Art Pimp: Art stories of the year

Best of 2005

1. Ana lives
Des Moines Art Center's (DMAC) "Ana Mendieta" 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 a 180
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.

4. "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, at Olson-Larsen.

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 an asterisk)
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 terrorism.
"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 toilet paper.

Historical Artist of the Year
Will Mentor. Mentor's "Bionic Farm" (Sherwood) deconstructed the history of farming to symbols and icons.

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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