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Into the opening of NEW WORK at Olson Larsen

September 7, 2012 – 6:34PM

Art Beacon contributor, Chad Michael Cox, enters Olson-Larsen Galleries for the opening of New Work featuring artists Michael Johnson, Mary Merkel-Hess, and Dan Mason. (On display through October 6th.)

Observation #1: Not a single person in the gallery is actually looking at the artwork.

CMC and his daughter fight through the middle of the room where thirteen people stand with drinks in hand discussing the finer things in life, perhaps they mention the artwork. CMC and daughter enjoy the wide-open spaces surrounding each of the Michael Johnson photographs. This is safe art. The kind that sells and keeps a gallery in business, but it obviously doesn’t inspire anyone in the room to contemplate deeper meaning. The viewers sip their wine and pass cheese cuttings between pierced lips.

Mary Merkel-Hess’s BOWER Gampi, paper board, hand printed paper 17 x 10 x 10

Observation next: Bower by Mary Merkel-Hess resembles a female breast.

Observation by daughter: Enfolded by same artist is “cool!”

Mary Merkel-Hess's ENFOLDED, Paper, paper cord, acrylic paint, 7 x 18 x 11

CMC and daughter both agree this is pretty impressive work as they realize the “grass” effect is achieved by individually rolling strips of paper before combining them to create artwork that begs to be touched – or felt up, depending on the work. And yet, no one in the gallery is paying any attention. No one is being verbally accosted for daring to feel the art before them. They aren’t interested. The viewers, avoiding all artistic engagement, are much more adept at conversation this night.

Observation as revelation: Artist Dan Mason is boycotting all the rules.

Detail of Dan Mason's WILLIAMSBURG III, Oil on linen, 44 x 44

CMC remarks to daughter that every square in Mason’s work fades at the edges. Mason apparently failed geometry class. 90 Degree angles are merely suggested. There are no hard lines taken, no strong stance. Typically rigid cityscapes offer a soothing embrace. Gone is the concrete jungle. In its place, Mason has propped up a series of sponges.

Observation final: Who gives a damn?

The city of Des Moines longs to be a thriving art community. We boast about our annual Art Festival, and (with good reason) we take pride in our ArtCenter. We have world-famous sculptors displayed in our parks. For what? So we can enjoy polite conversation over wine and cheese? So we can engage in dialogue with the artist rather than dive deeper into their work? Then why bother with the art – why not attend a wine tasting, instead?

September 7, 2012 – 6:58PM

CMC and daughter leave Olson-Larsen Galleries. They walk hand-in-hand down the Valley Junction sidewalk discussing the art they have just seen. What was your favorite piece? Daughter responds, “I liked the paper ones.” They’ve inspired her to go home and try to make one of her own.

Observation reality: I wonder if anyone will notice.