DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shock of the News

Newspaper Reader (1909) by Lyonel Feininger
It is a painting at once timed and timely. Lyonel Feininger's "Newspaper Reader (1909)" is the introductory visual visitors encounter when they enter the exhibition Shock of the News, now at the East Gallery of the National Gallery of Art.  In the painting, pedestrians of Weimar, Germany stride the streets perusing their papers, as oblivious to their surroundings as smart-phone users are today.The curators believe the image captures a common symptom of mass media modern culture - a heightened desire to stay on top of unfolding events, to be "in the loop."

Recently, gallery official Will Scott conducted a walk-and-talk tour of the exhibition, which explores more than 60 artists' responses to news and newspapers over the past 100 years.

The Dali News
Scott said that those connections basically fall into 3 categories. First, there are examples of how artists "used newspapers for their own purposes and take advantage of their popularity."  On display is a copy of
Dali News, a takeoff on the term Daily News, in which surrealistic artist Salvador Dali published fanciful, made-up articles about himself  "to keep his name in front of the public."

A second category features works by artists who "transformed newspapers and newsprint and disregarded the main purpose of communication," Scott said. For example, Pablo Picasso used fragments of real newspapers in his collages. One of the interesting side effects of such an approach is that newsprint is ephemeral and not made to last. Thus, over time, the newsprint gradually yellows, creating a different image than the one first constructed.

The Critic by Arthur Dove
In addition, art critics and viewers can debate the reasons why artists included the pieces of text they did. "Did the text have meaning? That's fun to ferret out," Scott said.

Finally, there are examples of where artists created works to "utilize the status of newspapers to make social comment," Spark said. "They raise large questions about mass communication and society. Or they can ask how do we understand our world through media and mass communication?"

One of the more intriguing examples of that category was "The Critic (1925)" by Arthur Dove. In that work, Dove used an article actually published by art critic Royal Cortisonne as the body for a figure with a top hat, but no head, who is on roller skates and holding a vacuum cleaner. The accepted interpretation of that work is that Dove was spoofing Cortisonne for being an empty-headed critic, speeding from New York art gallery to gallery to get rid of what he had called "the waste of modernist art."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you have any interest in journalism or in how artists from Picasso to Andy Warhol treated the idea of the print media, you should check out Shock of the News. The exhibit is running until Jan. 27.

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