Tasked with condensing popular cultural and global happenings into something easily consumable, it's no wonder that mass media has provided artists with a rich source of raw material throughout the course of art history. Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media, an ongoing exhibition at the Getty Museum in LA, chronicles 50 years of major artists using media as impactful material to be appropriated within their own works.
The exhibition focuses on artwork that uses print and televised media, purposely leaving out works that incorporate the internet due to the sheer scope of this category, but also due to the highly scattered nature of this media. Before news became primarily consumed over the internet, television, magazines, and newspapers allowed for a more centralized form of consumption; more people engaged with the same exact stories and images, as opposed to today's decentralized model promoted by online news.
A portion of the works on view deal with the Vietnam War and the controversial role of media in the conflict. Excerpts from Martha Rosler's iconic series Bringing the War Home, print collages that seamlessly integrate brutal images of the distant conflict into aristocratic images of luxury house interiors, both sourced from the same editions of Life magazine.
Donald R. Blumberg's prints are blown-up newspaper excerpts during the Vietnam era, highlighting different types of absurdities, from one publication's attempt to highlight the supposedly humane conditions of a battalion served "milk flown from Hawaii" and shown "movies nearly every night", to a stark story from the Daily News of an American soldier massacring Vietnamese children.
Breaking News' moves through time to the War on Terror with artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's collaborative book War Primer 2. A spin on Bertolt Brecht's photobook from World War II, the contemporary iteration superimposes popular images from the War on Terror often with a complex story behind them, like a digitally manipulated image of missile heads that was erroneously published around the world onto the original images in Brecht's photobook.
The timeliness of the exhibition seems almost magical in light of the sea of alternative facts and widespread political turmoil. Breaking News is the result of several years of planning by Getty Museum curator Arpad Kovacs, precipitated by the Getty Museum's acquisition of a work by Sarah Charlesworth in 2013. Along with important works using media by Robert Heinecken and Donald Blumberg in the collection, Kovacs realized he had something great on his hands. The well-timed nature of the exhibition was simply a magical coincidence.
Kovacs tells the Creators, "Artists have been looking at the news for decades, and I think a show like this would always be current because there's a sort of critical commentary element in looking at the news."
Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media will be on view at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles until April 30, 2017.