The Des Moines Art Center in Des Moines, Iowa, has a truly world class collection of art in every type of media imaginable. Artists include Monet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Francis Bacon, John Singer Sargent and hundreds more.
Most pieces of art are of the traditional “painting on canvas” variety, but also on display are pieces and installations including sculpture, carvings, film, prisms, neon, math (as inspiration to a piece honoring the Fibonacci sequence), light and shadow, photographic prints and more.
I have several favorites that I go to visit on a regular basis. My absolute favorite is “Study After Velasquez¹s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” by Francis Bacon. I find it stark, amusing, frightening and thought-provoking as a painting. I also find it to be very telling about the artist who created it. It shows both the discipline and abandon that he used in his work.
This unique approach shows us why his body of work is so incredible. And this particular piece of artwork is very important, in my opinion, because of how well it illustrates that point. And here it is, right here in Des Moines.
Joining Mr. Bacon amongst my favorites at the Des Moines Art Center are O’Keefe, Monet, Sargent, and Matisse. Henri Matisse is actually represented by several pieces here, from later in his career. They are the color cut-out pieces he created later in life when painting was not possible for him. They are grouped together beautifully and definitely jump out at you and pull you in at the same time.
Along the route from painting to sculpture and other media are several shadow and light displays. One including a prism-like pillar that looks different depending on the time of day (as it is in a room with a skylight), and an outdoor rock garden viewable through the side glass in the hall.
On the other end of the museum, past several installations of various kinds, are regularly-changing films and a lot of “unique” media. One such display is the “army” of men sculpted from gunny sacks – all without heads. Another is a neon display of the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence, climbing the wall all the way to the third story of the museum, and ending with a sculpture of a lizard at the top.
Finally, when you make your way up to the third floor, via the beautiful curved, glass staircase, you will find a few more sculptures and many more paintings. This is where you will find Matisse’s “Dame a la robe blanche (Woman in White).” May I also suggest seeking out a painting called “The Path (Der Weg),” Hannah Hoch. This is one of those paintings that draws you in and holds you entranced, exploring its many layers of meaning.
In addition to exhibitions and permanent collections, the Des Moines Art Center regularly holds classical music recitals, lectures, opening parties and learning activities for children. In fact, every Saturday morning, families are encouraged to attend with children, and backpacks with supplies like paper and pencil are provided to enhance learning and creativity.
Last but not least, there is a much-lauded restaurant, The Art Center Restaurant, which is open for lunch from 11 am until 2 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. The Des Moines Register gave this restaurant five stars out of five. The atmosphere is refined but refreshing, and the menu changes every week!
Admission to the Art Center is free, but there is a donation box at the entrance, and it’s well worth whatever you can scrape together to put in the box. There is also a gift shop with a lot of unique items, including prints and post cards depicting a lot of the artwork in the permanent collection. You can also purchase a membership there.
Important Information if you plan to attend:
Des Moines Art Center
4700 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50312-2099
Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday, 11 am – 4 pm
Thursday, 11 am – 9 pm
Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm
Sunday, Noon – 4 pm
Closed on all the major holidays.
Sources for this article:
– Personal experience, observation and knowledge
– The Des Moines Art Center Web Site: www.desmoinesartcenter.org