New art gallery announced for downtown space


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Pending an early fall opening date, the renovation to a historic downtown property that has played host to a department store and rowdy college town bar will be complete.

The Des Moines-based Steven Vail Fine Arts will open a new 800-square-foot “Project Room” gallery in September. The company also operates a location in Des Moines’ East Village. The Iowa City location will join FilmScene and Velvet Coat in the recently renovated Packing & Provision Co. Building, 118 E. College St.

Developer Marc Moen purchased the building in 2011 and told the DI in a May 16 interview that he has invested more than $1.5 million in the downtown structure.

Gallery founder Steven Vail said that Iowa City and the University of Iowa communities are an attractive market to him because of their cosmopolitan feel, which he likens more to Europe than Iowa.

Vail has exhibited American and European modern and contemporary prints and works on paper since 2009 at his Des Monies location. The exhibits have included the works of such high-profile artists as Damien Hirst, Willem de Kooning, and Chuck Close.

Vail said he sees his gallery as a complementary addition to the current Iowa City art-gallery scene.

“There are quite a few galleries there,” he said. “They tend to show regional or local artists, and they do an excellent job at that. We do something different. We show international artists, and most everyone we represent are in major museums around the world.”

Amy Dobrian, the jewelry manager and buyer at Iowa Artisans Gallery, 207 E. Washington St., said that an additional downtown gallery will be a positive addition to the downtown art community.

“I think the more art we can bring to downtown the better,” she said. “We find that the more there is to look at, the more people come around to look at all the galleries.”

Vail said “Project Room” will work with FilmScene to coordinate film screenings and said it will provide context for gallery exhibits, while the exhibits will lend the same for the films.

For Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird, the addition of the “Project Room” gallery represents an integration of building tenants that’s become a growing trend in downtown Iowa City.

“What’s really special about the art gallery is that it’s in a location that also mixes with film and also mixes with traditional retail,” she said. “It’s the interaction of those pieces and the interaction of people coming in and out of that building that’s pretty special.”

Vail said his first exhibit for the new gallery is tentatively called Art & Archetecture, a conversation about how design and architecture intersect with art.

“It really seems timely,” he said. “It seems like there’s conversations going on in Iowa City about what architecture should be or what it shouldn’t be, and I think it’s a good fit.”

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