Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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Art News

A new summer for the arts


The city would do well to christen this summer as the season of the Lauridsens.

Gary Bowling, “SMOKE OVER A BURNING PRAIRIE,” Media: Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 16 x 16, Price: $1,200

Summer used to mean aestivation for the arts. Music and gallery seasons began in September and ended in May. Everyone fled to the hills and beaches in between seasons. Resort-like places such as Santa Fe, Newport, Monterrey and Ashton took advantage and became de facto summer homes for opera, jazz, pop music and theater. Despite the proliferation of air conditioning, things changed slowly. But how they changed. 

Today, the Des Moines arts summer is filled with big events. The Des Moines Metropolitan Opera led the movement. The city owes Robert Larsen, who passed recently, a bow of appreciation for all summer things that followed. Multiple art festivals, 4th of July Pops, summer theater at the Des Moines Community Playhouse, Broadway Summer Academy at the Civic Center, two Shakespeare companies and multiple outdoor theaters. 

Because more people are staying in town more often in summer, the gallery scene is revving up, too. Des Moines artist Jordan Weber was recently awarded the first Harvard LOEB/Harvard ArtLab Joint Fellowship. He will be moving out to Cambridge/Boston for 10 months to research and prototype at MIT and Harvard. That will then be implemented at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis in 2022. Weber’s works often call for social justice. Like Mitchell Squire, he has a national reputation for such. Young artist Cameron Gray is cut by a similar ethic. His work is on view at the Olson Larsen Guild, at Fourth and Maple in Valley Junction. It will be up through July 23.  

Ellen Wagener, “JULY, 2020,” Media: Pastel, Dimensions: 30 x 34, Price: $4,000

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Moberg Gallery is running an exhibition of four female artists: Larassa Kabel, Stephanie Brunia, Rachel Cox and Mary Jones. Each is a unique stylist. Kabel’s hyper-realistic drawings and paintings have a cult following particularly for her suspended horses posed after being hit by 18 wheelers. Brunia first caught our eye with her nymph-like photos of young girls posed like Ophelia or the fairy queens. Cox is another photographer, but her subjects are of inanimate objects looking almost creepy without human accompaniment. Jones is a delightfully whimsical mixed media artist. 

Olson Larsen Galleries’ annual landscape exhibition is up through July 17. Gary Bowling brings his popular, bright-colored abstractions including a stunning painting of a wildfire. Larry Welo contributes a dazzling road trip through bright amber fields of grain. Ellen Wagener dazzles with a painting of July one year ago. Matt Kelly concentrates on the root causes of Iowa landscapes. Christine Carr actually makes prints of roots. John Preston chronicles fields and rivers in pastel. Barbara Walton meditates on the weight of clouds. Jean Gumpper brings woodcuts revealing the secret beauty of marshland. 

The city would do well to christen this summer as the season of the Lauridsens. 

Local philanthropists Nix and Virginia Lauridsen gave the naming gift for the brilliant new skatepark by the river. Then they pledged $1 million toward the final phase of renovations at downtown Des Moines’ Mainframe Studios, billed as the largest nonprofit arts space in the country. Both gifts attack a big Des Moines puzzle — how to attract young workers to the middle of Iowa. Mainframe opened its third and fourth floors in June, more than doubling the low-rent studios. 

Once the renovation is complete, Mainframe Studios will have 180 artist studios, up from the current 131. All of the existing studios are rented, and there is a waiting list for the new ones. First Friday events have never been as exciting as they are now. ♦

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