist had as big a year as Jordan Weber. He resurrected his Fluxx Gallery, as a temporary mobile entity. He showed in two shows at Moberg and another at DMSC and was signed for others in bigger cities. His art was misappropriated and used by the mayor’s office in Oakland, to make a point Weber was satirizing. He made iconic paintings of Michael Brown with paint he made from excavated debris in Ferguson, and he opened a sculptural installation that includes a trashed Ferguson police car. 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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