Assembly and Tomwork (Tom Jimmerson, formerly of Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art) present "Merwin Belin: Frontpages" on view from April 13 to May 11. Artist's reception is Saturday, April 13, 6-9 pm.
Ronald Reagan served as President of the United States from January 1981 until January 1989. Sometime in 1984, when the so-called "Reagan Era" was coming to be recognized as the political and cultural sea-change that it was, Merwin Belin embarked on an ambitious series of artworks of and about that era and the culture-wars that followed. The logic of Belin's project is as simple as it is relentless. Portions of a newspaper's front page--The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Herald Examiner--are excised by x-acto knife and discarded. Other portions from "the back" of the paper so to speak, are moved forward and substituted, thus generating a new narrative that was arguably already there; this within a design format--the front page--that is itself a "readymade" composition. Rinse and repeat.
Belin has so far executed more than two hundred such pieces, one hundred of which are on view here. Each is as particular and as general as the day it addresses. Collectively however, they raise two important critical issues. One is the matter of "method," Belin's means of production. The other is "time" and the circumstances of his reception.
In the 1974 book "Theory of the Avant-Garde," Peter Burger identified collage / montage as the wedge dividing a (false) organic realism from a (true) dis-continuos reality. Collage was thus declared "the fundamental principal of avant-gardiste art" as it developed in the early twentieth century. Things have changed. Collage is now taught as an introductory art technique from kindergarten to the old-age home. No longer radical, it has instead become almost shockingly routine. Indeed, in the "cut and paste" digital workplace, are we not all collagists now? Belin concurs, comfortable in the knowledge that, except for frames and plexiglass, these now old-fashioned paper documents barely even register as art.
Time? It is a peculiar and perhaps defining feature of Belin's work that a statement made in time, about a specific moment in time, might take yet more time--years or perhaps even decades--to become fully legible. "Timing is everything," according to the vulgar phrase that so neatly fits into the pragmatic ideology of neo-liberal economics. Likewise, "yesterday's paper" was shorthand for something valueless back when newspapers still mattered. But there could be another, more subtle view of temporality that applies here. When the philosopher Nelson Goodman grew tired of circular arguments about "what is art," he countered with the question "when is art?" In the twilight of the once mighty print culture this artist so closely observes, Belin's "Frontpages" answer, "now."
Exhibition hours are Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6:00 pm. Assembly is located at 2045 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90232. Ample parking is available in the lot adjacent to WSS Shoe Warehouse at the same address.