In lieu of an exhibit catalog, an editorial duo borrowed from the Latitudes project are producing a weekly tabloid newspaper about the exhibit from within the gallery itself, called “The New City Reader.” Several specialty “information-gathering” organizations—like StoryCorps, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Columbia University’s C-Lab, etc.—have also set up shop in one of the floors of the exhibit to work there for the duration of the show. This was probably meant to give a “newsroom” feel to the gallery, highlighting the interactive nature of news and information. In actuality, though, seeing people sitting silently at desks staring at their laptop screens, looking bored, has the opposite effect.
The benefit of spreading the newsprint issues around the gallery and inviting visitors to pick them up, though, is the pleasant surprise of seeing ink smudges around all the doorways and elevator buttons on the museum’s bleach-white walls. Similarly, another piece, below, splits through the gallery’s silence every few minutes with the welcome buzz of an inkjet printer. Hans Haacke’s piece pulls news stories from 30 RSS feeds and prints them out onto a long spool of paper. Its plaque declares that “The massive tangle of recent tragedies and injutices highlights the temporality of ‘the news’ in any given moment.”
In the end, “The Last Newspaper” does not necessarily tell us anything new about the business of news, nor the process of reporting or storytelling, nor does it address the changes in technology that are lately causing upheaval in the industry. I do not understand why it is called “The Last” anything, and at times it seems to have no coherent message, no urgency at all. That may just be disappointing to a museumgoer who happens to also be interested in journalism. Kyle Pope, editor of The New York Observer, wrote in his entertaining review, “the exhibit suffers from a randomness that reminded me of a bad small-town daily, a mixing of spaghetti dinners and Eagle Scout announcements I do my best to avoid,” and I am inclined to agree.
Its misleading name aside, the exhibit seems to be a celebration of the newspaper as a physical object of art, and as a means for social and political expression. The best pieces are the ones that play with the abstract concept of a daily newspaper: the absurdity of collecting a day’s events, filtering it and framing it into a compact bundle of paper, which then in turn shapes its readers’ perception of those events while supposedly providing a definitive historical record of them. Until, that is, the paper crumbles and the ink fades away.