This Just In! Breaking News Exhibit at the Getty Museum
If you’re a political junkie like myself, you’ve probably grown accustomed to seeing that “breaking news” graphic fixed at the bottom of the television screen broadcasting your favorite cable news show. It often frames the non-threatening, better-than-average looking newscasters we’ve come to “know” and “trust” over the years. The color and size of the icon changes ever so slightly depending on the network but nevertheless it remains on the screen signaling the audience to lean forward and pay closer attention. Whether it’s the latest terrorist attack or executive order being announced via Twitter, it’s as if all news has become indiscriminately “breaking.” The frenetic pace at which information is consumed and shared in this current political climate has made it more difficult to discern fact from fiction.
Thanks to the World Wide Web, we are routinely bombarded with violent images of war, natural disaster devastation, and sexual promiscuity with such frequency we as a society have become desensitized to it all. According to the United States Dept. of Commerce, in 2015 the U.S. M&E (media and entertainment) market industry grossed $632 billion and is projected to reach $771 billion by 2019. Needless to say, the business of news is big business—wielding a tremendous amount of influential power that ultimately shapes society’s perception of current affairs.
A new exhibit at the Los Angeles Getty Museum called Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media features the work of 17 artists who’ve repurposed and recontextualized iconic newspapers, magazines, broadcast clips and photos from the last 50 years. With over 200 pieces to see highlighting contentious subjects like the Vietnam War or the ruination of President Richard Nixon, the viewer gains insight to a political and personal commentary being communicated through the art. “I think good art is always about something difficult,” says Getty curator Arpad Kovacs in an interview with Morning Edition’s Susan Stamberg. “Good art is about sort of challenging the status quo and making a statement.”
Of course, images such as the dead three-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach still have the power to shake us to our collective core, but in general, our apathy can be attributed to our exposure. The exhibit examines the lead up to our current social media induced numbing —a time in our history before everyone with a smart phone was considered a photojournalist. Breaking News artists confront the chasm between the highly presentational business of reporting the news and the reality of historical events that actually made the news. These polarizing controversies didn’t always fit into the desired optics of good ole American public relations. “These artists have juxtaposed, mimicked, and appropriated media elements to transform ephemeral news into lasting works of art.” (Getty website).
Though I found the entire exhibition to be compelling and thought provoking, I particularly enjoyed the work of these three artists.
Politically, I have always been fascinated by the 1960s. In a time when our country was caught in a crucible of change, Donald Blumberg started taking photographs of his television. He photographed evening news programs like Face the Nation where public officials such as Lyndon Johnson, George Wallace and Richard Nixon would appear as guests. “Using a variety of darkroom techniques, including reversing tonalities through negative printing and utilizing multiple negatives to create a single print, he abstracted details and emphasized repetition of content.” (Getty Museum). Two series came out of this year long project called Television Abstractions, 1968-1969 and Television Political Mosaics, 1968-1969. I found the blurry collage of Richard Nixon’s image in manipulated exposure to be chillingly metaphoric. Imbedded in the blurred likeness of the 1968 presidential candidate is a subtext pointing to the equally fuzzy morality he possessed which infamously lead to his downfall.
“Martha Rosler’s series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967) was conceived and produced as a set of collages during the height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. As the first major armed conflict to be broadcast on television, and as Americans witnessed atrocities in their own homes, it became known as the ‘living-room war.’” (Getty Museum) Rosler brilliantly created mash-ups between two realities that were seemingly worlds apart but politically tethered. The result forced awareness and engagement—challenging those so inclined to put war out of sight and out of mind. Long gone are the days of the Great War Effort during World War II, when America rolled up its sleeves as a nation in the spirit of mutual sacrifice and patriotic camaraderie. That same aloof lack of involvement Rosler was commenting on in her 1967 House Beautiful retrospective seems to characterize the current attitudes of many Americans today. Without 15 years of live broadcast footage from the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars coming into our living rooms on a consistent basis, how can we fully grasp the totality of the cost of war? It’s as if our nation stopped asking what role the civilian plays during war times. What is appropriate civilian sacrifice?
The text underneath the picture reads:
“In a secluded vacation spot, privacy isn’t a problem, so you go all out with glass, for view, light, and visual spaciousness. Simple or no-pattern coverings, soft colors, and small-scale furnishings add to illusion of size. Blue of the ceiling and brown of the beams extend through the glass walls to the eaves from living room to the outdoors.”
Ever since Walter Cronkite stoically removed his black thick-rimmed glasses to break the news of JFK’s death to America in 1963, news anchors have enjoyed their own celebrity status. While a nation grieved over an assassinated presidential hero, Uncle Walter was born. Cronkite like so many after him have earned viewers trust and admiration for being reliable news ambassadors responsible for translating and making sense of important information we need to know. Photographer Robert Heinecken became fascinated by the enthusiasm surrounding televised news during the mid-1980s, which also saw a spike in the public interest of reporters in general. I really gravitated towards Heinecken’s 1984 A Case Study in Finding an Appropriate Newswoman (A CBS Docudrama in Words and Pictures). “For this multipanel work, the artist captured photographs of individual newscasters from the television screen, then made composite images by printing two negatives on one sheet, and added text detailing a fictitious effort by the CBS Network to create the ideal newscaster,” (Getty Museum).
Honorable Mention: ALFREDO JAAR
I highly recommend seeing this exhibit before it closes on April 30th 2017. Not only is visiting the Getty Museum a treat in itself (a white-stoned city on a hill with gorgeous gardens to wander through and a tasty restaurant to grab lunch at) the show is super informative as well as interactive.
Location: 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049
Hours of Operation: Mon- closed, Tues-Fri & Sun 10am to 5:30pm, Sat 10am to 9pm
Parking: $15 ($10 after 3:00pm) to park in the Getty Parking Structure. However, they do have a designated area for Uber and Lyft drop offs.