Monthly Archives: November 2010

News musings

Let's Go Get 'Em!, Aleksandra Mir

I stopped in the New Museum to see what a bunch of smart, interesting minds would have to say about newspapers, but in the time I spent there I didn’t get too far past the observation expressed later that night at a gathering I attended: “Anyone who’s ever read a newspaper knows how silly they are, we don’t need an exhibit to tell us that.”

By “silly,” this observer (who happens to read a daily newspaper religiously) was really saying: Anyone who expects newspapers to be something other than what they are is fooling themselves. They are what they are. Seen through that lens, this exhibit was full of high expectations met with reactions you’ve heard before at the water cooler.

Compare the phenomenon of a daily newspaper to museum-quality questions, and it’s just too easy to be critical. Is it really news that newspapers focus on the interests of local readers and devote less attention to those who live elsewhere? That their interpretation of events don’t always hold up over time? That the stories in a given day are never complete? And that, sometimes, they are a cheap alternative to throw rugs? As someone who spent decades in the trenches of those questions and more, I didn’t find these observations particularly timely or fresh.

“The Last Newspaper” takes up three-plus floors of the New Museum (which, if you haven’t visited in a while, moved into new lodgings on the Bowery almost threeyears ago). It’s pretty ambitious stuff. I spent most of the time I had available checking out works from 27 artists that spanned a period from 1967 to 2010. But the project also puts five partner organizations (StoryCorps is one of them) to work conducting on-site discussions, compiling a weekly newspaper, and encouraging participation. Video, digital, audio and three-dimensional interpretations — they’re all here. Even the obligatory dresses made from newspapers. The dresses, by Thomas Hirschhorn, had me longing for Tim Gunn. (“Thomas. Talk to me.”)

Re-imagined news pages — photos repeated, text rerarranged, whole pages redrawn, superimposed with images and text — were everywhere. Font geek that I am, I loved seeing the elements of a newspaper page deconstructed and reconstructed, whether reverently or ir-. Wolfgang Tillmans incorporated documents, brochures, postcards and printouts on tabletops to evoke the messy, ongoing work of piecing together events and trying to make sense of it all. I was inexplicably enthralled by a video interview with the obituary editor of the New York Times (imagine a perfectly nice guy applying a chilling “sliding scale of importance” to the deceased).

But it was the works that juxtaposed personal, visceral reactions with the printed page that appealed to me. Judith Bernstein’s collages from 1968 and 1967, which play off clippings about civil rights and the Vietnam war, felt much more present to me. The smudged lines, urgent hand-written words and objects so clearly worn by human use give them a voice I welcomed. The “Vanilla Nightmares” series, Adrian Piper’s drawings-on-front-pages  from the 1980s, had the same effect on me: human forms and human emotions responding to the detached accounts on the page. It’s a comment on race that doesn’t try to be clever.

Are You Running With Me Jesus?, Judith Bernstein, 1967

It’s never a bad thing to apply critical (and creative) thinking to the media, especially the under-danger-of-extinction mainstream media. And it can be bracing to watch artists respond to the news itself. But the thinking here didn’t move me forward in any particularly helpful way. Surely, newspapers — or the idea of them — are worth more than retrospective criticism?

Looking over my notes from that visit, I see I scratched down more thoughts about the second-floor exhibition, “Free,” which looked at the Internet as a public art space. It had me stretching my mind to reconcile that big morph we’re all experience as we wade from the old news streams into the new (well, some of us are still wading). The truths that can come out of randomness, the disappearing line between the observer an the observed, the dissolving filter between occurrence and interpretation — now there’s something newsworthy. I think the New Museum buried the lead.

“The Last Newspaper” is open through Jan. 9. This blog post also appears on Art City, the visual arts blog at JSOnline.

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Filed under Musings, Objects & art

Shocking and amazing! Roadside attractions in the Driftless area

A windowful of antlers in Viola. Or LaFarge.

As I’ve documented before, I do a lot of driving around during my weekends in southwest Wisconsin. This past weekend, we had two friends along and decided to take a different route, heading to Viola and La Farge. Three times during the trip, we told our driver: STOP! TURN AROUND! (He is a patient man.)

STOP! Time Number One: An Antler Installation in Viola (actually, we now can’t recall, it might have been La Farge — anyone out there know?). Someone had converted empty storefront windows in an empty building to a vast collection of hunting trophies. That’s a lot of bucks. And yes, hunting season had begun in this part of the state.

Really, really big squash on Rte. 61, near Mt. Zion.

STOP! Time Number Two: A lineup of gigantor squash set out along Rte. 61. I think they might have been hubbard squash, but at this size who knows? For the record, sticking my head inside one of them was a little smelly.

We didn’t get a photo of STOP! Time Number Three, which happened when Deborah spotted a beautiful Siamese case in an alley, and made our Patient Driver stop so she could roll down the window and coo at it.

(Photos by John Koethe)


Filed under Going Driftless, Images

Office Supply Moment: Writersblok notebooks

This Office Supply Moment is dedicated to my friend Deborah, a fellow Office Supply Addict. I am indebted to her for her Office Supply wisdom.

I found these little notebooks in Posman Books at Chelsea Market during my NYC visit. I love them because:

* They are slim and lightweight. They easily fit into a purse, inside jacket, or jeans pocket, and have a reasonable number of pages. The smallest is 5.5″ by 3.5″ and the largest are 10″ by 7.5″.

* They are extremely afforable (my 3-pack of the medium graphed pages cost $7).

* They are nicely crafted, with a stitched binding and a handy little pocket in the back and yet they’re designed to be used. Unlike some notebooks, which are pricer and more Highly Crafted, they invite you to use them. Some notebooks say I AM MADE FOR GRAND THOUGHTS. These say, Hey, let’s hang out!

* 2% of sales from this line goes to literacy-related programs around the country. A little piece of paper slipped into my notebooks said that one place being supported is 826NYC “here in New York City,” a nonprofit that helps young people with writing skills.

* They come in several choices of page styles — lined, graphed, dotted or blank.

* Some are made from bamboo.

* They are supple and easily flatten when you’re writing in them.

Here’s a link:

And that is my Office Supply Moment.


Filed under Office Supplies