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Transparent, or not?

Transparencies, Des Moines Art Center

February 22 — May 22, 2013

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Above: Convertible Series, Group 10 | Monir Farmanfarmaian

Review by Chad Michael Cox

The Des Moines Art Center currently displays an exhibit entitled Transparencies. My wife had mentioned her interest in viewing this exhibit a month prior to the opening, so the Cox family eagerly entered the solemn gallery on a Saturday afternoon. Well, mostly it was my two boys who eagerly run into every building, but I understand my role as their father. It falls to me to rule with a firm hand, so I quickly subdued them with firm sounding words like, “get”, “don’t”, “if I ever”, “that’s enough”, and my favorite, “stop or I’ll tell your mother.”

The irony of this exhibit is in the name itself. Nothing on display can be classified as being transparent. Indeed, there are mirrors, stained-glass creations, and a dark room with a multi-media piece. That is my favorite as it relates to the term: transparent. In the dark room we discovered a series of glass shards that are driven into a large piece of plexi-glass. (Think Color-Brite from the 1980’s.) The shards form the image of a large, crystal chandelier. It should have been the most “transparent” of any of the pieces. Instead, the artist has placed the work in a dark room and uses a projector to add ambience. The projected image creates the illusion of a dust-coated chandelier gently cleansed by droplets of rain seeping through a hole in the roof which eventually gives way, resulting in a more thorough and robust cleansing. It is a moving work of art, but it is not transparent.

I am a huge fan of art exhibits which produce both internal and external dialogue, and I left the Art Center thankful for contemplations. What was the curator attempting to stimulate within the viewer? What was being revealed? I then realized that the transparent object was not the artwork but rather the viewer. Each piece revealed something new about me. The handheld mirrors for example, the first piece on display, with faces from the past still reflected in them, caused me to wonder what image I will leave behind. A reflective mosaic scattered my reflection in a thousand directions. But the black glass, beautifully arranged to resemble large drops of water, reflected nothing. I was forced to gaze upon the darkness within; my soul captured like smoke in a bottle.

imageAbove: Smoke Art in Bottles by Jim Dingilian