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Gold, bullets and cellophane


The year in review

The year 2017 was a most eclectic one for the local art scene. Just consider the media that starred here this year. We had exhibitions made with gold, ballistics, asphalt, lion piss, brass knuckles, bones, hair, shoes, purses, fire, cellophane and Kapoor black, a paint that is so black it absorbs 99.96 percent of all light that shines on it.

The year was bookended by two giant exhibitions at the Des Moines Art Center that dazzled fans. “Alchemy” explored all things gold, including the human fascination that destroyed Silas Marner and King Midas. Artist Rachel Sussman contributed a golden repair job in the DMAC lobby floor.

“I think a large part of human fascination with gold is its relative immutability. This is not a permanent fix; it is simply less impermanent. Tibetan Buddhists look at change over 386,000 years,” she said.

Sussman is also a weather junkie who thinks abrupt changes in barometric pressure are dancing lessons from God. “Weather makes you feel small. Reducing your self does not diminish you,” she claimed.

Another serious thinker in the show was Charles Lindsay, who considers time as thematic. “Gold was created in a super nova explosion on the far reaches of space. Its heaviness and durability have made it a significant part of space exploration,” he explained.

Prep Iowa

Lindsay’s contributions to the exhibition discussed the most practical applications of the element. He built art with recycled gold parts from space trips. Who the hell else can do that? He also contrasted them spectacularly with horseshoe crab imagery. That creature has been pretty much unchanged for 450 million years on Earth. In one installation, they had fun on Long Island while lit by the lights of JFK airport.

The Des Moines Art Center’s last big show of the year was “Drawing in Space” made with something considerably less immutable than gold. Its dazzling sculptures were mostly constructed out of cellophane. “Numen/for use,” a group of engineer/artists in Austria filled the I.M. Pei wing with giant cellophane cocoons, usually filled with children of all ages during visiting hours. Other worldly artists installed works site-specific to the other DMAC buildings.

Between those bookends, the DMAC’s other big event was “Ruptures.” “The artists included made art that embodies the tensions and fears that are flooding our collective consciousness,” curator Alison Ferris explained, alluding to war, terrorism, racism, immigration, pollution, epidemics, economic crisis and mental illness.

Chronicles of the battle of Gettysburg talk about rifle fire being so intense that bullets collided with each other in the air. That inspired The Propeller Group, founded in Vietnam, to comment on that war. Their piece “AK-47 vs. M16” is made of fragments of bullets from those weapons, used by opposing sides in the war, with ballistic gel and custom vitrine. The gel was made to imitate the density of human flesh so that this sculpture captured the moment of impact when lethal weapons rupture human dreams. The interaction was shown in a video as surrealistic as the conflict itself.

Belinde de Bruyckere contributed the most disturbing piece to this show, and that says a lot. She sculpts freakish dead horses of wax, wood, wool and horse skin.

The most interesting galley events featured introspection on empowerment (Larassa Kabel’s “Upspeak” at Moberg), real and imagined aspects of architecture (Amy Worthen at the Brunnier), and the environment (Jordan Webber, who used lion piss, fire and asphalt at Moberg, and Emma Lee Running at Olson-Larsen). Steven Vail’s amazing year began with a retrospective of Robert Cottingham and concluded with an agreement to handle all of the editioned prints and unique works of Judith Shea. Sarah Grant and Charles Scott Ross both moved into much larger paintings with dramatic effect. Their joint debut show at Moberg drew the biggest crowd of the year. ♦

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