Two very different art exhibits


Visiting an art museum is a great activity on a cold January day. Earlier this week I visited two exhibits, both in the Christian Petersen Art Museum located on the Iowa State University campus. The exhibits were about as different as they could be – and I liked both of them equally well.

IMG_4773First I visited “Cabinet of Curiosities” in the museum’s lower-level gallery. “Curiosities” is a well-curated exhibit assembled from the collections of many academic departments (and, seemingly, every basement, attic, and storage closet) on the Iowa State campus. What a fascinating hodge-podge of “things”! I noted a mammoth fossil tooth and a Cuban toad in a jar; a stuffed tapir, gibbon, penguin, duckbilled platypus, and two toucans; a giraffe skull and gorilla skeleton…all juxtaposed with a horse whip, a sugar bowl, a fur hat, and some opera glasses. And so much more! Brass fingertips from Thailand, linen napkins from a German hotel, Indonesian shadow puppets, a cylindrical slide rule, a leaf-nosed bat, a dinosaur leg bone, and foam patterns used to produce aluminum castings.

IMG_4785Most of the items would be at home in a natural history museum. Indeed, many of these items came from the college museum in Morrill Hall that, beginning in the 1890s, was home to many natural history specimens. Many of the items are part of Iowa State’s land-grant heritage. Some of them are just bizarre. I found myself unable to look at some of the creatures preserved in liquid inside jars. (A frog? That’s OK. A cat? That crossed the line for me. I had a flashback to the storage-unit scene in “Silence of the Lambs.”)

The “cabinets of wonder” were easy to view – there’s a guide to each object just inside the main door – but difficult to photograph, given the gallery lighting and glass fronts on each of the cabinets. I’m sorry that my photos don’t do the exhibit justice.


Upstairs in the main gallery is “Post-Pop Redux,” an exhibition of material-based art by Andy Magee. Think Andy Warhol. Now think Andy Warhol if he used found items instead of paint.

It’s an interesting show. Magee crafted Marilyn Monroe out of artificial sweetener packets, reinvented the Obama “Change” poster out of real change (pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters), and built a huge “100% Juice” billboard out of real juice cans.


His artwork provides commentary on war (a map of the continents made of nothing but plastic army men), religion (the word “God” made with dollar bills), and smoking (a “stairway to heaven” built from packs of cigarettes, all of which the artist smoked himself. The exhibit also includes a portrait of George W. Bush made from beer-bottle caps, a baby elephant made from plastic babies, and a really cool Popsicle sign made from Popsicle sticks.


Born in 1972, Magee is a native of Arkansas and has lived in St. Louis, Mo., for the past 15 years. He will be on hand in the Petersen gallery during the noon hour on Feb. 4, 5, and 6, plus he’ll be the guest of honor at a public reception with food and live music at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5.

“Cabinet of Curiosities” runs through April 21; “Post-Pop Redux” will be on display through April 26.

The Christian Petersen Art Museum is located in Morrill Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The cost of admission is free; however, there is a suggested donation of $3 per visitor. Hours are Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Parking can be tricky: There is some meter parking on Morrill Road, but it’s very limited. I suggest parking at the Memorial Union Ramp (a short walk from Morrill Hall).


1 comment so far

  1. David Faux on

    I am really glad tha you enjoyed your visit to the museum. I am the Interpretation Specialist with University Museums and both exhibits have been a real joy to engage students and guests with. You are not the only one to be a bit squimish at the sight of the cat. I’ve gotten used to it myself, but it is still a bit on the creepy side.

    Andy Magee is a really great guy and really interesting to talk to. In his last visit to Ames it was a real treat to hear him talk about some of his inspiration, methods, and thoughts about his work. I hope that you are able to attend the reception. Thanks again for stopping in and best wishes on your continued Iowa journeys and discoveries.

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