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Red Fox out of hibernation


Bill Ludwig is a well-known architect but a little-known artist. He says his heart was always in art, but after nearly earning a fine arts degree at Iowa State in the 1960s, he switched to architecture to make a living. “I took every arts course I could, everything from ceramics to furniture making. My design professor used to call me ‘the painter,’ and not all my art courses counted toward my degree,” he recalled.

From Bill Ludwig retrospective at Plymouth Church

From Bill Ludwig retrospective at Plymouth Church

Ludwig never quit being an artist, making pencil and pen drawings, watercolors, paintings on various materials, collages with burlap and string and prints over the years. Sometimes he would work on a painting all night after working all day. He did a series of paintings of construction projects for Orville Crowley. Long after Ludwig had forgotten them, he learned that Crowley still hung them in his house.

He did a long series of Warhol-like portraits of Des Moines’ most famous businessmen –  John Ruan, David Kruidenier and Michael Gartner among them. He also made portraits of musical inspirations from Ludwig van Beethoven to Tony Bennett. The glass artist Dale Chihuly inspired another series. While he was managing owner of The Butterfly, a nightclub that began the Court Avenue revival, he turned to “high color” style to brighten the building and complement its famous bright yellow door. After visiting a daughter in southern California, he became semi-obsessed with watercolors and digital prints of flowers. He recently began making large metal sculptures of animals, some of which patrol his garden like scarecrows.

Mostly though, Ludwig’s artwork rarely found its way outside his home, his architectural office or the homes of people who commissioned them. That changed this year. Ludwig’s series of large red fox sculptures began making public appearances at unlikely venues. He showed up at big events in the western gateway, stalking sculpture park icons like Tony Cragg’s  “Spoor,” Anthony Caro’s “Nude,” Louise Bourgeoise’s “Spider” and Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade.” These appearances involved a number of people in order to move the sculptures, plus vans, platforms, a producer and a cameraperson.

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IMG_3809The red fox also showed up at the Des Moines Art Center, at Noah’s Ark restaurant, at Moberg Gallery, in the frozen chicken department of a Hy-Vee store, at Living History Farms, in the Iowa State Capitol and at Alba’s bar. He ate salted chocolate almond pretzels at the Iowa State Fair and confronted Drake’s bulldog mascot Spike.

For the last six weeks and through Friday, Nov. 20, a retrospective of Ludwig’s work hangs in the gallery of Plymouth Church. It’s been a spectacularly lit, head-turning vision for motorists driving down Ingersoll at night. A Chihuly-inspired collage, a wheat collage called “Staff,” and a painting series called “Zippers” particularly stand out. Now through Jan. 7, Ludwig’s animal sculptures are included in the Polk County Heritage Gallery’s Greater Des Moines Exhibited.

Drake’s Anderson Gallery opened an ambitious new exhibition last weekend. “Are We Global Yet?” covers the art and politics of public space, including virtual space, while observing the troubling inequities it creates. Thirteen national artists examine digital space. Their work looks at the relationship between technology and power, and between surveillance and protection/control. John Craig Freeman speaks to Augmented Reality and its ability to create markers in contested areas such as international borders. This show plays through Feb. 12.

The inimitable Mary Kline-Misol opened a gallery show last week celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland at Gnemeth Lodge No. 577, 218 Fifth St. in Valley Junction. Kline-Misol’s body of work on Alice focuses on the historic Alice and author Lewis Carroll. She so impressed the Lewis Carroll Society that its only annual conference ever held outside Europe was in Des Moines. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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