Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Maybe I'm naive, but I don't associate haute cuisine with Des Moines. Leave it to my husband, however, to scout out a restaurant with a chef who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Midwest, which is a pretty big deal (especially to my husband).

First impressions were good. I liked the name--"Proof"--and the unassuming location in a brown brick building next to a sculpture park was very nice.

The presentation of the food plays a huge part in upscale restaurants like this one. If you do it right, you can pass off a very thin slice of cucumber wrapped around a thin bit of salami as an actual course and charge a lot of money for it:
 It's hard to go wrong with a cheese plate:
. . . followed by a delicious blend of prosciutto and artichokes:
However, not only was the duck confit (left) ugly, but it didn't taste very good. The pork belly (right) was a little better looking but only a little better tasting:
Tender, flavorful, Spanish-grilled ribeye with three unique dipping sauces was the dish that made the visit worth our time:

The perfect pairing for these artistic dishes at Proof was the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, located right next door. Open since 2009, this 4.4 acre park contains an assortment of 24 sculptures by internationally renowned artists. The total value of the art exceeds $40 million, making this one of the premiere sculpture parks in the nation. The works were donated by the art collectors for whom the park is named. (John Pappajohn made his millions as a venture capitalist.)

Having just eaten, we figured it was good to begin with Five Plate Pentagon (1986) by American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra (born 1938), known for working with sheet metal:

Untitled (1994) by American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) reminds me of a piece of artillery--of maybe of a dog begging for a treat:

I saw another one of these bronze horses at the Portland Art Museum. The American artist, Deborah Butterfield (born 1949), has made more than 1,000 over the course of her career. They look like they are made of driftwood, and in a way they are. Butterfield starts by assembling the structure with pieces of scrap wood. Then she photographs her work, takes it apart, and sends the wood pieces to the foundry to be cast in bronze. She then reassembles the pieces and paints them to look like weathered wood. This first one is entitled Juno (1989):
. . . and this one, created twenty years later, is Ancient Forest (2009):

Thinker on a Rock (1997) by Welsh artist Barry Flanagan (1941-2009) is a whimsical combination of Roger Rabbit and Auguste Rodin's The Thinker. When the Pappajohns commissioned this sculpture, they had Flanagan make a second one for the National Gallery of Art:

Judith Shea (American, born 1948) also references Auguste Rodin in her sculpture Post Balzac (1990). The Rodin sculpture of Balzac showed the novelist wearing the dressing gown he often wore when he was writing, but the focus was on Balzac's face. Shea's gown is empty, possibly symbolizing a 20th century shift from inner meaning to outer appearances:

Spider (1997) is by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a French-American artist. Believe it or not, this and other similar sculptures of spiders represent the artist's mother and are often titled Maman, the French word for "mother." Bourgeois's mother was a weaver who repaired tapestries for a living, and so this is a friendly spider, like Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. I've seen another, much larger Bourgeois spider (32 feet tall) in Rippongi Hills in Tokyo:

In the Morning (1986) by Englishman Anthony Caro (1924-2013) shows a woman getting into or out of a bath:

Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone (born 1964) created twelve of these heads to represent the Man in the Moon. The two in the park, Moonrise, January and Moonrise, August, are wonderfully kooky--Easter Island meets The Smurfs:

Behind the two Men in the Moon is a gnarled aluminum tree entiteld air gets into everything even nothing (2006), also by Ugo Rondinone:
The tree was cast from a 2,000-year-old olive tree in the countryside near Naples:

Gary Hume (born 1962) sculpted Back of Snowman (White) and Back of Snowman (Black) in 2002. They are affectionately known as "Salt and Pepper" or "The Chess Pieces." John Pappajohn had seen the white snowman and commissioned a second one in black to represent diversity:

This big chunk of what looks like obsidian is actually a bronze Reclining Figure by Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997):

This next piece by British sculptor Tony Cragg (born 1949), entitled Order (1989), is difficult to define. It looks a little like boxing gloves, or maybe a pair of dirty socks. Each piece is a hollow vessel. Apparently the artist once worked as a lab technician, and these pieces draw from the structure of the extinct arthropods called trilobites:

If you are familiar with Japanese manga (comic strips) and anime (cartoons), this 12-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture entitled White Ghost (2010) by Japanese artist Yashitomo Nara (born 1959) will look familiar:

Chinese-born Italian-American artist Marco Polo Di Suvero (born 1933) gave this steel piece the creative title T8 (1985). Can you tell the artist once was a construction worker?

I'm trying to figure out why this steel doorway by American Tony Smith (1912-1980) is entitled Marriage (1961). Any ideas?

Three Dancing Figures (version C) (1989) by American Keith Haring (1958-1990) seems fairly simple--primary colors, flat surfaces:
But as I walked around, I realized how complex it is. Haring designed the sculpture in 1989, but it wasn't actually built until the Pappajohns commissioned it almost 20 years after the artist died of AIDS.

The sculpture that most dominates the park is the three-story-tall Nomade (2006) by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa (born 1955). Made of steel letters, it is a good representation of man in the information age. Several years ago we saw the brother of this sculpture, Alchemistat MIT

Such an amazing park! And did I mention that it is free??? Every city needs generous patrons like the Pappajohns!


  1. I must admit the sculpture park was pretty cool. And Des Moines, Iowa, really has a lot going for it, you've just given us Proof of that.

  2. What an amazing variety of art! I had no idea Butterfield made so many bronze horses.