Since the mid-1980s, Merwin Belin has been editing the front page. The artist creates collages on newspaper front pages, slotting other stories into a patchwork grid to emphasize certain themes or to create connections between articles.
A selection of these works is on view at the Pico-Union gallery As Is L.A. The show is a time capsule — and a commentary on our changing relationship to journalism.
Belin began the collages as a way to protest and undermine journalism’s power to shape discourse. Accordingly, many of the early works bring forward stories from the inside pages. There’s a 1984 front page from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in which every article is about cocaine, and another from the same year in the L.A. Times with a surprising number of articles about acid rain. Several are dominated by sports coverage or obituaries, which seem to have been two of Belin’s preoccupations.
Another strategy of his was to create pointed juxtapositions. Belin highlighted disparate images of black men in a 1995 Washington Post cover that features Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu celebrating the former’s presidential victory above pictures of a black man ensnared in a net and the arrest of O.J. Simpson. Also from 1995 is a collection of articles about domestic terrorist attacks, combined with a large, full-color image of Elmer Fudd holding a rifle.
Although the works are not installed chronologically, sometimes one can see progress. Belin created an entire 1985 front page about gay men and AIDS, an act of activism back then. In 2015, he created another about gay marriage.
These personalized front pages may have started out as interventions but now seem to foreshadow internet news, in which one can construct one’s own “front page” with a few clicks. They also feel like relics from a time when “fake news” was beyond the pale. Belin’s interventions were intended to take down the gatekeepers that policed what we knew and didn’t know, to make the connections that they refused to see. Now, amid an onslaught of undifferentiated information, they make us a little nostalgic for that guidance.
As Is LA, 1133 Venice Blvd. (entrance on Constance Street), L.A. Through Dec. 3; closed Sundays and Mondays. (213) 610-4100, www.as-is.la