15 Sept - 27 Oct 2007
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
In SoHo in the 1980s, when art began selling like hot cross buns, the phrase - made on the premises - usually wasn’t part of the packaging at the Mary Boone Gallery. But that was then.
What might be called premise-based art is being turned out hand over fist right now at Ms. Boone’s gallery in Chelsea. Warm and almost wiggling, it is pinned to the walls for a few days and then taken away to make room for a new batch.
It’s Newsroom 1986-2000, a new effort from the Polish-born artist Aleksandra Mir. Through next Saturday, you can watch Ms. Mir working in the gallery almost every day at sizable sawhorse tables, assisted by a shifting cast of art students and buoyed by music pulsing from a boom box. Aptly for today’s art market, the group has achieved a perfect overlap of production and distribution. (Each drawing carries a $10,000 price tag.)
Ms. Mir and her assistants are also making old news - or a version of it - new again.
The black-and-white drawings produced in this hive like project are monumental and emphatically handmade blowups of front pages from past issues of 'The New York Post' and 'The Daily News'. Ms. Mir, who lives in Palermo, Italy, selects and groups the pages, often on the spot, from a 14-year archive of tabloid covers currently stored in the gallery’s back room.
The jumpy drawings, nearly eight feet by five feet, revisit those years while paying homage to the overheated language and myopic focus of tabloid journalism - specifically its highly compressed, go-for-the-jugular headlines. These pithy summations of events both significant and trivial are a form of linguistic folk art. They also make up an essential part of city life: they shout from newsstands, peek out on subways or drop at front doors (along with more decorous daily publications, of course).
In the gallery the front pages are presented thematically, by shared subjects or words, making visible the conventions and obsessions, the highs and lows, of the tabloid approach. The emphasis, no surprise, is overwhelmingly on celebrity, money, romance, crime, punishment and weather.
The Donald-Ivana-Marla triangle and its aftermath? On a recent visit the subject was traced over seven years, beginning with replications of front pages from Feb. 13, 1990, that bawled ‘Ivana Better Deal’ (The News) and ‘Gimme the Plaza!’ (The Post). Remember ‘Best Sex I Ever Had’ (The Post)? The 23 drawings series follows the Donald beyond both Ivana and Marla, ending on Oct. 17, 1997, with ‘I Wish I Had Dated Di.’
The series on President Bill Clinton’s reversal on the military policy for gays has also come and gone. Others delve into front-page staples like ‘Bad Weather,’ ‘Tragedy,’ ‘Christmas Tragedy,’ ‘Killer Moms/Dads’ and ‘Cops and Teens.’ The 14-drawing ‘Horror’ series linked the word with highway, rush hour, elevator, hospital, high-rise, Hanukkah, “drunk drive,” high school and hidden.
Ms. Mir has around 150 files in her archives — including a very thick one labeled ‘Clinton’s Girlfriends.’ Not surprisingly, and despite choosing only series that focus on New York, she and her assistants have completed more than can be shown, including one on Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The idea used here is not new. Andy Warhol appropriated tabloid front pages in his early work, like his 1962 painting 129 Die in Jet! (Plane Crash). Ms. Mir’s Miracle series has a drawing that is almost a dead ringer for the Warhol plane crash, except that in her story the passengers survive.
Sarah Charlesworth, Adrian Piper, Robert Gober and Nancy Chunn have also used newspapers in their art. But Ms. Mir likes to redo things with a twist. One of my favorite earlier Mir pieces is First Woman on Moon, a 1999 video of her re-enactment of a moon landing, performed on a beach in the Netherlands with the help of bulldozers.
The works at Boone redo the news, reminding us how soon we forget and exaggerating the ephemeral beauty - or at least boldness - of a genre of graphic design and language that we consume and discard on a daily basis. They achieve a goofy, graffiti energy, partly because Ms. Mir draws the outlines freehand and sometimes lets the letters balloon this way or that. Photographs are usually reduced to blurs. The filling-in is done with felt-tip pens in three thicknesses, and while a black-and-white palette is the given, Ms. Mir tolerates quite a bit of free-range texturing, crosshatching, scribbling and fine wavy lines.
Some series seem to dictate a certain buttoned-down treatment, like the two about Wall Street on view now, ‘Stock Market: ‘87 Crash’ and ‘Stock Market: Ups and Down.’ Later today these are to be replaced by a series of works focusing on different amounts of money, from a report about a teenager killed for 25 cents to the busting of a $1.5 billion drug ring. (In between, Mr. Trump’s mother is mugged for $14.) Here Ms. Mir and her cohort have gone wild, converting the front pages into various combinations of stripes, grids and checks that often verge on the psychedelic.
I’m all for artistic license, but this may be may be taking a few too many liberties with our memories, or, failing that, the front-page form. After ‘Money,’ Ms. Mir hopes to show series on food poisoning and on AIDS and then end the exhibition next Saturday on a high note: sports triumphs.