Getty Center, Los Angeles, December 20, 2016 – April 30, 2017
Getty Center’s Department of Photography presents an exhibition Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media. The exhibition introduces a variety of artists that have used newspapers, magazines and televised news programs as inspiration and material to their work. Their take and comments on the exponentially grown mass media have been curated into an exhibition that speak out on the topics from Vietnam War in the 1960s to the “War on terror” in the 2000s. “Through photographs and videos these artists have juxtaposed, mimicked, and appropriated media elements to transform ephemeral news into lasting works of art.”
My personal favorite in the exhibition was Martha Rosler’s series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967). Rosler created photo collages in which she overlapped glossy images of the idyllic American dream, cut out from Life magazines, with desperate photographs from the Vietnam War.
The War in Vietnam in the 1960s was the first one to be broadcasted in television. It became known as the “Living-room War” as Americans followed the procession of the war from their own homes. Martha Rosler comments on this jarring juxtaposition on the effects of the Vietnam War in the everyday life of the opponents: Americans living comfortably in their peaceful suburbs and the misery of Vietnamese people living amidst the battlefield.
Her images are beautiful in a twisted way. Frightened Vietnamese man carrying his dead child is placed into a wealthy American living-room or an American house wife is vacuuming the curtains of a window that opens a view to a battlefield in Vietnam. These works of art portray accurately how different it is to be a part of a war through television receiver to have your home under bomb attack. People in Vietnam did not have the opportunity to escape the war by simply just turning off the TV.
Rosler uses mixed media, mostly photographs and magazine cut outs, to create her collage art work. In her work she continuously raises questions on national security and connecting life at home with the war overseas.
Another body of work i found particularly interesting was Alfredo Jaar's Untitled (Newsweek) (1995) in which he photographed the cover page of Newsweek magazine for 17 weeks during the height of genocide in Rwanda. He placed the magazine cover pictures with the numbers of those death in Rwanda during that week.
Through his work Jaar creates a channel for critical commentary on the ways media outlets utilize images to shape public understanding of stories.
The images were placed side by side into long continuous line on the wall so that the viewer would almost like walk along a timeline as the number of fatalities in Rwanda raises. It is thought provoking to realize that while there are 50,000 people that died in an African country a magazine cover for American Newsweek presents vitamins in it's front page. The magazine covers vary in subject matters of cultural, social, or political concern in the United states.
The genocide ended in July after Tutsi rebels gained control of Rwanda. A month later, as Untitled (Newsweek) documents, the magazine featured its first cover story on one of the world’s greatest humanitarian tragedies. The cover reads, “Hell on Earth: Racing Against Death in Rwanda.”
The covers of magazines do not speak for a publication’s entire reportage, but they are snapshots of what a particular society or readership deems important. Untitled (Newsweek) reminds viewers that the news media’s attention to and representation of the world is driven primarily by market forces.
All in all, this exhibition was cleverly constructed and comprehensive look on the art made as critique for the age of mass media. Artists started to question the authority of the news media and the truthfulness of its images. They were concerned about the different ways in which news is manipulated and interpreted according to the surrounding context.
This seems to be an ever-current topic that we should all pay much more attention to. Mass media has immense amount of power in shaping the publics perception on world and forming opinions. It's more important than ever to acknowledge this and to actively evaluate the validity of the information that is been brought to us everyday by countless accounts