Art From the Mass Media's Barrage of Images
New York's Whitney Museum looks at how visual artists have responded to the image glut in postwar US culture
A FEW vital statistics, courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where they are currently posted for all to see: Some 260,000 billboards line the roads of the United States;Skip to next paragraph
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No fewer than 23,076 newspaper and magazines are available to Americans;
Each day, 162 million TV sets are turned on for an average of seven hours each;
Movies are shown in 23,237 theaters;
Videos are sold in an estimated 27,000 stores;
Every day, every American is exposed to about 1,600 commercial messages.
What is the impact of so many images, bombarding us every day of our lives? Psychologists have one set of answers; sociologists have another. But artists - who deal in images themselves, presumably on a serious and thoughtful level - are rarely asked their opinions on the subject.
That's where the Whitney Museum comes in. Its newest exhibition, ``Image World: Art and Media Culture,'' looks at artists' own responses to mass-media influence on postwar American culture. Including more than 100 works by about 65 artists and groups, it offers its own bombardment - but a bombardment with a purpose, which is to raise questions about the relationship of imagery, technology, and the society that produces them. Continuing through Feb. 18, the show also features a related attraction called ``Image World: Metamedia,'' comprising more than 250 films and videotapes made during the past 30 years.
``What we're after,'' says John Hanhardt, the Whitney's curator of film and video, ``is identifying and interpreting the impact which photography, film, [and] video have had on our visual culture from 1960 to the present.''
That's a tall order, requiring a sense of perspective on both the present and the past. Asked what the museum is putting its main focus on, Mr. Handardt points to a ``new relationship'' between artists and the mass media. This started to take shape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when photography and film made a strong impression on the visual arts. But a new phase began in the 1960s, as American artists started ``to appropriate, to take images from our popular culture - from television, from advertising - and make that a part of their work.''
The result, Hanhardt says, has been a critique and also a transformation of those familiar pop-culture images. ``Television is a pervasive part of our lives,'' he says. ``Films have been a pervasive part of our popular culture. And now as artists reflect on them ... they're [also] part of the art world.''
What curator Hanhardt calls ``the dynamic relationship between artists and the world around them'' has accomplished two things where the mass media are concerned: providing artists with grist for their own image-making mills, and changing the way ordinary people see popular culture.
``I think [the relationship] provides a new awareness, a new way of seeing,'' says Hanhardt, ``through the ideas, the images that artists have made. And it makes us aware, also, that there's always been [a] dynamic relationship between technology and image-making.''