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DES MOINES, IOWA (January 2020) – On Saturday, February 8, 2020, the Des Moines Art Center will open Karla Black: 20 Years, which will be on view through May 17, 2020 in the Anna K. Meredith Gallery and I. M. Pei Galleries. Former Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator Alison Ferris initiated the exhibition.

Art created by Turner-prize nominated Scottish artist Karla Black is confounding to first-time viewers by virtue of the materials she uses and the color palette she employs—predominantly light blue, pink, and pale yellow pastels. Utilizing large pieces of inexpensive paper, powdered forms of paint and plaster, glitter and cellophane, hand-sanitizing gel, bath bombs, liquid foundation, eye shadow and lipstick, her materials are ordinary. What results are sculptural forms that are large, unsubstantial, and a bit clumsy—they tip and buckle and regularly shed their powder patina. These unconventional materials and formal elements are chosen and made use of by the artist to allow her to investigate play, along with tactility and creative expression. Using notions of play results in Black’s ability “to differently engage the viewer,” writes art historian Elyse Speaks, and sets up the work “as a series of possibilities.”

Black’s work is also deeply ensconced in dialogues with the history of art, particularly 20th-century American art. Approximately 15 of Black’s sculptures made in the last two decades will be installed in the Anna K. Meredith Gallery alongside paintings and sculptures selected by the artist from the Art Center’s permanent collections. Artists selected include Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Eva Hesse, Claus Oldenburg, and Richard Tuttle, among others.

The highlight of Black’s project at the Art Center will be major sculptures she’ll create on site specifically for the I. M. Pei galleries, the space that Black was particularly taken with when she visited in the fall of 2018. According to Ferris, “The Art Center is thrilled to be organizing a major project with Karla Black consisting of large-scale works specifically created by her for our I. M. Pei building and an exhibition featuring a selection of Black’s work—made over the course of her career—in dialogue with significant works from the museum’s permanent collections.”

A full-color catalogue including three essays will accompany the exhibition. Authors include Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; Jenni Sorkin, Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Elyse Speaks, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Notre Dame.

Related Programs

Artist Talk
Thursday, January 30 / 7 pm
Levitt Auditorium
*Reservations required

Exhibition Opening + Celebration
Friday, February 7 / 6 – 8 pm
Complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres
*Reservations encouraged

Presented by the Art Center’s member affiliate group, Art Noir

*FREE reservations and RSVPs can be made at An email confirmation will be sent shortly after a successful reservation.


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, an AAM-accredited institution, 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 Velázquez’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 provided funding for and donated 31 sculptures by internationally acclaimed contemporary artists to the Des Moines Art Center. The collection of sculptures by such artists as Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Butterfield, Willem de Kooning, Mark di Suvero, Olafur Eliasson, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Yayoi Kusama, Jaume Plensa, and Richard Serra, and Joel Shapiro is the most significant donation of artwork to the Art Center in a single gift in the museum’s history. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a collaboration of the Pappajohns, the City of Des Moines, the Des Moines Art Center, and numerous corporate and private donors.

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