If it never quite seems that the world is actually ending, a endless parade of disasters, outrages, misfortunes, and general weirdness can give you the exact same feeling as if it actually were. As if cataloging the causes of this uneasiness, Fred Tomaselli took New York Times front pages and used the iconic layouts for art, collected here in The Times (Amazon, Powell’s).
The front page of the Times always contains one huge photo of the big news story. Tomaselli’s tactic is to take that photo and transform it through painting into something far beyond the reality it originally meant to portray, bringing in psychedelia and geometry to adorn the human figures, as well as various bursts of design that give some mundane moments more otherworldly qualities.
With Tomaselli jamming the photojournalism, a shot of Rick Perry’s prayer meeting becomes an image of zombie-like participants facing a burst of blood and light; a photo of Silvio Bersconi offering to resign transforms the Italian prime minister goggle-eyed brain wave monster; an image of a sign-carrying Occupy protester multiplies the signs into a pile of the proclamation, “I am very upset”; and a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain becomes obscured by graphically urgent and bitmapped audio waves.
Tomaselli characterizes the body of work as possibly “an extended elegy” to newspapers and he may be right, but the work also transcends and in some ways skewers what a newspaper is supposed to do, particularly the front page. A newspaper is supposed to present the facts without agenda. A newspaper is supposed to take the biased statements of all sides of an issue and turn them into a fair representation of the issue itself. The front page of a newspaper is supposed to make clear to you the most important thing you should know today.
Tomaselli’s playful appropriations of those front pages do make you ask if they were originally doing what they were supposed to. Do Tomaselli’s images make fun of their failure or celebrate their success? And would the New York Times be better with these colorful bursts drawing you in? Maybe. I’m definitely prepared to say maybe to that last question, but as to the former, those are for you to decide before and after encountering Tomaselli’s work.