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Des Moines Art Center showcases work by Romanian-born artist in Hedda Sterne: Imagination and Machine

Posted on Thursday, December 26, 2019

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jordan Powers
Tel: 630.470.5136

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DES MOINES, IOWA (December 2019) – On Friday, January 10, the Des Moines Art Center will open Hedda Sterne: Imagination and Machine. Organized by Assistant Curator Jared Ledesma, the exhibition will be on view through April 15, 2020 in the Blank One Gallery.

In 1961, Fortune magazine commissioned the Romanian-born, mid-20th-century artist Hedda Sterne to produce paintings that characterize her impressions of John Deere tractor parts. The magazine chose Sterne based on a body of work she completed in the 1950s that focused on the anthropomorphic qualities of machines. “By the time of the commission,” says Assistant Curator Jared Ledesma, “Sterne’s curious and articulate paintings had attracted the interest of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She was also featured in a Life magazine photograph among other prominent Abstract Expressionist artists; Sterne was the sole woman in the photo.”

Sterne visited Deere’s factories in both Moline, Illinois and Waterloo, Iowa and became interested in the vital importance of valves, transmissions, and engine parts of the tractors. The seven paintings she made for the commission depict the gritty, staid, and isolated machine parts as a way to “understand not how they work, but how they are.” The paintings – made with paint brushes, oil sticks, and aerosol spray paint – were illustrated in the July issue of Fortune that year, and purchased by John Deere for the company’s collection.

This exhibition features all seven paintings, which have never been shown together outside Moline, Illinois. A brochure accompanying the exhibition will feature an essay by Shaina Larrivee, the director of the Hedda Sterne Foundation.

According to Larrivee, “The paintings Hedda Sterne made for Fortune magazine are like portraits of the small parts, engineering, and processes she found on her tour of Deere & Co. factories. They show Sterne’s unique skill for finding meaning and beauty in the modern world.”

Hedda Sterne Tractor Seat

Hedda Sterne (American, born Romania, 1910 – 2011)
Tractor Seat, 1961
Mixed media on heavy paper
20 x 25 inches
Image provided as Courtesy of John Deere

About the Des Moines Art Center

Recognized by international art critics as a world-class museum in the heart of the Midwest, the Des Moines Art Center has amassed an important collection with a major emphasis on contemporary art. The collection’s overriding principle is a representation of artists from the 19th century to the present, each through a seminal work. This accounts for an impressive collection that ranges from Edward Hopper’s Automat to Jasper Johns’ Tennyson, Henri Matisse’s Woman in White, Georgia O’Keeffe’s From the Lake No. 1, Francis Bacon’s Study after Velásquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bill Viola’s Ascension, and Cecily Brown’s Half-Bind.

The Art Center’s physical complex marries with the collection for a totally integrated experience. The collection is housed in three major buildings, each designed by a world-renowned architect – Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and Richard Meier. With the exception of special events, admission to the museum is free.

In September 2009, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened in Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park. Philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn have provided funding for and donated 28 sculptures by internationally acclaimed contemporary artists to the Des Moines Art Center. The collection of sculptures by such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Butterfield, Willem de Kooning, Olafur Eliasson, Keith Haring, Ellsworth Kelly, Jaume Plensa, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, and Mark di Suvero, is the most significant donation of artwork to the Art Center in a single gift in the museum’s history. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park was created in collaboration with the Pappajohns, the City of Des Moines, the Des Moines Art Center, and numerous corporate and private donors.

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