Yesterday afternoon I took my Media & Materiality students to see the The Last Newspaper exhibition at The New Museum. Co-curator Benjamin Godsill gave us a tour, packed with lots of insight into the work on display and the making of the exhibition. Several pieces — especially Hans Haacke’s News (if only they could’ve used a teletype machine rather than a dot matrix printer!), Andrea Bowers’ “Eulogies to One and Another” and Luciano Fabro’s “Pavimento” — really brought home for us the simultaneous rigidity and flexibility of the newspaper as a material form, and its shifting use and exhibition values. On the third floor, Story Corps, Latitudes, The New City Reader, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy have set up shop temporarily, putting on display the social and labor practices involved in shaping public discourse — at least that’s what I’m assuming they’re doing; I’m not sure it would be clear to everyone what CUPs LocBloc sculptures and StoryCorps’s oral histories have to do with newspapers. The Slought Foundation (whose eclectic exhibitions and programming I would occasionally integrate into my classes when I taught at Penn in the early 2000s) has distributed stations from their Perpetual Peace project throughout the museum, but their presence initially seemed even more incongruous — almost as if they’re trying to create a “philosophers’ lounge” in a loud and busy newsroom.
After wondering for a while how these myriad pieces fit together, it occurred to me that the third-floor space embodied the potential for fruitful collaborations between multiple public institutions and organizations. It seemed to be asking, what if journalism weren’t its own atomized entity — and what if, instead, it created intellectual and physical places for the spaces where its larger public mission overlaps with that of an organization like StoryCorps or CUP…or, I might add, libraries or schools? (At the same time, I wonder what “real” journalists must think of the fetishization of their “product,” the aestheticization of their labor — and its containment within a museum?)
The contents of and contributors to the newspapers seemed to exemplify what happens when you have a bunch of designers creating a newspaper in a museum: you get a newspaper with a lot of articles by designers (including quite a few of “the regulars”) about design. Reflecting on the agenda-setting theory I learned as an undergrad, I have to wonder what it means to dedicate more column-inches to architecture than to any other subject in these papers? What is it about this New City that its readers are focusing their attention on leisure and architectural yoga, whereas the publics that Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Dash Snow, and the other artists featured in the show are addressing are more concerned with war and racial conflict and the value of human life. The juxtaposition was striking.