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Art becomes you

11/1/2023

TJ Dedeaux-Norris’ “The Estate of Tameka Jenean Norris.”

Des Moines Art Center’s new show “Transform Any Room” is a call to everyone’s inner artist. A mish mash of crafts, weavings, assemblages and mixed media, “TAR” is designed to show its audience that decorating, collecting and shopping can be artistic self-revelations.

Glittering beads, vibrant Azerbaijani carpets and cologne bottle birds dazzle while inspiring curiosity. There is much to be curious about here. 

What is a child’s sofa cushion fort doing in an art museum? Ange Altenhofen constructed one here and provides flashlights for those curious enough to get down on their knees and crawl inside.

What is Emily Dickenson doing in a feminist kitchen? She’s providing context for Liza Lou’s “Kitchen,” a five-year construction of beads and found objects that reminds audiences that the work of a housewife is a thankless job. 

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The Belle of Amherst is quoted in the kitchen thusly — “She rose to his requirement, dropped the playthings of her life, to take up the honorable work of Woman and Wife.” In the divine Ms. Em’s time, the difference between a woman and a girl was defined as having borne children. Emily did not think that could be done while distracted by playthings. That is thought to be why the great beauty turned reclusive and her playful, passionate writing became classic. 

Lou also seems to use “Santa Fe Style” (which was quite a thing when “Kitchen” was being created), ironically. All the gaiety of creative New Mexico covers up the servitude of the housewife’s plight. Lou’s installation is the centerpiece of this exhibition. Visitors linger in front of it longer than anywhere else, at least on my three visits. 

“Kitchen” by Liza Lou.

The beating heart of the show is T.J. Dedeaux-Norris’ “The Estate of Tameka Jenean Norris.” Dedeaux-Norris is a University of Iowa professor and a crack performing artist. In this installation, she celebrates things she inherited from her mother. 

It’s difficult to consider these mementos without igniting your own emotions. Her mom saved her pre-school graduation certificate from Gulfport, Mississippi. There is a mother and child piece that tugs the heart even outside its context — that it might well be the artist with her mom.

The piece that inspired this show is Nick Cave’s “Rescue.” It depicts a ceramic Doberman on a bench thatched over by myriad birds and branches. All are found objects. Some of the birds were originally cologne bottles. All were rescued from the dry dung heap of conspicuous consumption. The dog is clearly a symbol of rescue. 

Six additional artists show works here. The show plays through Jan. 14. 

Olson-Larsen Gallery’s new show “Wing & Bloom” is an all-female exhibition featuring birds and flowers. Barbara Fedeler, Kirsten Furlong and Paula Schuette Kraemer represent the birders. Rachel Deutmeyer, Molly Wood and Amy Worthen are the flower ladies. 

Furlong uses ink and homemade paper to capture the delicacy of her observations. One piece called “True Colors – Indigo Bunting” confuses. It looks like a psychedelic bird from a 1960s album cover. It resembles a painted bunting but not an indigo. 

Kraemer’s are gregarious birds that even trust the hands of humans. She uses etching, dry point and ink with monotype. Fedeler paints with gouache on wallpaper. Her birds show off a playful side of one of Iowa’s greatest landscape painters.

Deutmeyer uses inkjet and various surfaces to show the flowers of her intent. Worthen uses India ink, watercolor and raindrops plus elegant Japanese paper to chronicle her Venetian wisteria. That was observed during her long COVID confinement in the city of islands and canals. Wood’s dazzling prints are so close-up and realistic that I think I could smell the flowers. Through Dec. 14 in the new gallery at 542 Fifth St. in Valley Junction. ♦

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