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This Nameless Spectacle

Jesper Just:  “This is a Landscape of Desire”, Des Moines Art Center

PREVIEW PARTY TONIGHT 6 PM

March 6-May 25, 2014

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Installation shot of the panoramic “Nameless Spectacle” (Source)

Response by Heath Hardage Lee

March 6, 2014

Once again, the Des Moines Art Center is on the cutting edge of contemporary art.  Danish video artist, Jesper Just’s exhibition, “This is a Landscape of Desire” opens at the Art Center today, March 6 and runs through May 25th.  This is the U.S. premiere of an exhibition that originated in Denmark at the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Copenhagen-born Just studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1990s and is now one of the most important video artists of his generation.  His work is in collections at MoMA and the Tate Modern.  He was the 2013 Danish representative at the Venice Biennale. 

I first saw Just’s work several years ago when Art Center Associate Curator Laura Burkhalter picked his short film, “A Vicious Undertow” for the museum’s Single Channel video series.  I was immediately hooked by the film’s stylish, scary glamour.  I was thrilled to hear that the Art Center would be featuring a “conversation” with Just on Tuesday March 4th as part of his exhibition opening

Art Center Senior Curator and Curator of “This is a Landscape of Desire,” Gilbert Vicario hosted the evening talk which featured snippets of four of the artist’s short video works:  “No Man is An Island II, “A Voyage in Dwelling,” “Sirens in Chrome,” and “This Nameless Spectacle.”

Just’s beautifully crafted and films are deliberately non-narrative.  Though he references Hollywood and famous film-makers like Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch, this artist’s focus is more on place and time than characterization.  “The character comes out of the place,” revealed Just.  Characters often wander through travelogues inspired by those of hundreds of years ago, but with a thoroughly modern twist to them.

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Screenshot from Just’s “Nameless Spectacle” (Source)

Themes of male and female sexuality, sensuality, and how humans interact with nature and architecture are prevalent.  There also seems to be an undercurrent of desire paired with an ominous sense of doom pervading Just’s work.  My personal favorite video of the evening was “This Nameless Spectacle,” which follows a beautiful red-haired woman (possibly transgender?) in a wheelchair through a tranquil park on the outskirts of Paris.  She seems to be being pursued by a shifty looking young man, but the viewer cannot quite figure out the whole story.  It is shown in split panels with differing points of view.  I only got to see half the video, and now I am totally hooked!  I am planning a gallery visit to the Art Center this weekend to find out what happens and to see all the works in the show.  I urge everyone to do the same and to become more familiar with the enigmatic and atmospheric work of Jesper Just.

Heath Hardage Lee is the History Series Coordinator at Salisbury House & Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa.  Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Charlotte Magazine, Charlotte Home Design. Charlotte Place, and Charlotte Business, and she regularly contributes to several blogs on history, art and design. 

Innovative Art Paves the Way for Skate Park

SHOVE IT!

Polk County Heritage Gallery

Silent Auction and Exhibition on view until June 20th, 2013

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James, age 8, posing in front of custom skate decks on view at Shove It! (Photo: Heath Hardage Lee)

Review from guest contributor Heath Hardage Lee

June 12, 2013

Friday night my eight-year-old son James and I were on our own for the evening.  Dad/husband was out of town, and tween daughter was at a spend-the-night party.  What cool and creative night out could a cartoon and skateboard-loving boy and art-obsessed mom both enjoy?

Shove It! was IT….image

The Baykid Army Amasses!! (Photo: Source)

This extensive paper toy/custom skateboard exhibition opened Friday night at the Polk Country Heritage Gallery in downtown Des Moines.  The show is the brainchild of photographer and artist Beau Scott who grew up the Newport Beach, California, (remember the T.V. show the O.C.?), skateboarding.  Scott enlisted the aid and expertise of Ian Miller, owner of the Thee Eye Gallery, to put together the show.  The co-curators created a laid-back, So-Cal vibe where everyone ages eight to eighty was warmly welcomed. 

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Curator Beau Scott with Shove It mascot (Photo: Heath Hardage Lee)

The goal of the exhibition and related silent auction Friday is to generate funds to build a Des Moines Regional Skatepark.  Scott and Miller used Kickstarter, an online funding tool to raise money to create the show.  90 percent of the proceeds from the event will go towards funding the proposed Skatepark. 

Now to the art…

Artists from twenty-nine different cities and five continents contributed pieces to the show.  The artists’ charge:  create two works of art:  a custom skateboard deck and a coordinating paper toy.  The results were dazzling.  Our favorites: 

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Sacred Diamond Tattoo Mike Diamond’s Great Gatsby-flavored flapper image. (Photo: Heath Hardage Lee)

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Beau Scott’s black crow silhouettes, inspired by one of his photographs.  The stylish Penny Knox is posed next to her son’s work here.(Photo: Heath Hardage Lee)

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James’s pick:  the Dan-Flavin-esque light sculpture skateboard by Neon Specialties. (Photo: Heath Hardage Lee)

Scott hopes that Des Moines will continue its ascent from flyover zone to stop-over-and stay-zone through original art and attractions like the proposed Skatepark comments Scott.  “The civic openness and creativity we have here is what makes Des Moines a great city.  If the park is built, it will be like a jewel in our crown.”

