Foundation eyes major artwork for D.M. airport

Downtown Des Moines is part of the 3rd Congressional District. (Photo by Perry Beeman, Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Des Moines art foundation wants to install a major work by an international artist at the vehicle entrance to the Des Moines airport off Fleur Drive.

The airport staff is in talks with the nonprofit Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation. The airport board heard a presentation by M. Jessica Rowe, foundation board director, on June 9.

It would not be a small project. Rowe told the airport board recently that the foundation already has raised $200,000 for a project by New York City-based artist Alice Aycock, and hopes to raise more. The foundation is looking for a good spot for the work, and hopes the airport — which has been seeking a signature art piece for the entrance to the airport and its proposed new terminal — will accept the yet-to-be-created artwork.  

“The foundation has the beginning of doing a major piece,” Rowe told the board. “We are looking for a major site. That is why we are at the airport.”

“This project is exhilarating,” Rowe said. 

In an interview Wednesday, Rowe said the project is still in the works. She is close to doubling the money available for the work, and is negotiating a contract with Aycock. She hopes to gain airport board approval for the art which is likely to be in honor of a person to be disclosed later, she said.

The foundation, now part of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, grew out of an ordinance passed by the Des Moines City Council 20 years ago to promote public art. Among the recent works it supported was “A Monumental Journey,” a downtown Des Moines sculpture by Kerry James Marshall that honors 12 African-American attorneys in Des Moines who co-founded the National Bar Association. 

Aycock, winner of the Academy of Arts Achievement Award, has installed works at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany, for example. Several of her sculptures are renditions of  tornadoes, something familiar to Iowa.

Aycock was one of the few women involved in the early development of “land art,” which involved reshaping the land, Rowe told the airport board. She later became known for sculptures that reflect current conditions and the setting where they are erected.

A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Aycock installed works at Washington Dulles International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, the MGM National Harbor in Maryland, Toronto’s Pier 27 waterfront, and in Coral Gables, Florida.

Aycock has degrees from Douglass College in New Jersey and Hunter College in New York.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the board to consider,” Kerty Levy, airport board chairwoman, told the board. 

Airport CEO and General Manager Kevin Foley said the airport has picked a spot between the vehicle entrance, which will be relocated to the south along Fleur Drive, and the vehicle exit for a major art piece. He is following up with Rowe to see if they can come to an agreement that could be taken to the board for consideration as early as July. 

The foundation would pay for the art.