Restorations, expansions and horrors12/23/2015
Renaissance and expansion dominated the local art scene in 2015. The most impressive new architectural achievements were restorations. American Enterprise Group (AEG) reopened its historic Sixth Avenue headquarters thanks to a package of incentives put together by city and the state organizations. Some $30 million later, a fully restored Gordon Bunshaft building reopened last summer, announcing that Sixth Avenue is in full renaissance, with Principal Financial Group’s $250 million campus extension to the west and the YMCA’s new building just south of AEG. Both added much green space.
AEG headquarters houses the state’s best private art collection, mostly purchased in timely fashion. Outgoing CEO Mike Abbott said the company archives include a letter from Andy Warhol. “He requested an advance on his $6,000 commission because he was behind on his mortgage.” The collection includes all but six of the original 74 pieces former CEO Watson Powell bought in the early ’60s, plus some 300 others added since then.
Also starring was the restoration of the marvelous Des Moines Brewery building at 300 MLK. That neon-packing project houses restaurants, a bar, a fitness center and offices.
The year also brought Iowa’s female photographers into better light. Ames native Laurel Nakadate joined Des Moines’ Anna Gaskell and Sioux City’s Anna Mendieta as featured solo photographers to exhibit at the Des Moines Art Museum. Nakadate’s show there demonstrated a lot of commonality with the other more established artists — female subjects, risk taking and sexuality. She said her consistent themes have been “exploring voyeurism, loneliness and connecting to others.”
It was a very good year for Moberg Gallery. It unveiled public art projects in collaboration with Dennis Reynolds for The Iowa State Lottery, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, The Iowa Department of Corrections and The City of Bondurant. It installed Iowa’s first public video art project with Martin Kluber, who also showed at Art Basel Miami, and arranged a WorkSpace Inc. mural commission for Jordan Weber, who had his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Moberg Framing moved adjacent to the gallery and was connected, expanding exhibition space by a factor of two. The gallery hosted 14 on-site and off-site exhibits including national, regional and Iowa artists. They concluded the year with a Winter Group Show that includes more than 20 artists instrumental to the year’s success.
The gallery also hosted National Endowment for the Art’s Chairman Jane Chu and Deputy Chairman Winona Varnon for a roundtable with Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie and Administrator at Iowa Arts Council Matthew Harris. The Nest gallery, at 520 Walnut St. downtown, became Moberg on Walnut this year.
Weber turned curator for the first time this year for “Make Their Gold Teeth Ache,” which exhibited at Moberg. That show included nationally famous African American artists including Brooklyn’s Dread Scott and Rico Gaston; Los Angeles’ Loren Holland, Kohshin Finley and Delfin Finley; Chicago-based Eliza Myrie; Florida mathematician and artist John Sims; and Ames’ Mitchell Squires. The works in that exhibit focused on social and racial inequalities. The Des Moines Art Center hosted a panel discussion with Scott, Sims and Weber. Moberg sculptor Jessica Teckemeyer was also featured in a solo artist at the Des Moines Art Center.
That museum presented “Field, Road, Cloud: Art and Africa,” which challenged politically correct academic criticism that rejects showings of African art in contemporary museums. The show dared to mix traditional African artifacts with contemporary art. It was the most thought-provoking show of the year, a visceral demonstration of how Africa changed the rest of the world and vice versa. Alfredo Jaar, a white Chilean, contributed a visceral series of cibachrome prints and digital animations from his work in Rwanda during a horrific genocide. He showed a tobacco field, a road to a killing ground and a cloud above a church on that killing ground. A separate work revealed three young men embracing during a memorial service. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.