Heath comes from a museum education, historic preservation, and writing background.  She started her museum career at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Program and Education Director.  Heath has since worked as a consultant for significant southern historical museums such as Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, and Menokin Plantation, home to Francis Lightfoot Lee.  She has written for numerous magazines, newspapers and blogs. Heath is currently under contract for her first book, Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause, abiography of Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis, daughter of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis.  Heath holds a B.A. in History from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa and loves being a docent at the Des Moines Art Center.  Her favorite pastime is exploring all the super cool art museums and galleries across the Midwest. 

What made abstract expressionism go soft?

Hornet’s Nest:  Abstract Expressionism on Paper, Des Moines Art Center

Gallery Talk by Amy N. Worthen, Curator of Prints and Drawings (Gallery Guide)

Exhibition closing September 23, 2012

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Lee Krasner American, 1908–1984 Black and White Collage, 1953 collage and oil on paper 30 x 22 ½ in. (76.2 x 57.2 cm.)

Review from guest contributor Heath Lee 

September 13, 2012

Des Moines Art Center’s renowned Curator of Prints and Drawings, Amy N. Worthen writes eloquently in her gallery guide about the inspiration for the title of her recent Print Gallery exhibit, Hornet’s Nest:  Abstract Expressionism on Paper:

“Hornets-buzzing and dangerous insects-chew wood, mix it with saliva, and excrete a paper-like substance that they use to make their nests.  The exhibition’s title…suggests the stinging combination that resulted when Modernist Abstraction and Expressionism collided in the mid-twentieth century to produce Abstract-Expressionism as well as the works on paper that these artists created.”

On September 6, at 6:30 p.m., Worthen spoke to a packed and enthusiastic house of gallery-goers about the works in Hornet’s Nest, the rise of Abstract-Expressionism in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and how this movement coincided almost exactly with the founding of the Art Center in 1948

The exhibit was created to celebrate the visit of Jackson Pollock’s famous Mural from 1943, on loan to the Art Center this past April 5-July 15 from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.   The works selected for the Print Gallery were all created between 1939 and 1970 and represent iconic Ab-Ex artists such as Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, Jean Dubuffet, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell. 

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Jackson Pollock American, 1912–1956 Untitled (p19), 1944–45 (printed in 1967) Drypoint and engraving on paper 15 ½ x 22 ¾ in. (39.4 x 57.8 cm.)

The Art Center recently acquired a Jackson Pollock drypoint engraving on paper Untitled that is featured in the show.  This very rare print is from a posthumous edition of fifty, printed in 1967.  The work, notes Worthen, is “very spontaneous, about gesture and moving towards the abstract.”

Pollock’s work contrasts splendidly with his wife Lee Krasner’s piece entitled Black and White Collage from 1953.  Krasner literally used scraps from her husband’s discarded and ripped up works to produce her own art.  The Pollock work and the Krasner work are the “centerpieces of the show” in Worthen’s estimation. 

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Henri Matisse French, 1869–1954 Le Lagon (The Lagoon), plate xViii from the portfolio “Jazz”, 1947 screenprint (pochoir) on paper 16 3/8 x 25 ½ in. (41.6 x 64.8 cm.)

Along with works by stars of the Ab-Ex movement, are works by artists from earlier periods, such as Matisse.  The French artist has three joyful “cut-outs” from his Jazz portfolio in the show.  Worthen explains:  “Matisse made his cut-outs here with scissors.  Their biomorphic shapes allude to natural forms, but they become more and more abstract.”  Incidentally, Lee Krasner was extremely influenced by Matisse in her own collage work, having seen a cut paper collage exhibit of Matisse works in 1949. 

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Harry Callahan American, 1912–1999 Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night, Chicago, 1946 (printed 1980–1981) Dye transfer print 9 1/8 x 13 9/16 in. (23.2 x 34.4 cm.)

If you have never seen Abstract-Expressionism photography, don’t miss the two dye transfer prints by American artist Harry Callahan both entitled Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night, Chicago, 1946.  Worthen describes his work as “liquid calligraphic light on film.” 

During the talk, Worthen explained that cool and more impersonal 1960’s Pop Art eventually came along and quenched some of the fire and heat of the Ab-Ex movement.  This is perhaps best illustrated by Paul Hachten’s print, Parasubin (1970) which seems to cage up the energy of Ab-Ex art with its orderly grids

Parasubin’s colors are opalescent and unnatural.  Worthen pointed to this piece as an example of the “last gasp” of Ab-Ex style and an example of the inevitable overlap between art movements.  This work perfectly illustrates Worthen’s point that by 1970, “Abstract Expressionism, now subdued and tamed, has lost its sting.”  

 

Heath comes from a museum education, historic preservation, and writing background.  She started her museum career at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Program and Education Director.  Heath has since worked as a consultant for significant southern historical museums such as Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, and Menokin Plantation, home to Francis Lightfoot Lee.  She has written for numerous magazines, newspapers and blogs. Heath is currently under contract for her first book, Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause, abiography of Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis, daughter of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis.  Heath holds a B.A. in History from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa and loves being a docent at the Des Moines Art Center.  Her favorite pastime is exploring all the super cool art museums and galleries across the Midwest.