The New Museum's new print media-probing exhibition, The Last Newspaper (through January 9), with its end-times title—if there are no more newspapers, does news still happen?—taps into more than the radical restructuring of an industry with shrinking workforces and growing socio-political responsibilities. Curators Richard Flood and Benjamin Godsill, along with about ten participating artists and organizations—in addition to the 27 artists whose more or less finished pieces are included—also explore different possible mutations for news media, and turn a critical eye on the industry's recent output. The ambitiously unconventional exhibition brings together familiar art objects and what amounts to a functioning news room. This radical juxtaposition tends to favor the social hubs around the temporary newspaper offices on the museum's third floor, whereas other rooms feel sparse by comparison.
The two dominant threads throughout Newspaper are the extremely personalized and politicized interventions made into the very material of print media. These come together most playfully and cleverly in documents surrounding Emily Jacir's collaborative performance "SEXY SEMITE" (2000-02), for which she asked Palestinians to take out personal ads in the Village Voice looking for Jewish partners to get them home by taking advantage of Israel's Law of Return. In addition to the Voice issue in question, with planted personals circled—for instance, "You stole the land, may as well take the women!" and "Palestinian Semite in search of Jewish soul mate. Do you love milk & honey?"—the display includes articles in other publications puzzling over the strange ads. Many pieces in the show reach across this conceptual-performative-work on paper span, resulting in newsprint artifacts with often elaborate framing narratives. Hans Haacke's "News" (1969-2008), in which an old printer spews out reams of articles via an RSS feed like an old news ticker, is another successful piece, locating a predecessor to our contemporary data overload in the international wire services of the late 60s. "Depending what kind of settings we used," Flood noted during a media preview, "that piece could have filled the entire gallery in a few days." More like "The Ever-Lasting Newspaper."
These pieces and many others in the exhibition undermine the polemical tone of its title, proving there will always be uses for print media, and that newspapers will persist if not necessarily on paper. Much of the work hanging on the two main galleries' walls, though, features artists commenting on the content of daily papers. Andrea Bowers' "Eulogies to One and Another" (2006), for instance, reproduces in painstaking graphite drawings articles about the deaths of Maria Ruzicka, the American founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and Faiz Ali Salim, her Iraqi co-worker. In the first drawings full articles are depicted, while a second series highlights only the passages from those same articles that address Salim's death, pointing out the lopsided nature of the coverage and the implicit assumption that American lives are weighted more heavily by news media than Iraqis. Dash Snow's series of ejaculatory interventions on covers of the New York Post and Daily News in "Untitled" (2006) point out the often unabashed celebratory tone of coverage devoted to the downfall and capture of Saddam Hussein. More strictly visual, Adrian Piper's series of charcoal and crayon drawings on the New York Times, "Vanilla Nightmares" (1986), portray racial issues ignored or downplayed in the adjacent content and ads. On the ground and fifth floors, sculptural installations by William Pope L. and Thomas Hirschhorn, respectively, provide welcome counterpoints to the two-dimensional, newsprint tones of most of the other works on display.
Invariably, however, these at times imperceptibly subtle pieces—Adam McEwen's eerie pre-emptive neon yellow obit for Caster Semenya and Mike Kelley's hilarious short story newspaper mashups also merit mentioning—seem to almost detract from the experience of the thriving newsroom on the exhibition's main floor. Temporary offices for StoryCorps, The New City Reader, the Center for Urban Pedagogy and Latitudes will churn out publications throughout the run of the exhibition, including the latter's series Last Post, Last Gazette, Last Register and so on, doubling as an expansive exhibition catalog and covering related programing and issues. Already during the media preview, with dozens of visitors exploring the exhibition with armfuls of its fresh internal publications, museum doorways were covered in fingerprints of black newsprint ink, an interesting though presumably unintended added performative dimension to the show. Hopefully those fingerprints will be left to accumulate over the next three months.
The ability to contribute to the show's content and output through these overlapping social spaces by talking to writers, editors and designers is the exhibition's greatest strength. Its twin sensibilities to personal narratives and political issues come together in this venue that's part newsroom, part chatroom. It reflects the increasing hybridization of social media, news and cultural production that this exhibition localizes and exemplifies perhaps more effectively than any new media project to date. The next newspapers will look a lot like The Last Newspaper.
(images courtesy the New Museum)