By day, I’m just a Hufflepuff roaming Des Moines, on the hunt for the best desserts and hidden gems around the city. By night, I’m a journalist who wears a lot of black and works on this blog after deadline. ¶ By writing this, I hope to explore parts of the metro I’ve yet to see or help you create a bucket list if you’re planning to visit. Between downtown and the East Village, there’s always something new or old to discover. ¶ Oh, and don’t forget: The farmers market starts again May 5.
Have fun exploring the city!
(Left) Zach and I went for a little midnight walk after our newspaper deadlines. This sculpture, “Nomade,” by Jaume Plensa is a very popular place for a quintessential
Des Moines photo.
(Below) This is a shot from our Christmas card photoshoot.
photo by Kelsey Kremer
The first time I laid my eyes on the Sculpture Park, I didn’t
exactly know what I was looking at. On a humid September day (like, really humid) in 2016, I had flown to Des Moines from San Luis Obsipo to visit my boyfriend, Zach, and we were en route to a giant red shovel next to Meredith’s headquarters when I spotted something else pretty cool on the way.
Showing me the highlights of downtown, he drove by a big patch of green, open space crawling with runners, baby strollers and people in their late 20s playing Pokemon Go. I was instantly in love. “What is this place?” I remember asking. “Oh, that? That’s the Sculpture Park,” he said like it was nothing. We drove on, parked at the giant red shovel and after using one of my Chacos as a tripod to delicately balance my iPhone for an Instagram-worthy shot, we scurried over to the park.
1Guided tours are available, but I’d recommend just goingwith the audio tour. 2From May through September, go on a Friday around noon so you can walk over and tour Meredith’s “secret garden.” 3When you’ve had all you can take, walk over to Black Cat Ice Cream. It’s usually open1 to 6 p.m. and closed Sundays and Mondays.(Try the red velvet Oreo if they have it.)I became a massive Sculpture Park advocate on this first trip to Des Moines: It’s my favorite place in the metro, and it’s just four blocks from my apartment. It’s always No. 1 on my must-see list when friends or family visit, and it’s never not a good time to walk around. (A recent excursion that involved snow up to my shin is proof that even in Des Moines’ tundra season, the Sculpture Park is worth a trip.) There’s Keith Haring, there’s an interactive rainbow adventure, and there are a ton of creepy sculptures (like a ghost girl who has no eyes and a spider with really long legs). Basically, there’s something for everybody. It’s like the Central Park of Des Moines — a city that really lacks any green space other than this 4.4-acre plot of land.
Officially called the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (no, not that Papa John), the space opened in September 2009, according to the Des Moines Art Center — a beautiful place with an eclectic collection (They have a Jeff Koons!) that will be featured in a future blog post — and has guided tours April through October. But, really, a guided tour isn’t necessary, especially if you’re visiting the city and don’t have a ton of extra time. Everything is easily accessible, there are informational plaques galore and an audio tour is also available. (A note: This post is more of an appreciation for the park than an exhaustive history. For that, check out this travel article from The New York Times or this page from the Des Moines Art Center.)
So grab your best henny (or your worst hennemy) and be prepared to make your Instagram followers gag for the gods when you start posting Boomerangs of/with some weird/cool sculptures.
(Right) “Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C)” by artist Keith Haring.
(Far right) A 2,400-pound bunny titled “Thinker on a Rock.”
got a little chilly
Dec. 29, 2017.
(Left) “Back of Snowman (White)” and “Back of Snowman (Black),” but I think they look more like salt and pepper shakers.
As I was wrapping up this post, something new was unveiled at the Sculpture Park: a polka-dotted pumpkin from famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The bronze piece, titled “Pumpkin Large,” is a big addition to a city like Des Moines. Kusama is recognized around the world for her unique style and something like this definitely adds credibility to Des Moines’ growing arts scene.
The “priestess of polka dots” first landed on my radar last year when I saw a post about her on Tumblr and then again when Instagram thots in Los Angeles began to take photos in one of her “infinity rooms.” As The Des Moines Register described: “Kusama’s work is perfect for Instagram. ... Pull out your phone and see for yourself.”
And trust me, I had every intention of posting this pumpkin on Instagram the moment it was installed. I lurked around the park all day as Des Moines Art Center staff worked to perfectly position the gourd in just the right place on its pedestal. A truck carrying the crane that lifted the heavy piece got stuck in the mud and by the time the pumpkin was officially unveiled, my boyfriend had left for work and I had to befriend an older lady in order to get my picture taken with it. (I was holding a book about how to live a modern witchy lifestyle, so I’m pretty sure she thought I was working on a curse.)
The photo below is not the photo the kind lady took. This photo was taken a week later when I begged Zach to stop the car on the way to the movie theater. (He’s a gem. Like a really pretty opal.)
in front of
Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin Large” on a bitterly cold evening in March. (My coat
is tossed on the ground outside
of the frame.)
Kusama’s almost 8-foot-tall pumpkin “was made in London, flown to Chicago and driven to Iowa,” according to The Des Moines Register, in a two-year journey to arrive at the Sculpture Park.
For the Japanese artist, creating a massive pumpkin wasn’t a crazy choice: She grew up around her family’s seed nursery in prewar Japan, and gourds are a recurring and beloved motif in her work.
“Pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. Pumpkins talk to me,” Kusama has said.
(I would absolutely give up my YMCA membership to see this Kusama exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. It tragically ends in April, and I won’t be passing back through Dallas until May.)
(Above) Standing inside “Nomade” on a snowy day, I couldn't resist creating a panorama.
If you haven’t been able to tell by now from the photos above and below, my favorite piece at the Sculpture Park is “Nomade” (completed in 2007 by Jaume Plensa).
It’s hard to stroll through or drive by on Locust Street without noticing this strange “27-foot-tall hollow human form made of a latticework of white steel letters.” (I’ve heard there’s a secret message hidden in plain sight, but I’ve yet to figure it out. Can anyone confirm or deny?)
This piece has quite the history. According to the Des Moines Art Center, it first appeared in Antibes, France, made its way to the Art Basel fair in Miami and was spotted and acquired by John and Mary Pappajohn for the Des Moines Sculpture Park.
(Below) Another photo with “Nomade.”
photo by Kelsey Kremer
Whether you’re new to the city, just passing through or you’ve lived here for a decade or more, I hope you enjoy the Sculpture Park as much as I have. I can definitely say it’s helped bring some sanity and calm to days when I’ve been stressed. There’s something incredibly soothing about art and the effect seems to be magnified when you’re strolling through an outdoor art museum.
If you go and end up with a gag-worthy Instagram photo, tag me (@BryScottD) so I can see!
Have fun exploring!
P.s. The Des Moines Register maintains this really handy interactive map if you want to see the exact placement of each sculpture and find out more about the ones not covered in this post.