Visionary planners made sure that their prized art collection would be given a worthy home when they commissioned world-famous architect Eliel Saarinen to design the Des Moines Art Center in the 1940s. In the mid-60s and mid-80s, two more exceptional architects made their mark on this structure atop a hill in Greenwood Park.
A few steps into the lobby, galleries unfold straight ahead and to the left. Traditional wood floors and pale walls provide a neutral background for paintings, prints and three-dimensional works in the original Saarinen wing. Rough poured cement in the I.M. Pei wing and smooth porcelain tile in the Richard Meier addition supply contrasting backgrounds for a wide variety of sculptures and art objects. Curators keep selections fresh by supplementing the permanent collection with eye-popping temporary exhibitions. Most weekdays here are quiet; docents in every gallery watch over the fragile art and are available to answer questions. A small lunch cafe overlooks a sculpture courtyard with reflecting pool.
Much of the center’s appeal lies in its lush park setting, where visitors can explore rose gardens and outdoor sculptures, or wander down the hill to a pond and rustic amphitheater. Best of all, admission is free.