In his media critique, Jaar continues to seek out what we might call slips of the eye – those moments when ideological univocality founders and we glimpse those unspoken truths, those unacknowledged histories that insist on reappearing
- Tom McDonough, OSMOS Magazine
IF IT CONCERNS US, IT CONCERNS YOU is a potent survey of works by Alfredo Jaar which chronicles the artist’s forty-year critique of the Western media. The exhibition features important works which span the artist’s career, from the early 1980s through to new works created in 2022, which have not been exhibited before. It is the largest presentation of Jaar’s Press Works series to date.
In the early 1980s, when Jaar moved from the military dictatorship of Chile to Ronald Reagan’s United States, he felt at odds with the Western art world: “While I admired the American avant-garde and the conceptualists, when I looked around New York I didn’t see the world being reflected in the art that was being made. It was a world of fiction”. Engaging with the Western media was an equally alienating experience. Confronted with a heavily biased news agenda, Jaar become an avid observer of the media itself, paying close attention to areas of emphasis alongside areas of erasure. His routine of four decades involves reading daily international newspapers from around the world.
Jaar’s practice has developed as a means of intervention - isolating specific adverts, articles or magazine covers and displaying them anew within a museum or gallery context. At times, the artist doctors the image to change the intended message - as with works in the exhibition, such as You and Us (1984), Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), Welcome to the USA (TIME) (2018), War Criminal (2022) and Mea Culpa (2022) - but his approach is mostly just to lift the image directly from its original context in the hope that this displacement will allow us to see our reality in a different way.
The title of the exhibition is derived from one of the early works which feature at the start of the exhibition, titled You and Us, in which the artist radically reverses the message of a CBS advert rolled out on New York City subways in the mid 1980s. The original advert stated, “If it concerns you, it concerns us”, alluding to the power of the public to inform their coverage. Jaar’s reversal of the words “you” and “us” suggests that the original message is a fallacy and a manipulation: “it is actually the power forces at play behind the media outlets - in this instance a TV channel owned by the General Electrics Corporation that manufactures refrigerators but also bombs and aeroplanes - that are setting the media agenda” - Jaar.
Recent works exhibited for the first time include Liberation (Brexit Let It Be) (2019), War Criminal (2022) and Mea Culpa (2022). Here, the artist highlights media coverage of Brexit and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “pointing once again at what the mainstream press can avow and what must remain disavowed, what can be shown and what demands to return to visibility” (Tom McDonough, OSMOS Magazine).
IF IT CONCERNS US, IT CONCERNS YOU also features a series of works from the 1990s and 2000s in which Jaar focuses on the mass erasure and misrepresentation of Africa from the Western media agenda, taking aim at publications such as Life Magazine, The Economist, The New York Times and TIME. A centrepiece of the exhibition is a new large-scale lightbox edition of Searching for Africa in Life (1996), an iconic work in the artist’s oeuvre which was exhibited at the 8th Triennial of Photography in Hamburg last year (curated by Koyo Kouoh) and is now permanently installed at the library of The New School in New York.
This major index of LIFE magazine’s coverage from the 1930s through to the 1990s reminds us that images are far from innocent, always representing an ideological position on the world: Jaar includes every one of the magazine’s front covers across 60 years, a total of 2128 – placed in chronological order – to reflect the scant coverage of Africa by one of the most influential magazines in the world. The appropriation of these magazine covers is a formula that Jaar adopts in other significant pieces, such as From Time to Time (2006), which expose the three themes on Africa dealt with the most by the Western media: animals, famine and disease. The dearth of coverage relating to the life, culture, society, and scientific developments happening on the African continent is inadvertently raised as part of the problematic image – or ‘non-image’ – of Africa that is fed to the Western world.
Alfredo Jaar (b. 1956, Santiago, Chile) is a New York-based artist, architect, and filmmaker who considers social injustices and human suffering through thought-provoking installations. Jaar has explored significant political and social issues throughout his career, including genocide, the displacement of refugees across borders and the balance of power between the first and third world. He is known as one of the most uncompromising, compelling, and innovative artists working today.
Major solo museum shows this year are held at Pinakothek del Moderne (29 March – 27 August) in Munich, at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (Hiroshima MOCA), which will be a major anthology exhibition featuring four newly commissioned works (opening 22 July), and at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago (opening 14 September).
Over the course of his career, Jaar has realised over seventy public interventions around the world and has participated in the Biennales of Venice (1986, 2007, 2009, 2013) and Sao Paulo (1987, 1989, 2010, 2021) as well as Documenta (1987, 2002). Jaar’s work can be found in collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; MASP, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; M+, Hong Kong, among others. He was awarded the 11th Hiroshima Art Prize in 2018 and received the prestigious Hasselblad award for 2020. In September 2019, Jaar’s The Garden of Good and Evil was placed on permanent display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom.
IF IT CONCERNS US, IT CONCERNS YOU runs concurrently to another solo presentation in London by Alfredo Jaar, titled Alfredo Jaar: 50 Years Later (19 April – 19 May), at Cecilia Brunson Projects. The exhibition marks the time passed since General Augusto Pinochet’s coup over Chilean President Salvador Allende’s democratic government on 11 September 1973. This exhibition constitutes the most comprehensive review of Jaar’s work on Chile in recent years, with key historic pieces that established him as one of the most eloquent and uncompromising commentators on state-sponsored brutality and violence to date.