Best of 2005
Des Moines Art Center's (DMAC)
resurrected an international artist
from the ashes of an icon's martyrdom.
A Cuban political refugee at age
12, Mendieta grew up in Iowa's
foster care system. Her dramatic
art took flight while still at
the University of Iowa. Later,
during husband Carl Andre's trial
for her murder, she became feminism's
poster child for abuse, in the
art world's dress rehearsal for
the O.J. Simpson debacle. Mendieta
used her body and blood in a chilling
autobiographical style, pioneering
rape awareness with beastly crime
scene re-enactments. Susan Talbott's
final show as Des Moines Art Center
director was a swan song with
a broken neck, posthumously birthing
a terrible beauty.
2. Public architecture takes
Wells Fargo Arena completed the
Iowa Events Center and signaled
a 180-degree turn in our philosophy
of public architecture. Previously,
public designs in Des Moines (e.g.
the Civic Center projects of 1900-1920
and of the late 1970's) featured
local architects and democratic
designs intended to bring the
community together. The new arena
was most conspicuous for the way
its out-of-state designers stratified
the community, with luxury suites,
valet parking, exclusive entrances
and club levels.
3. Door closes, others open
Art House declared bankruptcy
early last year, but, in a sign
of a healthy art scene, most of
its artists found representation
elsewhere. New galleries opened:
in East Village, specializing
in the third dimension (From Our
Hands); and downtown, with an
inclination to design (Fitch,
HLKB) and attitude (Verboten).
The East Village Arts Coalition
expanded its program of exhibitions
in non-traditional spaces. Grass-root-galleries
(Des Moines Project, Art Dive)
became scene-makers while Moberg
continued to upgrade the image
of a new arts generation, coaxing
expanded repertoires from Frank
Hansen, John Philip Davis and
T.J. Moberg in particular. Most
significantly, some long-time
street fair artists outgrew that
lifestyle and committed to exclusive
relationships, a sign the art
community is maturing.
"New New II"
Karolyn Sherwood Gallery's off
beat exhibition "New New
2" included three artists
wrestling with originally inspired
demons. Mitchell Squire created
abstract human victims out of
police gun practice targets, revealing
a dialectical dynamic in an artist
whose other shows (including an
exhibition at Anderson last year)
have been serenely meditative.
Joe Biel brought reworked drawings
of iconic moments in American
culture. The maniacal and tortured
subjects in his work tapped the
psychic condition of the disturbed
underworld. Jay Vigon conjured
a "Little Monster" series
of paintings that layered wet
acrylic and hand-scratched forms
ranging from whimsical to devilish.
5. Mary Kline-Misol's big year
After a "Mid Career Retrospective"
at the Dubuque Museum of Art,
Mary Kline-Misol prepared her
"Alice Cycle" for the
State Historical Museum's "Victorian
Iowa" exhibit and the Lewis
Carroll Society's International
Conference, which was held in
Des Moines because of Kline-Misol.
Then her "Wives of Henry
VIII" cycle was shown at
the Salisbury House.
6. Dan McNamara adds dimension
Dan McNamara took a break from
his Zen fling with monoprints
and the color green to layer oil
on canvas. He showed a Byron Burford-sized
talent for catching the human
form with its guard down - a new
dimension to his prodigious talents,
7. DMMO debuts "Gloriana"
Daringly, Des Moines Metro Opera
took on Benjamin Britten's "Gloriana"
last summer, only the third staging
ever by an American company. It
was the season's kept mistress,
a sophisticated lady for opera
aficionados, with Elizabethan
court costumes, historical choreography,
a Madrigal troupe and massive
choruses. All supported audience
favorites Gwendolyn Jones and
prodigal son Ted Green.
8. "Iowa Artists 2005"
DMAC's 55th annual Iowa artist
show focused on emerging talent
- Jamie Burmeister, Nathan Carder,
Tova Carlin, Amze Emmons, Jessie
Fisher, Andrew McCormick, Michael
Perrone, Brian Roberts, Lee Running,
Jean-Marie Salem, and Pete Schulte.
Emmons' minimalist visions of
environmental structures had a
visual appeal that most political
statements lack. Fisher just laid
it out there viscerally, with
freaks and horrors redefining
the genius of beauty - high Renaissance
style with a Gothic twist that
stuck like leeches to the veins
of the psyche.
9. Mo Dana rides into the sunrise
By sheer force of personality,
Mo Dana convinced Des Moines to
support an ever-growing art fair,
which she built into a rite of
summer and a bone fide tourist
attraction. So much so that, before
she left town last year, Dana's
job description had grown like
Pinocchio's nose, into a year-round
series of events that civic leaders
hope will become as successful
as the art fest.
10. DMAC promotes Fleming
For the first time, DMAC promoted
a museum director from within
its ranks. Jeff Fleming's selection
was a just reward and a novel
idea. In this era of fund raising-first,
Fleming's forte is as a curator.
Because of his personal contacts
with emerging artists, he has
been able to assemble shows here
that travel well and raise the
international profile of the museum.
Zeitgeist of the Year
Self-esteem. One-twentieth of
the way through the 21st century,
Des Moines found an artistic verve
that had been hiding much of the
previous century. At last, it
was possible for artists to make
a living without leaving town.
New Artist of the Year
Ryan Clark is the only artist
Karolyn Sherwood has ever signed
off a walk-up interview. At 25
he is also the youngest in her
stable. His debut solo show here,
"On the Mortality of Memory,"
considered both the ambiguity
and consciousness of time, juxtaposing
images that evoke memories: grave
yards, library archives, a tattoo
dated like a death camp memory.
All this while framing insider
jokes on Raphael and Michelangelo.
New Artist of the Year (with
Elaine Hudson Hamilton. This 82-year-old
artist moved to Iowa last year.
Her woodblock series "Stoneworkers"
(Fitch Gallery) does for prints
what Wendell Mohr does for watercolors,
conveying monumental insights
with minimalist embellishment.
Political Artist of the Year
Fred Truck. Des Moines' thoughtful
iconoclast exhibited a "Medicine
Cabinet" of bombs (Sherwood),
cracking a dead serious joke on
"Bombs are most effective
if you don't use them, as deterrents,"
he explained. "Art is similar.
Once it is used, it's the property
of advertisers and media, etc.
It loses power."
Environmental Artist of the Year
Bill Luchsinger. Luchsinger's
mathematically complex "Poplar
Series" (Sherwood) beautified
the fate of trees grown to become
Historical Artist of the Year
Will Mentor. Mentor's "Bionic
Farm" (Sherwood) deconstructed
the history of farming to symbols
Angel of the Year
Melva Bucksbaum gave sculptures
by Joel Shapiro and Sally Petrus
to the Art Center, for placement
on the Principal Riverwalk. CV
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