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Fire & Rain — the new media?

Medium is the message. Marshall MacLuhan’s old mantra is frequently chanted these days as wireless streaming threatens just about every medium that preceded it. While newspaper and newsstand magazine sales dropped more than 9 percent this year, Meredith and Gannett continued a controlled burn of old media jobs. And with brilliant timeliness, “News & Nightmares” reminds us that there’s really nothing new under the sun. The Des Moines Art Center’s new show of wood engravings uses stunning works, by two cutting edge artists from the 19th century, to bracket the history of one short lived medium that enabled all kinds of new forms of art — including recycled art.

The medium is examined from the heyday of Winslow Homer’s career as a Civil War magazine illustrator through the moral rot of Max Ernst’s lost generation between the world wars. The show’s Ernst works include an illustrated book called “A Week of Kindness, or the Seven Deadly Elements.” This surrealist masterpiece is a novel without a plot.

“Yet it’s still so compelling it has become a cult thing,” explained curator Amy Worthen, who found a rare copy of the book and persuaded the Art Center to buy it. This long lost medium still moves viewers with an exhibition that investigates the nature and substance of cruelty — from the political and physical cruelties in Homer’s Civil War to the imagined mental cruelties that fascinated the Dadaists and Surrealists of Ernst’s day. Through June 13.

Drake’s Anderson Gallery is hosting a multimedia exhibit in which medium is not only the message, it’s also the subject, the sub text and the subliminal connection to super human ecosystems. “To know the land” is also very fine art. Scott Robert Hudson’s piece de resistance is a film about a fire sculpture he built near LaPorte City last autumn — eight-foot tall towers of willow, cedar and river dead fall with bison skulls enclosed. Photographing from several angles, the former U.S. Forest Service firefighter played with the hottest of all media.

“Fire creates its own weather; it turns atmospheres inside out. It never behaves the same way twice,” Hudson explained.

Also in this show: Hudson’s “Western Juniper Lava Beds” shows an intricate attention to detail rarely seen in watercolors anywhere; Painted sculptures of 20 bison skulls, plus a shadow dancing, hanging sculpture of a painted horse’s head all pay homage to the war paints of the Iowa Indian chief White Cloud, as depicted by George Catlin; A sculpture of shot gun shells, Acoma pottery shards and beaver skulls reflect on the nature of war; Wood carvings and bobcat brush drawings reveal an artist tuned in to both the media and methods of ancient artisans working the same territory. Through Feb. 28.

At the Des Moines Botanical Center, photojournalist John Gaps III uses his medium to examine the nature of water. Abstractions from his lens play with H2O droplets in various stages of evaporation where each gaseous bubble reflects full prism globes. Different shots catch flood water on asphalt, water on windshields, floating lilies, melting ice on sheet metal, boat fuel frozen under early river ice, crepuscular light reflected off flood water, and a hail damaged pickup truck simulating Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Through March 31.

Des Moines writer John Domini has long been paying dues in myriad forms of the literary medium. Now he’s collecting some residuals. Last year Domini won a Major Artist Grant from Iowa Arts Council and the runner-up prize for Italy’s Domenico Rea Award, for his novel “Earthquake I.D.” Last month his new novel “Tomb on the Periphery” was selected one of the top nine international books by the London Book Festival in England. “Tomb” was then contracted for translation, a Domini short story was included in the prestigious anthology “Paraspheres 2,” one of his essays in the anthology “Papa Ph.D.,” and two of his poems for “Poetic Voices without Borders,” which will be published next month. CV


Caption: Scott Hudson’s fire sculpture. Photo by Bill Witt


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