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Art News

Jeff Fleming’s ‘Absurdities’


Wall painting in progress

“We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon.”  — Percy Bysshe Shelley 

Jeff Fleming paints “absurdities,” delightful, sometimes ghostly, works on canvas using gesso, India ink, white charcoal and pencil. The effect is that of a chalkboard used over and over again. To demonstrate that ongoing Geist, a very large wall drawing in the show will be redone and continued as the show goes on. 

Besides the wall drawing, there are 18 paintings on canvass and 10 on paper. All are soft gray and white renderings of the artist’s “memories and experiences.” Some look like photographic negatives, others like positives. 

“I always thought the work I did as a curator and director was creative — finding the artists, putting together an exhibition, working with designers on publications. But that was not particularly personal. This is very personal — all based in my memory and experience,” said the Des Moines Art Center’s former director. 

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His media facilitate the process of making memory visible. After all, memories are, often surprisingly, mutable. So why would they be rigidly fixed on canvas or paper? All the works in the show are from either 1980 or 2023. 

“Cow and Bill”

Fleming calls the three pieces from 1980 “a return to where I began.” “Bird and Turtle” depicts the small Carolina town where Fleming grew up. “Cow and Bill” is also from 1980 and depicts a naked man joining a herd of cows.

“That was a memory from my first trip to Europe. Coming from a small Carolina town, though I was by then living in New York City, the experience of Europe was memorable to say the least. These (paintings and drawings) are all tidbits of my memory,” he explained. 

The artist says his cloud paintings are all positives, and most others are negatives. He is particularly proud of the two figurative works in the show that are rhapsodies on a theme by Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone), the mercurial painter who is considered the first artist of the Quattrocento (1400) that linked the Late Middle Ages to the High Renaissance. He died at 27 but had in just six years transformed Florentine painting. 

“Adam” and “The Baptist” are Fleming’s reflections on seeing Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, first in 1980 and most recently just two years ago when a friendly curator from the Art Institute of Chicago arranged for him to view them up close and personally from scaffolding. 

“The works are both drawings and histories of the progress of the drawings.” Like memories of our experiences. 


Steven Vail Fine Arts (304 15th St.) has acquired some Salvador Dali works. They include his famous self-portrait with magnifying glasses and “Papillon Toreador,” the butterfly matador.

Des Moines Art Center will premiere “States of Becoming,” an exhibition of African artists working in America and the process of cultural assimilation, on Feb. 10.

The Jewish Museum (New York) received rave reviews for “Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion & the House of Chloé.” That is an exhibition of the Egyptian woman who hit Paris fashion like a thunderbolt in 1952. 

Chicago’s Field Museum has pulled all displays of cultural artifacts by Native American tribes following a change in federal regulations. The Feds now require museums to gain consent from tribal leaders before showing objects that have ties to ancestral heritage.

Elton John is selling 900 items from his former Atlanta penthouse on Feb. 21. The collection is expected to fetch $10 million. Highlights include: his Yamaha grand piano on which he wrote the hit Broadway shows “Billy Elliot” and “Aida” ($50,000); Julian Schnabel’s portrait of John ($300,000); and a Banksy triptych of a masked man throwing a bouquet of flowers ($1.5 million). The singer’s iconic sunglasses, initialed silver platform boots, and a 1970s ivory and gold costume are also offered.

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