In January 1991, armed forces led by the United States commenced combat against Iraq. Including a military build-up that started the prior year in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War lasted just shy of seven months. In “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011,” at MoMA PS1 through March 1, the conflict’s shadow extends over two decades of artistic production. The show is big, filling three floors with over three hundred works by some eighty artists and collectives, many of them Iraqi and Kuwaiti. Arranged in loosely chronological galleries, work in the exhibition grapples with the Gulf War, its aftermath, and the Iraq War (2003–11), foregrounding indelible images of protest and torture associated with it.
Thomas Hirschhorn: Necklace CNN, 2002, cardboard, foil, plastic, gold wrapping paper, and tape, 98 1/2 by 31 1/2 by 4 inches; at MoMA PS1.
Journalists like to say they’re writing the first draft of history. Less attention is given to artists’ active interventions in the same project. A tension between art and journalism runs through “Theater of Operations,” with a number of artists directly critiquing the media for its warmongering. As curators Peter Eleey and Ruba Katrib argue in their catalogue essays, the Gulf War spawned many aspects of our current media climate. Advances in satellite technology allowed nascent twenty-four-hour cable news networks to supplement morning and evening digests with constant updates. For the first time, civilians could get news about the war in real time, ushering in a fetish for immediacy—or at least the sensation of immediacy—that pervades the show. Thomas Hirschhorn’s cardboard sculpture Necklace CNN (2002), an oversize network logo on a giant chain, all wrapped in gold foil, hangs near the entrance to PS1, greeting visitors as a kind of station ID for exhibition. There are seventeen hours of video in “Theater of…
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