It’s Worth Buying Art For Art’s Sake

Above: The upcoming Des Moines Arts Festival, and galleries like Susan Watts’ Olson-Larsen Galleries, can be a source for investments with visual appeal.

By Steve Dinnen

The Des Moines Arts Festival opens June 23; the competing ArtFest Midwest starts one day later. But why spend just one weekend a year on an art collection?

People have engaged in artistic endeavors since the dawn of man when they scrawled spears and bison on cave walls. Things have progressed; We now have museums, and a great sculpture park in downtown Des Moines. But the concept remains the same; creating something for yourself and others to enjoy, to entertain, to stimulate creativity, to provoke. Who looks at Picasso’s giant “Guernica” and doesn’t think of the horrors of war?

It can be an expensive endeavor, as a Japanese billionaire discovered last month when he paid $110.5 million for a painting by the late American graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But that is the rare exception reserved for global art traders and is not something found in the Midwest. TJ Moberg, owner of the Des Moines art gallery that bears his name, can commission paintings for tens of thousands of dollars. But last week he also pointed to a tablet-sized piece of art on a shelf in his office that he said sells for 60 bucks.

And who would want to spend $60? Perhaps millennials, Moberg says, who have just recently formed a household. As apartment dwellers they may have taped a concert promotion poster to a kitchen wall, then progressed to a print they found at a mall. Now, it’s time to be a little more serious.

“There’s the practical matter of putting something attractive on your wall that people like to look at,” says Susan Watts, owner of Olson-Larsen Galleries in West Des Moines.

Watts says the gallery draws a “good mix” of ages,, though she adds that buyers “tend to be a little more on the mature side. They have a little more time and money.”

Both galleries have corporate clients, companies that see the value of art both for employees and for visiting clients.

Artists working with Moberg have designed works for rural hospitals across the state, with the belief being, he says, that art promotes healing. It may also be a distraction from the reality of the setting. Olson-Larsen Galleries recently worked with the Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women, which opened in April in Clive, to incorporate art by Midwest artists throughout the facility.

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