The year of the really big show12/18/2013
This year has treated Des Moines’ art fans to grand-scale exhibitions. At the Des Moines Art Center, “Transparencies” gathered 10 artists from five countries whose works explored glass as both a subject matter and medium; “Phyllida Barlow: Scree” delivered 27 monumental tons of magic stuff; and “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui” displayed the dazzling, giant metal walls of a legendary nomadic artist. Grinnell’s Faulconer Gallery presented Iowa artists Scott Robert Hudson and Margaret Whiting together, with Hudson’s horse skeleton sculptures conjuring Native American ghost dances that complemented Whiting’s “Deforestation,” a forest of tree stumps constructed out of the pages of law books.
The gallery scene’s best moments were also characterized by substantial and comprehensive exhibitions. In one group show at Moberg Gallery, Larassa Kabel displayed a series of large wild horses floating in the air after colliding with 18-wheeled vehicles; Jessica Teckemeyer exhibited realistic, life-sized sculptures of animals set in precarious and ironic positions; Kathranne Knight drew forests in intricate detail; and Guy Loraine gave a macroscopic perspective to the erotic life of acorns. Grandeur also contributed to our picks of 2013’s top achievements.
Exhibition of the year, museum — “Phyllida Barlow: Scree” brought a great English artist, at the zenith of her career, to Des Moines to reconstruct kasbahs and caves out of both heavy and light materials that deceived the eye. Nothing has ever come nearly as close as this to filling the Pei wing of the museum on such an appropriate scale.
Exhibition of the year, gallery — “New works by Michael Brangoccio,” currently at Olson-Larsen, presents a new phase in the career of a great Iowa painter. His super realist creatures no longer defy the laws of physics yet still conjure a sense of magic and mystery. In a few new pieces he also returns to abstraction, something he gave up decades ago when he moved to small town Iowa “to lose any arrogance that didn’t fit in.”
Political art of the year — Fred Wilson’s “Beginning of the End” and “Drips and Drops” referenced negative racial implications of ink, oil and particularly tar, while defiantly appearing proud and lovely. His “Iago’s Mirror” delved into centuries-old racial prejudices in a stunning medium that created black glass out of four Baroque layers of red glass.
Event of the year — Steven Vail Fine Arts celebrated its 20th anniversary of representing world-famous artists like Chuck Close by expanding to the historic Packing and Provision Building in downtown Iowa City.
Religious art of the year — Iowan Madai Taylor’s new works referenced the spirituality of the original abstract expressionists, the cave painters of the Neolithic Era. Taylor’s self-invented method abstracted its media from Earth, a metaphor for the unity of spirit between man and nature under God. “Dirt is timeless and of the soul,” he explained.
Rising star — Jordan Weber’s breakout exhibition at Moberg included giant, Gustonesque paintings of serious subjects like drug addiction tempered with the levity of caricature. His sculptures, constructed from Des Moines crack house salvage, kept that faith.
Artist of the year — Chris Vance has likely become the most collected Iowa artist. This year the painter moved into big new territories. He painted giant murals at Le Jardin café in Beaverdale and on the outside wall of Metro Waste Authority in East Village. He completed a 12-piece installation of suspended aluminum wildlife figures for the Blank Park Zoo plus a PB Art commission of Drake area events for University Library Café. He also became largely involved with smaller art, including original cell phone case designs for Uncommon, his own clothing line for Tailgate Clothing and some originals at East Village Boutique. CV