New York

Aleksandra Mir

Mary Boone Gallery/Printed Matter

In her essay “No time like the present,” literary critic Deborah Esch quotes another critic, Werner Hamacher, discussing a kind of thought trial: “Many years ago . . . Max Horkheimer recommended a little experiment during a television interview. He suggested reading newspapers a few weeks or months after their publication. . . . The reader of these old papers will notice that the imperatives, attractions and threats heralded in them reveal themselves as such only to the degree that they no longer directly affect him.” In making Newsroom 1986–2000, 2007, Aleksandra Mir makes good on Horkheimer’s hypothesis, and with it turned Mary Boone Gallery into a studio-cum-press agency for six weeks.

Newsroom’s setup was simple, if extraordinarily laborious to produce: Mir and her assistants ransacked the New York Public Library, spending months copying ten thousand New York Daily News and New York Post covers from the fifteen-year period of the title, an interval that roughly coincides with that of the artist’s residence in the city. Then, they set about reproducing more than two hundred of the most banal, deplorable, or just plain memorable front pages, churning out, as Mir put it in her press release, “new art and old news” daily. Thus, those making multiple visits to the show would have found a near-constantly changing suite of large Sharpie-drawn reproductions with repeating protagonists (celebrities, anonymous urban Everymen), sympathetic groupings of content (riffs on food poisoning, murderous parents, miracles, art theft), or typographical quirks (most frequently ampersands, hyperbolic numbers, exclamation points, and dollar signs).

While Mir’s overall project made ersatz history painting out of the gossip-obsessed, disaster-splattered tabloids—inevitably conjuring Andy Warhol’s paintings of newspaper covers—it also made clear that this city’s history was, in retrospect, decidedly more farcical than tragic. Indeed, pre-9/11 New York returns as a prelapsarian folly interrupted only by the most occasional catastrophe. As Mir contends, it looks “like a quaint town full of petty crooks, with this accident or that occasional murder resulting in the loss of a single life. A rape in Central Park and a love triangle on Long Island were the two longest running news stories of New York in the fifteen years leading up to the end of the millennium.”

To wit: the obsessive coverage of Donald Trump’s protracted divorce from Ivana Trump, affair with Marla Maples, and divorce from Marla Maples (IVANA TO DONALD AT SECRET SITDOWN: GIMME THE PLAZA! finally begets IVANA HAS LAST LAUGH) that overshadowed budget crises and the AIDS epidemic, to say nothing of national or international politics. The prioritization of information manages to astonish, as in a brief about an Arab terrorist driving a bus off an Israeli cliff beneath the trumpet GAYS ALL IN THE FAMILY in 1989, or a minuscule blurb on Nelson Mandela’s release from prison beneath an inane larger banner the following year—selective emphases that seem counterintuitive at best and laconically iniquitous at worst.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with her synchronous retrospective of multiples, posters, invitation cards, and other publications and ephemera at Printed Matter, Mir also published a reprise of a radically different sort in her glib ethnology of the Southern Californian art scene, LA: A Geography of Modern Art (2007), a pamphlet based on Harold Rosenberg’s Tenth Street: A Geography of Modern Art (1959). Photographs by Justin Beal detail such site-specificities as Dave Muller at Mandrake Bar, Pierre Huyghe at the Mountain School of Arts, and crowds at an opening, as well as shots of such local color as Trashy Lingerie’s façade and a close-up of a decked-out WHO KILLED VERSACE? bag. Alongside Mir’s captions—FOUNDING A COLONY, INDIVIDUALS PREVAIL OVER THE GROUP, and LA STYLE SPANS THE ART WORLD—Beal’s images conjure a mythologized place, not so much lost as preemptively rendered nostalgic.

Taken together with Mir’s other work at Printed Matter, LA: A Geography of Modern Art reads as equal part artist’s book, Robinson Crusoe–esque fictional foray, and photojournalistic narrative. But it was Mir’s Keep Abortion Legal, 2005, a set of objects including a manicure kit, sewing kit, dental floss, and lighter, that cut deepest there, resonating with the debates and histories so summarily excised from the headline record. Maybe it comes as little surprise that the cliché is so often true: Truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction, and certainly sadder.

Suzanne Hudson