Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Art in the year of the virus and violence


John Baldessari (American, 1931-2020) Numbered Legs, 2015, Screenprint, Edition of 50. Photo credit: Steven Vail Fine Arts

The Des Moines Art Center has re-opened with some cute posters of famous pieces of art with people wearing those familiar baby blue masks that Hanes, the men’s underwear company, sold $700 million dollars of in the second quarter. “Glad to have you back” is the theme. They do not make it easy on people with any kind of ambulatory problems. Or privacy issues — I had to give up my phone number and email address to enter. To visit the print gallery, just left of the front door, one is required to walk through the entire museum to get back to where one entered and turn right, not left, to view the print gallery. Fortunately, the museum’s gracious security staff is happy to be back at work and will point out short cuts. Hopefully I am not getting them in trouble for being nice.

The museum is using the viral crisis to show off gems from its permanent collection. Wow. Let’s see these classics more often. I am reminded of my childhood in the early 1950s when our family visited the museum every weekend to see the same things all over again. There’s nothing wrong with that. Keeping classics like Richard Estes’ “Astrojet” in an underground vault is definitely more wrong.

Like most institutions of cultural excellence, the DMAC is out front supporting the Black Lives Matter thing. “We acknowledge that we have sometimes faltered in fighting the systemic racism and violence faced by people of color in this country and our own community. We commit to a conscious effort to increase equity for all, and invite our supporters to join us on this journey. While no statement can fully address the pain Black Americans have experienced and continue to feel, we can use our platform to support Black Lives Matter, recognize injustice, and raise the voices of Black artists and community members. Many works in our collection address racially-motivated violence. Des Moines-based artist and professor Mitchell Squire’s ‘Gladiators’ calls to mind the tragic death too many men and women like George Floyd have faced in America. The trauma and lost lives are depicted through layering and repeating of the stark image of a paper shooting target.”
Also displayed in the current arrangement is Jordan Weber of Des Moines’ stunning “Chapel’s,” part of a series. Weber uses marble, wood, plastic and resin in the series with earth from sites of racial horror. The earth in the piece that hangs in the I.M. Pei wing is from Charleston, South Carolina’s black church slaughter.

The biggest art story of pandemic times is the starving of artists. There is no place for them to sell their work. Chris Vance, whom I have called “Des Moines’ artist,” probably has sold more paintings than any other local guy. For the first time in 10 years now, he has taken a job.

Prep Iowa

I am fortunate that this happened after my kids mostly are grown and raised. Of 15 art festivals that I attend each spring and summer, all 15 were canceled this year. The galleries are not opening new shows either. It’s a dried up market,” he told us.

TJ Moberg of Moberg Gallery, Vance’s bread and butter, verified that. “We have no plan for a new show as of now. We can allow up to four visitors in by appointment only. Things are so weird that I have quit playing golf in the morning, just afternoons,” he added.

Another Des Moines gallery did accept an honorable distinction when Steven Vail Fine Arts had two of its former shows included in a John Baldessari memorial. That towering artist died this year at age 88. ♦

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