May 5, 2013 / 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
MINDFUL MUSEUM: Thoughtful Conversations about Art, Ideas, and Issues
May 5 discussion: Expanding Collection, Evolving Identity
This is the second installment of Mindful Museum. Mindful Museum programs are FREE gallery talks
designed and facilitated by veteran docents, Madelyn Mayberry and Jon Oakland with an art-initiated
audience in mind. The aim is to participate in explorative conversations with people who enjoy delving
more deeply into the issues presented by the art of our time.
Meet in the Art Center Restaurant for Cinco de Mayo treats before heading outside to explore
artwork on the grounds.
The cultural identity and reputation of the Des Moines Art Center has steadily grown and taken shape
since it first opened in 1948. Sixty-five years of building, collecting, and exhibiting has made the
Art Center widely appreciated among its institutional peers for its balanced strength and clarity of
modernist sensibilities in both art and architecture.
But how does this institutional identity take shape on the most local level, with its commitment and
connection to its visitors, members, and neighbors? This campus of modernist gallery spaces takes
residence in Greenwood Park… and in many ways the identity of this museum is intertwined with the
park setting. Long before the Art Center first opened, Greenwood Park served as a widely used public
space that helped maintain a connection to nature in this largely residential area of Des Moines.
Eliel Saarinen’s sensitive design hugged the earth and rambled through the landscape of
Greenwood Park, actually pulling the setting into the heart of the museum through its open courtyard.
Carl Milles’ Man and Pegasus dramatically took flight into the sky overhead as the grassy hills dropped
away. Whether as a park or a museum, this location is still a public space, within a primarily
residential area, devoted to maintaining a sense of connection and civic identity.
The architectural structures of I. M. Pei and Richard Meier, plus the site-specific artworks of
Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, and others are not simply additions to the
landscape. These works represent tangible moments when the identity of both the Art Center
and Greenwood Park noticeably evolved. These artists and architects responded to the existing
place and context, and added their own voice. But unlike the majority of acquisitions at the Art Center,
the public at-large took notice of these transformations to the landscape. Residents and members
contributed their own voices to each of these changes in multiple ways, including expressions of
praise and frustration published in the opinion pages of The Des Moines Register. Most importantly,
people came to Greenwood Park to personally bear witness to these developments taking place in
their city park.
Many of those moments are decades in the past, with much of the vitality hidden in the unshared
memories from those who witnessed these developments. But evidence of the impact these
architectural and artistic expressions made can still be explored through their physical presence.
Join us on May 5th for a Mindful Museum discussion exploring the Art Center’s Expanding Collection,
Evolving Identity. We’ll focus on elements of the architecture and permanent collection that most
greatly contribute to the general public’s perception of the Art Center:
How has the architecture served as a public face for the Art Center, and how has that changed
over the decades with each additional structure? As the museum has grown, what changes
have taken place in the relationship between the architecture and the setting of Greenwood Park?
Through site-specific artworks, how have artists responded to both the landscape of
Greenwood Park and the architectural complex of the Art Center? With these artworks’ unique
visibility in a public setting, how have these artists taken the opportunity to engage and
communicate with the general public?
How do all these various components of landscape, public art, and modernist architecture
work together to influence and shape the Des Moines Art Center’s local identity?
Text prepared by Jon Oakland, Mindful Museum facilitator
"Talking in museums is one of the things that makes them matter, and the way in which we
talk in museums is one of the things that define for us what they are. Because museums,
I think, as much as they are places to go and see things, are also places to go and talk
about things, and, through talking, to understand something about the way life takes place
in time." - Adam Gopnik, art critic and writer, "The Mindful Museum," The Walrus, June 2007