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The melancholy master and his ilk


Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 – 1669). “Self-Portrait in Velvet Cap and Plume,” 1638. Etching on paper, 5 1/4 × 4 inches. Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 1950.137

The Des Moines Art Center’s Print Gallery is an underappreciated gem. Almost every show provides great lessons in history, culture and “there is nothing new under the sun” humility. “Rembrandt and His World” doubles down on all that. 

Born too late to be a true Renaissance man, the melancholy Dutchman was, in many ways, the first Modern artist. He constantly tinkered with methods and materials (technology then) to make the 200 years old art form of intaglio fresh. He tried new metals, new papers, new waxes, new inks and even new acids to produce previously unknown visions of light and shadow, rivals to his great paintings. 

Rembrandt was a fallen hero, riding great fame until the sadness of losing his wife, being unable to marry his housekeeper, the scandal of that affair, and his refusal to hawk his paintings for money made him poor and sad. The Alexander Korda film “Rembrandt,” with Charles Laughton starring, is still the best biography of an artist ever made. It ends with Laughton smiling deviously into his mirror and quoting Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” 

The Art Center show, with Mia Laufer as curator, explains that well. Rembrandt drew and etched numerous self-portraits because he used them to study facial “tells” about human emotion — to use in his paintings. There are three self-portraits in this exhibition, one with flat hat, one with big furry hat and one with velvet hat (Laughton’s style). 

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The most dramatic print here is “Beggar with Wooden Leg.” A close scrutiny reveals the artist’s uncovering of the beggar’s deceit, he has a real leg dangling behind the sympathy ploy. There are several Biblical themed prints here, including a large one of Jesus, Pilate and a restless mob. 

Also in the show are contemporaries like Adriane von Ostrade, his pupil Cornelis Bega, Jacob Mathan, and five others. Ostrade provides visions of 17th century life in the streets. His “Singers at the Open Window” is Goyaesque in its invocation of the grotesque. Bega’s “Card Players” looks like the artist noted Shakespeare’s Falstaffian plays. Mathan’s “For the Love of Grease, the Cat Licks the Candle” is a hilarious, cynical take on the bait and switch trickery of fascination, and life. Through Aug. 27. 

Jacob Matham (Dutch, 1571-1631). “Om de minne an de Smeer / Leckt de Kat de Kandeleer,” 1657-1658. Engraving on paper, 5 5/8 × 5 5/8 inches. Des Moines Art Center; Richard and Kay Ward Collection, 2010.56

A big moment for Des Moines

Moberg’s mid-May opening of Jason Woodside’s “Neat, Neat, Neat” and It’s A Living’s (Ricardo Gonzalez) “When the Lights Come On” was a major milestone for the Des Moines art scene. These are two international artists of considerable clout. Gonzalez’s clients include Apple, Armani Exchange, Nike, Bentley, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Facebook, Budweiser, Toyota, MTV, Yahoo!, Nissan, Coca Cola, and United Airlines. Woodside’s include Colette in Paris, Adidas, Faberge, and Obey Clothing, as well as the New Museum in NYC, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Jeffrey Deitch. 

Both showed up in Des Moines for this opening. Gonzalez flew in from Mexico City, Woodside from New Zealand. While in Des Moines, Gonzalez finished his mural for MVP Sports (4600 Park Ave., Des Moines). Woodside, who has a mural at 28th and Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines, worked on a privately commissioned painting. 

Their gallery shows were obviously much smaller examples of their art and their branding power. Woodside grew up in Florida and has kept the vivid colors of ocean and night life in his repertoire. It’s a Living is known for his signature script style. His motto is “A drop of paint can create.” Through June 10. 

Studio op

The Fitch Studios Building, across the street from Exile Brewing, is developing a significant covered patio space to help entice visitors from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. The remodel will feature a restaurant, a bar and a private dining venue on the ground floor. Studios are leasing for $18 a square foot. ♦

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