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In which our art critics highlight their favorite works on view
A guy putting on the green. Firefighters battling a blaze. A woman walking a duck. Young women seated around a nun strumming a guitar. All are subjects of a work by Douglas Huebler titled “Location Piece #6 – National,” which is included as a part of “Shock of the News,” currently on view at the National Gallery of Art.
The idea was simple. Huebler sent a letter to newspapers across the country—small and large—requesting they send him a published photograph of local interest, made by a staff photographer. There were two other stipulations: the image had to be 8 inches by 10 inches, and it didn’t have to be either “interesting” or “good”—his words.
“Location Piece” extends a concept Huebler maintained throughout his career: “the world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.” But, by curating a collection of photographs—more or less by happenstance—the unintended consequence is that he did add more, and it is at least “interesting” (although not necessarily “good”).
In other words, it lacks the potential visual aesthetic of something like the Warhol that hangs next to it in the exhibit. And, it certainly lacks the celebrity. But, they act like opposites in conjunction. Warhol took a significant event and stripped it of meaning, making the Kennedy assassination as decorative as the stenciled flowers atop. By contrast, Huebler received a bunch of relatively insignificant local events and made their shared banality more meaningful.
The images provided Huebler by the Charlotte Observer, Akron Beacon Journal, and others potentially had nothing in common other than their size and local interest. But, casual observers can find ways to categorize them: women in bathing suits reading, buildings on fire, animals. We can consider the nature of chance submissions. We can also consider just how bad some of the images are in general. Not that a newspaper should have beautiful images at all times, but it is interesting to consider how many of the images included seem so un-newsworthy. Today’s news is tomorrow’s history, they say. Some of the recorded history is about as intriguing as a typical Facebook status update.
Sometimes it’s not all the news that’s fit to print; it’s all the news that fits into print.
Douglas Huebler, Location Piece #6—National, 1970. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund. Copyright 2012 Douglas Huebler, courtesy Darcy Huebler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.