‘Breaking News’ Presents Works That Transform Mass Media Into Art

Art is what we do, said renowned anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, while culture is what is done to us. An exhibit opening at the Getty Center in December presents what artists see when they look at culture in the form of mass media. “Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media,” features the work of 17 artists who, instead of creating the proverbial “news you can use,” have used the news to create their reflection of the world.

For example, Donald Blumberg’s “Political Mosaics” includes a panel of different video captures of Richard Nixon as seen on “Face the Nation” in his election year of 1968 and after. Nixon is depicted in his trademark scowl – in hindsight it’s a fascinating historical document and could be seen as an omen of what was to come. Catherine Opie used the same montage technique to depict George W. Bush in 2004 – about 35 years later. Of special interest is that the portrait subjects and their generations were different, but the artists’ technique are the same.

Another mosaic example is the pointed commentary by Alfredo Jaar, who added a sentence to 1994 covers of Newsweek as an illustration of how the media neglected the genocide in Rwanda. Jaar will discuss “The Rwanda Project” and his more recent work at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 in a lecture at the Museum Lecture Hall.

Contemporary artists are represented with 21st Century works, such as “CNN Concentrated,” a mashup of one-word excerpts from news reports by Omar Fast. The video montage strings together single words – and pensive pauses – seen on the cable network to create a disorienting distillation of meaningless introductory words for meaningful news, both reported with equal intensity.

Curator Arpad Kovacs told Time magazine that he was inspired to put on the show by the work of Sarah Charlesworth, whose “Modern History” is constructed with news coverage of the kidnapping of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. “The one that we have looks specially at the Vatican newspapers coverage of this event, of this tragedy and of this detailed consciousness at the time,” Kovacs said. “That was the work that got me thinking more broadly about how artists have turned the news as subject matter.”

Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media,” is at the Getty Center Dec. 20-April 30.