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University of Michigan Museum of Art opens 'Fred Tomaselli: The Times'
Fred Tomaselli, Aug. 31, 2005 #3, 2009, gouache and archival inkjet print on watercolor paper, Private collection, New York.

ANN ARBOR, MICH.- Even in our digital age of constant information, the rhythmic cycle of the daily newspaper is still a central form of organizing the world around us. The paper’s front page records in the present tense what will eventually become history. It orients our attention to pressing actions, be they individual, political, or natural, that over time repeat and rearrange into patterns around common human motivations. Fred Tomaselli‘s The Times traffics in these patterns, reflecting and reinventing them through complexly layered collages superimposed on recent cover stories in The New York Times. The collages surface unseen connections, rearrange realities, and reveal relationships of images and ideas across time and space.

Tomaselli uses images within the familiar grid of the front page as portals, overwriting and manipulating the supposed objective reality of the newspaper with his completely subjective surreality. His interventions play against the detachment of journalistic forms, inserting emotion, fantasy, and absurdity to counterpoint or underscore the original narrative. Tomaselli says these works “freeze time,” trapping inherently ephemeral events and images like flies in amber. But in aggregate this act also reimagines time, linking images and actions of a chosen day to their counterparts in the past and in some projected future.

The Times grew from Tomaselli’s own doodlings of personal commentary while reading, eventually spurring him to marry his “news junkie” habit with his studio practice. The series runs the gamut from hard-edged abstraction to hallucinatory pattern play, and engages in a dialogue with art historical imagery and themes, refracted through present-day news images.

I’m a news junkie who consumes a variety of sources, while not wholly trusting any of them. What passes for the news doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on in the world so much as it spotlights what is noticed. Newspapers are seemingly democratic, but are actually a product of editors who tell the story of what they think is important while omitting information they deem unworthy. There are those who think of news organizations as merely ideological mouthpieces, and in many cases they are right. There are those that see the news as merely a commodity, and maybe Warhol was one of them. I, however, see a healthy news media, in spite of its deficits, as vital to our democracy, and worth every penny we throw at it.

For years now, there’s been talk of the death of the newspaper. We’ve been told that the industry is in a crisis as the Internet grabs ad revenue and good reporters are laid off in the interest of the bottom line. Newspapers are limping along and getting thinner. Every year there are less of them. For a news junkie, and one that loves newspapers, these are dark and perilous times. It was in this gloomy atmosphere in 2005 that I began working over the front page of The New York Times.

I am a longtime subscriber to The New York Times and read its hard copy version in the morning and check in with it on the Internet throughout the day. Despite the Democratic tilt of its editorial pages, I really do think their news division tries to be even-keeled. When they get it wrong, like their cheerleading during the run up to the Iraq war, I’m apoplectic. I expect them to act like adults, not like Fox and Friends. But like any dysfunctional relationship, I always end up forgiving them, because I know I can’t do much better.

For the last quarter of a century, my work has oscillated between what some have called “the visionary” and my own self-conscious criticality. I always heap a lot of information, personal obsessions, and history into my own work. Much of this inspiration has been contradictory and it’s always been my intention to let various ideologies battle it out in my pictures. I’m interested in creating a maximized conceptual and visual space that’s inexhaustible. Normally, the various histories I insert in my work are percolating in my head for a while—I make connections that zing through time, but I rarely land on things as they are happening.

Ronald Reagan was still president when I began publicly showing my work. Much of my early work was an attempt to address a sense of dislocated reality that colored my life in that particular era. Gradually, things seemed to get a little better, but after 9/11, I couldn’t ignore the curdling in our national discourse. With increasing discomfort, I read my Times every morning as our world hurtled from one self imposed disaster into another. Sometimes I would deface the news with whatever writing implement was at hand.

Then, on March 16, 2005, I saw a picture on the front page of the Times by Louis Lanzano. I depicted a stunned Bernie Ebbers and his wife leaving a Manhattan courtroom after he was found guilty of an 11 billion dollar fraud as the CEO of WorldCom. I couldn’t get the photo out of my head. Coincidently, Creative Time had asked me to make a benefit print for them. Within a week, the thing was petty much figured out.

Excerpt from Fred Tomaselli: “Mass, Collectivity, and all the rest…”
Presented at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, October 22, 2011 - See more at:

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