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The Last Newspaper @ New Museum of Contemporary Art

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Visitor Newspaper Collage Board, 2010, via StoryCorps
Courtesy, New Museum of Contemporary Art

 

The Last Newspaper
Curated by Richard Flood and Benjamin Godsill

New Museum of Contemporary Art

235 Bowery

New York, New York 10002

October 6, 2010, through January 9, 2011


The New Museum’s The Last Newspaper addresses the ideological qualms and perks of a newspaper as it works through issues of “hierarchy, contextualization, attribution, and editorial bias…reaction and appropriation.” Newspapers are varied as shards from a broken glass, requiring both hefty fragments and dusty minutiae to re-assemble the initially intelligible form. Significant stories and opinions are historicized, providing springboards for discussion and fodder to ideological fires. In their reference to the past, they landmark information articulated by particular institutions, opinions, and biases; this ventriloquism has been a subject for artists since the 1960’s. The manipulation of newspapers allows artists to take command of headlines and wring them dry of their underhanded subtlety. The Last Newspaper debunks the objectivity of newspapers, allowing viewers to “wade through tides of information in order to find new ways of making the contemporary world legible.”


The first of three floors presents several underwhelming projects sponsored by the New Museum to investigate the process of publication and news-making. Although the press release promised a “constant flow of information-gathering and processing,” the room appeared sluggish, lonely, with shuffled papers on otherwise empty desks. In the center of the room, a corkboard of absurdist, metaphysical headlines generated by visitors revived the withering pulse. Tabloid photos coalesced with shoe advertisements, exemplifying the range of creativity in linking society's observations to what is "newsworthy." Wisps of productivity swirled from the Center for Urban Pedagogy’s (CUP) affordable housing display, a miry flow-chart with no explanation. Netlab’s “temporary newspaper,” tracking daily shifts in technology, is part of a “performance-based editorial residency” providing a funnel of discussion inside and outside of the gallery. The publication will be posted in public spaces around Manhattan, honoring a tradition dating as far back as the Roman Empire that allows for complete public digestion of the news. Latitudes’ curatorial team, on the other hand, reports the gallery’s symposia from start to finish and generates a tangible souvenir, an “instigator and connector.” The procedural insight into publications is missing; the journalistic brain-storm fizzles. At best, the projects reacquaint visitors with the basic values of a newspaper: constant informational flow, dedicated opinions, and ever-evolving vaults of data.

 


Nate Lowman, "Black and White and Read All Over", 2010
Mixed mediums on canvas
Courtesy, the artist and Maccarone, New York

 


The conceptual dud in the first floor’s foreground is accompanied by several exciting works of art on the surrounding walls that address reactions to context. Nate Lowman’s Black and White and Read All Over (2010) is the most recent piece in the exhibition, an acute reading of the modern newspaper. Lowman’s weekly, mixed media reflections highlight the artist’s rolling preoccupations and interests in the news. Pop-culture icons, visual and musical art, and exemplary easy living are in direct opposition to the more objective, vital information one associates with news. Catastrophic train crashes, explosions, and general havoc are included in Lowman’s collages, revealing the underbelly and unfortunate chance-happenings of the present. He honors the Corrections section in almost every collage. He recognizes the ability to rehash our own mistakes, to partake in competitive sports, and rarely grasp our full emotional range; it is in our nature regardless of how objective we attempt to be. Lowman elucidates the evolutionary process of tracking our unparalleled mental and physical capacities as humans. As an observation in hindsight, it unveils unavoidable complexities and contradictions. It is an honest record from a particular standpoint, the basest reduction of what news is.


