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Death, Manipulation and Shocking News in Museums

12/04/2012 12:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
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Death: A Portrait

Curators entice crowds through shows organized under unique research concepts featuring very well known artists. Three current exhibitions stand out in New York, Washington, DC, and London with interesting themes that are universally accessible. Read where to find death, manipulation and other shocking news in museums near you:

Death: A Self-Portrait

What does death look like? The Wellcome Collection in London tackles this eternal question in their current exhibition,andy warhol, death Death: A Self-Portrait. Relying on a continuously expanding collection belonging to Richard Harris, a former Chicago antique print dealer, the exhibition displays around three hundred works ranging from paintings to installations to historical artifacts. These varied artworks approach the subject of death in a non-linear but thematic route, with the aim to make viewers reflect upon one's own mortality or perhaps give clues on how to cope with an issue that many find disturbing.

After all, artists throughout time needed to invent an appearance for death, an abstract concept literally impossible to picture. An exhibition researching this indefinable subject results in a diversity of perspectives and interpretations from religious medieval illustrated manuscripts, to the sacrilegious prints by Andy Warhol (pictured right). Dutch Vanitas paintings are somber while Mexican artists colorfully celebrate the Day of the Dead festival. Goya takes a semi-abstract approach in his etching of a corpse dragging himself out of the grave, while Dürer presents the end of the world figuratively in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Such a broad spectrum of poignant reactions keeping the show of iconic artists constantly fresh and surprising.

Shock of the News

Shock of the NewsAnother surprising exhibition investigating a universal yet creative theme is found in Shock of the News at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. For over a hundred years, artists have been using newspapers as a vital part of their work. Shock of the News includes 65 collages, paintings, drawings, sculptures, artists' newspapers, prints, and photographs by European and American artists, including Picasso, the Guerrilla Girls, Dali and many others. Certainly numerous exhibitions have discussed artists' response to current events, yet this exhibition uniquely explores the newspaper as a tangible material in modern and contemporary art from the past century.

Picasso famously cut out a part of French newspaper Le Figaro in 1912 and pasted it into a collage called Guitar, Sheet Music and Glass, described in the exhibition as the "first self-consciously modern work of art to incorporate real newsprint." Picasso's pioneering innovation influenced many artists to use newspapers as an integral part of their material, and there has been no slowdown. Highlights of this diverse exhibition include Dadaist Hans Richter's colorful 1943-44 mural which uses newspaper pieces to tell the story of the battle of Stalingrad during World War II, alongside a 1949 paper cutout, Head With a Beard, by American painter Ellsworth Kelly (above right). More recently, American artist Paul Sietsema created a work which appears to be news clippings, but are in in fact painstakingly drawn in ink employing the artistic tradition of trompe l'oeil to fool us all.

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Faking It: Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe third exhibition, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is all about tricking the visitor. Around 200 captivating photographs created between the 1840s and 1990s are presented in the exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. The Met claims that this is the first major exhibition devoted to history of manipulated photography before the digital age, yet the theme is so topical and obvious. In today's digital age, Photoshop easily tricks us into believing every beach looks like a tropical paradise, all models appear flawless, and politicians often find themselves in compromising circumstances.

This groundbreaking exhibition offers a provocative new perspective on the history of photography as it traces the medium's complex relationship to visual truth. Divided into seven sections, the various motivations for altering photographs is explored, such as the 19th century photographer's effort to compensate for the new medium's limitations. Through two World Wars, artists manipulated photographs for political or ideological intents, like John Heartfield's anti-Nazi photo-montages of the 1930s. The exhibition continues until the second half of the 20th century, when artists like Yves Klein, John Baldessari, and Jerry Uelsmann altered historical methods of image manipulation -- such as spirit photography or news photo retouching -- to create works that question photography's presumed objectivity.

Death: A Self-Portrait is on view at London's Wellcome Collection from November 15, 2012 until February 24, 2013. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC will exhibit Shock of the News through January 27, 2013. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop is open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC October 11, 2012-January 27, 2013.  

Written by MutualArt's Christine Bednarz.

What makes these exhibition themes unique?  Which exhibitions are you looking forward to seeing before the end of 2013?