Des Moines
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Looking around at the Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center

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Circled in red, the Jake and Dinos Chapman print referenced below. 

Response by Jennifer Heartley

November 18, 2013 

As I enter an art center, I feel the need to look at every piece out of respect to the artists.  Not all of them interest me or mean anything to me, but this way I can’t say I didn’t try to understand each one. 

At the Des Moines Art Center, I found an engraving by Henry Adlard in the Wild Kingdom Prints of Britain exhibition.  It was a view of Windsor Castle from Bishopsgate.  Looking at the engraving from afar, you may only notice the trees and figures on the grass.  Walking up close to the image you’ll first notice what the figures are; people and animals.  Then you notice a white area much brighter than the rest of the sky.  It at first looks like a murky cloud, but once you make out the details you see that it is in fact a beautiful castle in the countryside.  Then the engraving stands out to you as a much more meaningful artwork. 

I wasn’t at the Art Center alone.  My mother was with me.  I was teasing her a little by emphasizing the purpose of my class at Drake, philosophy of art.  She looked at the art passively without looking for any hidden or deeper meaning.  She hadn’t noticed the castle when she passed it.  We went through the end of the exhibit before seeing the disclaimer at the beginning about parents sheltering their children from violent images of Old Britain.  After reading the disclaimer I pointed out to my mother the Jake and Dinos Chapman piece of children sawing a man’s leg off.  At first, you only notice the large graphic children with plush faces and happy features.  It isn’t until after you look at the toys they’re playing with that you notice the very detailed realistic-looking (compared to the children in the image) man under the old-fashioned saw.  There were several other images that distorted first appearances in this exhibit as well.  Distorting the first appearance draws in your attention to closer detail.  That may be why these images are more appalling to us than violent television with explosions.  We have more time to contemplate the meaning of these artworks than we do an action movie. 

In one room off to the side there was a large, black sculpture entirely by itself mounted on the wall.  When my mother followed me into the room, she gasped.  I said, “I wonder what it’s supposed to be.”  She said, “It looks like a bridge.”  Then she expressed she thought it was dangerous to put something so heavy looking on the wall, and was surprised the Art Center put it there.  I asked her, “But would your first thought be ‘bridge’ if it weren’t in the sky?”  I walked under it to look straight up from below it and get the full view.  It looked like old, ratty, ropes strung together.  At the same time it looked like heavy, black steel that would be used as chains for prisoners.  I didn’t touch it due to Art Center policies so I don’t know if it was actually heavy material or not.  I know it wasn’t actually ropes, but it gave the appearance of ropes, so just because it looked heavy doesn’t mean it was. 

Another art piece that changed appearances was in a room with many illusions or tricks of the eye pieces.  I saw it up close, first.  It was several pixelated, solid colored blocks lining a frame.  I read the title which was a man’s name.  I looked at it again, and decided that it could form the image of a man’s bust, but he didn’t have a mouth and I couldn’t tell where his ears and eyes were supposed to go.  After I had walked across the room, I glanced up in that direction again.  Suddenly it was a man’s face.  It wasn’t just any face.  It was a balding man with graying hair above his ears wearing glasses and his mouth was turned up at the edges.  I saw every detail including the pale pink color of his shirt collar and the fact that he looked like a script writer of some sort.  He seemed familiar like a face that I may have seen in a movie somewhere or something.  I pointed it out to my mother, and she had to walk across the room to look at it up close. 

As I was leaving the Art Center, the lady at the desk offered me several brochures and pamphlets to help me with my assignment and invited me back again.  I will indeed go back to see new exhibits another time.  The Des Moines Art Center is a great place to spend the afternoon.  If you’re going to appreciate the art in a more in-depth way, you’ll want to make sure you always take that second look to see a piece more clearly.  There may be something you didn’t catch, or a new way of looking at something you didn’t see before.  This type of art shows us that there is always something more to see if you only take the time to look closer (or in some cases, further away). 

My name is Jennifer Heartley. I am a junior at Drake University studying television production in journalism and creative writing in arts and sciences.

Rachel Buse