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Art News

Worlds in collision

3/6/2024

Masimba Havati repurposes found objects to suggest that all of us, and all of what we discover, can be changed utterly by cultural collisions. Photo by Jim Duncan

Cecily Brown, whose one-person show at the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) in 2016 was a major coup for the museum, is flying high after her “Death and the Maid” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote a review titled “I Was Wrong About Cecily Brown.” 

Smith compared Brown to El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in her apology for not appreciating her genius 23 years earlier. When we interviewed Brown in Des Moines, the vegetarian painter had just dined at Machine Shed, a very meat forward café. What did she have there? “Lots and lots of cocktails.”

DMAC’s new exhibition “States of Becoming” examines the essence of creativity, as a Hegelian dialectic. It reviews displacement, diaspora and the resulting cultural collisions that Arthur Koestler set out as the inexorable pattern of invention in all arts, sciences and humor (“The Act of Creation”). Des Moines is the exhibition’s third stop on a five-year schedule that began as the first big show at the Africa Center in Harlem. 

Curator Fitsum Shebeshe grew up in an Ethiopian town he calls “conservative.” His creative mind blew open when he visited culturally dynamic Mozambique. Craving more experiences that challenged him, he moved to Baltimore. For this show, Shebeshe recruited 17 artists from Africa and the Caribbean islands who have come to the U.S. in the last 30 years or are children of parents who did. 

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The constant theme of the show is struggling for identity. Shebeshe says Baltimore was the first place he ever felt he was a minority. Nontsikelelo Mutiti looks toward hair salons to find nuanced differences among African-American identity seekers. Gabriel C. Amadi-Emina uses faceless and masked men to illustrate the trials of the quest. Chido Johnson builds a totem out of carved mahogany, beads and Home Depot buckets to suggest the adaptive nature of the displaced artist. Yvonne Osei’s video shows her draping a Parisian nude statue in Ghanaian fabric. 

Amare Selfu sticks with abstraction to illustrate identity confusion. Masimba Havati repurposes found objects to suggest that all of us, and all of what we discover, can be changed utterly by cultural collisions. Elshafei Defalla’s “Delirium” reduces the quest to a montage of different fingerprints — black and white being all that matters. 

“Here and There: Flânerie, Memory and Identity” at Olson Larsen Gallery features Mary Jones and Armenian artist Gohar Droshakiryan. Both feature walking figures searching for identity. Through April 6. 

Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town” at Des Moines Community Playhouse delivered much to like in Katy Merriman’s direction. Three standouts: A minimalist production let audiences concentrate on the play’s theme —  appreciating life’s small wonders; Becky Scholtec, who frequently serves as stage manager at DMCP, excelled in the lead role of “Stage Manager” (Paul Newman’s last Broadway role); Fifth-grader Harmony Parker shined brighter than her years in her debut as Rebecca. Parker delivered the leitmotif line, about an individual’s insignificance amongst the many universes in the mind of God, with precocity and innocence.

The January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine features a story about Ai Weiwei, subject of another big DMAC one-person show, and his struggles with displacement. 

Omaha artist Justin Beller brought an examination of “Shapes Under Water” to Moberg Gallery last month. The pieces in the exhibition were trompe l’oeil examinations of dimensionality. Most were in three dimensions that appeared two dimensional from a distance — until one observed the dramatic shadows created by spot-on lighting.  

 

March touts

Chris Vance’s annual show at Moberg Gallery debuts March 8. We found the artist behind closed doors during the February First Friday open house at Mainframe Studios. He was in rush mode for the exhibition, much of which is already sold… Paul Mobley’s 30-year photographic study “American Farmer” plays through March 16 at Raupp Museum, Buffalo Grove, Illinois. n

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