Lowman reveals newspaper’s ability to empower information recommended for our time and valued for its interest and magnitude. Finite pages enforce a hierarchy of information, deeming certain subjects more newsworthy than others. The second floor of the exhibition addresses editorial bias, implacable omissions that warp what we assume to be truth. Andrea Bowers’ Eulogies to One and Another (2006) consists of two vignettes of text-drawings based upon downloaded articles from several well-known publications, political columnists and activists. The first vignette contains mournful words for Marla Ruzicka, an activist and fundraiser for innocent victims in Afghanistan and Iraq who was killed in a car-bombing in April 2005. Lamenting and heartfelt, many of the dismal texts run over a page with anecdotes about Ruzicka and her quelled aspirations. The second vignette contrasts publications’ mention of Faiz Ali Salim, Ruzicka’s co-worker who was also killed in the bombing. He is accorded mere sentences, shackled to Ruzicka’s legacy with no mention of his own ambitions, contributions, or even his profession. His death is a side-note to a more important storyline of an adorable, all-star twenty-eight year old blonde activist. Sarah Charlesworth’s Movie - Television – News – History, June 21, 1979 (1979) tracks the uprising of a movie-still documenting the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart at the hands of Nicaraguan guards. Initially filmed by a third party, a clip of Stewart’s murder made its way to television and the front page of the twenty-seven publications on display in Charlesworth’s piece. Both pieces exemplify the ability newspapers have to formulate news icons, personas skewed through repetition. Readers are wrangled with heavy headlines and expeditious characters speckled throughout newscasts like knights from a fantasy novel. These statues of culture often link to events or photographs, but not necessarily an equitable history. As a result historic occurrences are prostituted, sold to readers as a sexy insight into the world journalists have tempered.




Sarah Charlesworth, "Movie-Television-News-History, June 21, 1979", 1979
27 black-and-white prints
Courtesy, the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York


Investigating the protocol for a newspaper’s compilation means defining what is newsworthy and what is not. Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere contribute a thought-provoking piece entitled A Dutiful Scrivener (2010) on the generation of obituaries as told by Bill McDonald, the obituaries editor of the New York Times. McDonald fields a thorough interview about the initiation rites of post-mortem participants. The details of death are a small side note to the biography of the honoree, preserving the individual’s accomplishments and contribution to society. McDonald discusses the vault of prepared drafts, editions revised over sometimes up to twenty years (depending on the subject) after scavenging for lesser-known facts. The obituaries are a significant story-telling device, molding conceptions of the most important people in society whether they left positive or negative reverberations. They seem to be the epitome of archival news, littered with factual happenings despite hierarchical requirements. The choices are ultimately, however, informed decisions by the staff rather than polled opinions of the readers and thus inherently opinionated despite their objective mask. Kelley Walker’s silkscreen Untitled (2008) applies a wonky brick wall over a copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport. Primarily a soccer and motor-sport publication, Walker’s four-color process further obscures the headlines cloaked in Italian. A soccer score or injury report may interest the rest of the world, but American apathy on the subject coincides with Walker’s rectangular obstacles. Challenging the uniformity of "news," Walker accentuates the discord between what is fit to print on different sides of the planet.


Exploring the thematics of newspaper publication enforces a renewed understanding and subsequent distrust of truth. Expectations that news is completely objective, thorough, and transparent are unrealistic. In deconstructing the newspaper the New Museum allows the flaws of news in general, overflowing with special interests and monopolized thought, to writhe like a slug under salt. It is as easy to get lost in the misguidance of the Web as it is the tall-tales of FoxNews and humorous flightiness of The Onion. Outside of the issues of truth, The Last Newspaper exalts the artist searching for lost information, revisiting and parodying force-fed “facts.” We are “empowered to police (and become) the press,” challenged to become the forefront of our own awareness rather than rely on the latent injustices of those supplying the ticker headlines and updates.

 

"The Last Newspaper", 3rd floor Partnership Organizations, installation view, 2010
Courtesy, the artists and New Museum of Contemporary Art

 


"The Last Newspaper", 4th floor installation view, 2010
Courtesy, the artists and New Museum of Contemporary Art

 

 


Andrea Bowers, "Eulogies to One and Another", 2006
Graphite on paper
Courtesy the artist; Gallery Praz-Delavallade,Paris; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Maliszewski

Lynn Maliszewski is a freelance writer and aspiring curator/collector residing in New York City. She can be reached at l.malizoo@gmail.com


PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Norman (
www.benjaminnorman.com)

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