Sex and violence, loud and ironic1/4/2017
Artist of the Year
Larassa Kabel transcended Des Moines and her own work this year. She is best known for uber-realistic drawings and paintings — particularly of horses hit by 18-wheelers — and for being chosen to do a Christmas card for the Obama White House. In the last year, she exhibited a solo show at Stag Park in Chicago, won an Iowa Arts Council Fellowship, a David Hurd Innovator of the Arts Award and a Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation commission for provocative public transit art. Her art has been included in the Italian Domus Magazine’s Mille issue, on the cover of the “Dear Animal” poetry book, as well in Juxtapoz magazine. She was also interviewed in the “Juxtapoz –Wild” book.
Her “Upspeak” exhibition at Moberg Gallery, for which she served as curator, was the most powerful gallery show of the year. Kabel’s part of the show, “Security Blanket,” in collaboration with photographer Ben Easter, featured paintings of female violence victims — some naked, some floating like her trademark horses, some wrapped and thrown in fields. She then printed those images on fleece blankets. One blanket, “Scatter,” dramatically showed a wide-eyed doe, symbolic of helplessness. Her series “Deer Woman” portrayed a girl with the same sanpaku eyes as the doe, performing sex acts fearfully. Easters’ photographs included myriad girls and women in positions of vulnerability. Each used one of Kabel’s security blankets as a desperate cry for help. Those were strong deniers of the myth of female safety. Kabel also included works by Heidi Bagg, Samantha Barbour, Heidi Wiren Bartlett, Jennifer Buchkowski, Dasha Medvedeva, Jessica Pleyel, Virginia Traxler and Taylor Yocom within the context of her theme.
The Hurd grant she won was for her work with the fledgling nonprofit Chicken Tractor. Like the protective environment of that group’s namesake (used by urban farmers), the organization seeks to find ways for young artists to survive and thrive in otherwise non-supportive urban environments. Resources include a seminar called “How to write an artist’s statement that doesn’t suck,” mock grant interviews with Iowa Arts Council, a micro grants dinner, road trips, artist in residence programs and non-commercial gallery exhibitions. Kabel says she is most proud of the work she has done with the group, which offers its services at little or no cost to participants.
Exhibition of the year
Four years in preparation, “Glenn Brown” at the Des Moines Art Center last summer was the first USA exhibition by the Turner Prize-winning English artist. It was a serious coup for the Des Moines museum, spectacularly eye grabbing, themed in history (and science fiction), and full of original techniques.
Brown is a contrarian artist. After being told that green was the least marketable color, he intentionally painted a long series of works based in the color of envy. At a time when most young painters avoided religious subjects in general — and Roman Catholic ones in particular — Brown embraced their influence. While most artists avoided appropriating from others, Brown considered previous artists, both living and historical, the basic language of art “without which artistic communication would be disabled.”
Brown’s works in Des Moines were appropriated, altered, Photoshopped, smeared and repainted. He compared brushstrokes to breathing, calling them “the pulse of identity.” His brushstrokes were mind boggling, appearing at distance to be heavily layered while close inspection revealed flat surfaces. His “Wooden Heart,” which looked like a sculpture of Pinocchio, was actually a painting that took four years to complete. Paint was applied, dried and layered until it was three dimensional. His “American Velvet” was an appropriation of a Georg Baselitz painting and also a ghoulish portrait of Elizabeth Taylor as she might look today. “Nothing says sex like Liz Taylor and horses. I also couldn’t resist the temptation to place Pinocchio with his nose pointing directly at Liz Taylor’s various body orifices,” he explained. ♦