Merwin Belin: Frontpages

October 29 - December 3, 2017
Artist’s reception: Sunday, October 29, 2017
3:00 pm to 6:00 pm


Ronald Reagan served as President of the United States from January 1981 until January 1989. Sometime in 1984, when the so-called “Reagan Era” was coming to be recognized as the political and cultural sea-change it was, Merwin Belin embarked on his Frontpages (1984 and ongoing), an artwork about that era and what has come since, and about the journalistic enterprise that defines the news and delivers it to us. The logic of Belin’s project is as simple as it is relentless. Portions of a newspaper’s front page—The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Herald Examiner—are excised by x-acto knife and discarded. Other portions from “the back” of the paper, so to speak, are moved forward and substituted, thus generating a new narrative that was arguably already there; this in a graphic design format—the front page with its iconic masthead—that is itself a “readymade” composition. Rinse and repeat.  

Belin has so far executed more than two hundred such pieces, one hundred of which are on view. Each is as particular as the day it addresses. Collectively however, they raise two important critical issues. One is method, Belin’s manner of production. The other is time, and the circumstances of his reception. 

In the 1974 book Theory of the Avant-Garde, Peter Burger identified collage / montage as the wedge dividing (false) organic realism from (true) discontinuous reality. Collage was thus declared “the fundamental principle of avant-gardiste art” as it developed in the twentieth century. Things have changed. Collage is now taught as an introductory art technique from kindergarten to the old-age home. No longer radical, it has since become almost shockingly routine. Indeed, in the “cut and paste” digital workplace, are we not all collagists now? Belin concurs, comfortable in the knowledge that, except for frames and plexiglass, these now old-fashioned paper documents barely even register as art. 

Time? It is a peculiar and defining feature of Belin’s work that an artistic statement made in time, referencing a specific moment in time, might take yet more time—years, or perhaps even decades—to become fully legible; a condition that has not always worked to the artist’s advantage but does make his art that much more complex. “Timing is everything,” goes the vulgar phrase that so neatly fits into the pragmatic and punctual logic of neo-liberal economics. Likewise, “yesterday’s paper” was shorthand for stale, valueless information back when newspapers still mattered. But there is another more subtle view of temporality that could apply here. When philosopher Nelson Goodman grew frustrated with circular arguments about “what is art,” he countered with the question “when is art?” In the twilight of the once mighty print culture this artist so closely observes, Belin’s Frontpages replies, “perhaps now.”

Merwin Belin’s Frontpages is the premier exhibition of the new art gallery As Is, located at 1117 Venice Boulevard (enter at Constance Street) in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles California. As Is is a project of Mok Wai Wan, formerly of the gallery Haphazard, in collaboration with Tom Jimmerson, formerly of Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art and Tomwork. As Is will exhibit modern and contemporary art with a focus on local history and regional culture.

Link to LA Times review

PDF of LA times review


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