Breaking News

We are all familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “The medium is the message”; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center offers the chance for us to reassess this, with a curated show of museum artworks dating back to the early days of when we began to notice the media “strings showing” for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, it’s an unashamed embrace given to old-school media analysis, featuring seminal work from the sixties onwards. The Vietnam War, of course, plays a major part in this (the first time that the realities of war where ever brought home to an American public used to being protected from too graphic collateral imagery from previous conflicts); but the exhibition moves ever forward; through the Reagan years; to media (non) coverage of the terrors of the Rwandan genocide; right up to that iconic photograph of Obama and Clinton hunkered down in the White House operations room.

All of these eras pass through the objectifying gaze of artists, who appropriate, juxtapose, manipulate, subvert and decode media constructions. It’s no surprise that, as a historical survey show, it features the likes of Dara Birnbaum, Antoni Muntadas, Robert Heinecken, Donald Blumberg and Alfredo Jaar.

According to the Getty press release:

Photographs have helped shape people’s perceptions of current events since the late-nineteenth century. The ubiquity of newspapers, magazines, and televised news during the mid-twentieth century gave rise to the modern mass media culture, eventually spawning critical discourse from a variety of perspectives.

“The timeliness of this exhibition could not be greater. With the recent election still at the forefront of national and international news, it is timely to showcase how contemporary artists have, over recent decades, focused on mass media as a rich source of provocative subject matter that reveals its agendas even as it insists on its objectivity,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “In their need both to represent and to give meaning to their subjects, art and journalism have much in common, and can even feed off each other, as this exhibition demonstrates.”

It’s a riveting exhibition; that spans the faces of our times (Donald Blumberg’s Television Abstractions, 1968-1969 (1968-69) and Television Political Mosaics, 1968-1969 (1968-69), feature politicians Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George Wallace as seen on evening broadcasts); the events of our time (Jaar’s artwork Searching for Africa in LIFE (1996), collects every cover of Life magazine from 1936 onwards; only five covers in this period ever featured the continent of Africa…); and even nods to the rapid increase of 24-hour news cycles (Catherine Opie’s In and Around Home, displays rapidly-increasing hand-held Polaroids taken of news events on her television screen, between 2004 and 2005).

In a time when both TV and newspapers seems in thrall to “shock and awe” political theatrics; and we are now contemplating the terrifying but apparently real existence of “alternative facts”; this could not be a timelier mediation on the prism of how we mainline our politics through the organs of the media.

Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media, is on view until April 30, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Can’t hop on the 405 to see the show? Check out this excellent bit on NPR by Susan Stamberg :

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