When the New York Times Becomes Art
In this age of alternative facts, we’re increasingly aware that the news can be manipulated like any other malleable material. FLAG Art Foundation’s latest exhibition, “The Times,” drives that point home in presenting the work of more than 80 artists who incorporate physical (and ideological) aspects of the New York Times. On view through August 11th, the show explores how the self-pronounced “paper of record” has shaped both the scope of world history and our own daily lives.
“We started planning this show two years ago with a shortlist of 12 to 15 artists who we knew had historically used newspapers in their practice,” says Jonathan Rider, associate director of FLAG. “But in the wake of the election, we decided to do it as soon as possible.” To be sure, the importance of—and contention around—news media has only grown since Trump moved into the Oval Office. The president took to Twitter in February to lambast his critical naysayers as the “enemy of the American people” and his administration has even gone so far as to bar major outlets (including the apparently “failing” New York Times) from a White House press briefing.
According to Rider, once his team started putting plans for the show in motion, they were shocked to uncover more and more artists using the newspaper in their practices. By the time the list of artists had expanded to 50, FLAG decided to announce an open call for submissions, which garnered over 400 responses that were pared down within a few weeks. “We got submissions from artists living in the middle of the country who have never really shown anywhere before, as well as from artists living in New York who are showing at top galleries,” he says. (Roughly half of the works included in the exhibition are a result of the open call.)
“The Times” opens with
Yet the Gray Lady can’t always be relied upon to be a faithful mirror of history or public opinion, a theme on which many of the works on view riff. Take, for example, The New York Crimes, a 1989 performance by the HIV/AIDS activist art collective
Gran Fury may have roguishly posed as Times writers, but artist
Colman isn’t the only journalist with work in “The Times.” Longtime art critic Paul Laster dispenses with words entirely in his collage Tracer (1991) and focuses instead of the advertisements found in the New York Times Magazine, which he skillfully lifts and transfers using 3M Scotch tape. According to the artist, he was always attracted to how the pages were spatially laid out, if not what they said. “I would go around the West Village, where my wife and I were living at the time, on the night that everyone would put out their week's newspapers and magazines,” he says. “I’d find multiple issues of the NYT Magazine with pages of red, yellow, blue and other delightful colors.”
The objecthood of history is also embodied in
One curious oversight in “The Times” is that it barely addresses the growing digital presence of the illustrious paper it so robustly seeks to explore, especially since the overwhelming majority of the population now consumes its news online now. (Indeed, the Times has seen such an uptick in digital engagement that it recently announced a slew of buyouts and layoffs, including the elimination of a Public Editor in favor of a crowdsourced watchdog collective shaped by online readers and commenters.) Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum by Times critic Roberta Smith, is one of the few works in the show that engage with the paper’s web presence. “The days of clipping out a Friday review for your press book are long gone, along with some of the prestige,” he says. “The Times isn’t what it once was.”
A performance by PlayLab, however, manages to translate the online news experience into a physical one. Every Thursday afternoon for the run of the exhibition, a member of the collective will sit atop a stationary bike positioned near the gallery entryway from where they will chuck a rolled up copy of that day’s paper at visitors as they come in. “We’re playing on the idea that you’re getting shit thrown at you all day long, every day, digitally,” says PlayLab co-founder Archie Lee Coates IV. “It seems like it would be weird to have an exhibition about the New York Times and not have the news just flung at you.”