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Wit and Imagination fuel this art show

A collage of Iowa artists in D.M. art show

By  Amanda Pierre

The Des Moines Register
May 8, 2005 

Iowa's art scene is frequently on trial to prove its relevance.

This year's crop of Iowa artists, featured in the annual show at the Des Moines Art Center Downtown, can present compelling evidence of the state's active creativity.

Their colorful and innovative works seem to give off energy in the Art Center gallery. They are witty, imaginative, sometimes disturbing and often show a slick mastery of their medium, whether it be paint, sculpture or manipulation of light.

Curator Patricia Hickson sorted through hundreds of applications from artists all over the state to select 11 to contribute to this show. Most are emerging in their fields, finding their places as teachers at the Kansas City Art Institute or winning Emerging Artist awards. Many have also had shows outside of Iowa, so their names may be getting more familiar on the national scene.

Artist Jamie Burmeister of Harlan, Ia., invents kinetic sculpture with found objects. But these are more than pretty windmills or interesting toys. Burmeister is concerned with "characteristics of human behavior that serve as metaphors for the human condition." So when looking at a television set poised on top of a terrarium, with a video on a loop encouraging the plants within to grow, feel free to entertain thoughts about how television sometimes socializes.Nathan Carder, 23, and one of the youngest artists in the show, has created the medical innovations of his dreams (and nightmares) in a series called "Ask Your Doctor."

His "Dirigible" flying machine is a take on the life-sustaining respirators used in hospitals. Carder's version supposes that the air tanks keeping people alive could also spirit them away to the heavens. The subtitle of his work is "Go Toward the Light."

Tova Carlin of Iowa City, who was educated at Harvard and the Rhode Island School of Design, has created explosions of color on paper and the gallery walls with paint, collage, yarn, stitching and even the plastic ties used as handcuffs during riots.

Amze Emmons, who recently won the Emerging Artist Award at the Baltimore Museum of Art, investigates portable housing in a series called "Shelter."

His shelters are more eerie than homey, and not just for their dissonant settings - the middle of offices, for example, or on pink fields against black skies. He has painted the structures created for emergency situations, where plane crash survivors or victims of the Iraq conflict might live for a while.

Both Jessie Fisher and Jean Marie Salem are in the Iowa Artists' show for a second time. Fisher returns with her cute mutants and adorable horribles, rendered in painting with a classic, Renaissance aesthetic.

Salem has created symbols of the vodoun goddess Erzulie involving several elements, including light, gas and earthen materials such as shells and copper. Her interest is in cultural anthropology and African diaspora, and through her renderings she clarifies the benevolence of the oft-misunderstood figure, a patron of the arts akin to the Virgin Mary.

Other artists in the show investigate interests that include improvisational jazz music (Pete Schulte), "Wrestlemania" and the fascinating faux sets of early "Star Trek" episodes (Andrew McCormick), the shadows created by natural objects (Lee Emma Running), the life/death cycle and the masculine, farmer's perspective (Brian Roberts) and "the dissonance of the American landscape" (Michael Perrone).

It's all over the map, yet it was all produced close to home.

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