Media manipulation is not news

May 07, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

If the idea that the media manipulate truth -- and people's minds -- seems to you pretty old hat, you're right. It's a cliche by now that media shape our thinking about everything from wars to our own self-images. And "With the Media/Against the Media," the current photography show at UMBC, has nothing new to say on the subject.

Organized by a group called Curatorial Assistance, based in Los Angeles, the show presents the works of four artists who use and reshape images appropriated from the media to comment on the media.

Curiously, the works gathered for this show were all created in the years 1988 to 1990. On the face of it, there isn't anything wrong with that, because these four artists approached the subject in a general way, not in terms of issues the media was dealing with at that time. So the fact that these works lack freshness and punch, that they're repetitious, that they seem tired, may have nothing to do with their age. They were probably pretty ho-hummish even when new.

H. Terry Braunstein combines cut-out photographs from magazines with other illustrations in her "Miami Beach" series (Nos. I through XI). We see a couple of guys talking nonchalantly in a landscape filled with dinosaurs, a woman lounging in a beach chair in front of a dinosaur (or similar creature -- I'm not up on my Mesozoic social register), while a volcano erupts in the background. This imagery, presumably, shows how the media can create fictions. It also gets its message across in the first picture, and you've got another 10 to go, none of which adds anything new.

One can say the same of Robert Heinecken's "Recto/Verso" series (1 to 12). He cuts pages out of fashion magazines and then photographically reproduces them so that we see both the front and the back of the page in the same image, superimposed on one another.

Probably no fashion magazine ever tried its readers' patience with an exercise more pointless and insipid.

Jack Butler appropriates images from 1950s and 1960s magazines, and combines them with brief texts to comment on how media images shape us. "Unspoken Emotions of an Ex-Boy" features a trio of photographs: a young boy sandwiched between two young men, one asleep at his studies, the other stud type with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. They look like the same guy, actually, showing two ways the boy may develop. We know which image of young manhood the boy will be pressured to emulate by what he sees in the media. But this kind of stereotype, and Butler's others here, were a lot more valid in the era from which these images are taken than they are now.

Joyce Neimanas' big black-and-white images offer another variation on the show's theme, just as predictable and boring as the rest. An example of the message of one of these works: Everything today is just a copy, nothing's original.

Including especially this show.

Pub Date: 5/07/96

At UMBC

What: "With the Media/Against the Media"

Where: Kuhn Library Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday (until 8 p.m. Thursday), through June 1

Call: (410) 455-2270

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