When people think of collage, they often picture paper and glue. But the practice that notably emerged a century ago has evolved to consist of much more. At the University of Tennessee’s Ewing Gallery through Dec. 9, Remix: Selections From the International Collage Center is presented along with silkscreens of work by architect Richard Meier. An exhibition showcasing the variety of forms collage has assumed since the term was first coined by French artist Georges Braque, Remix is multifaceted and colorful. It’s a feast, with plenty for viewers to digest.
At times combining disparate elements, collage has been considered a response to the modern era’s bombardment of the senses. As a mixed-media process, it reveals artists’ assimilation of influences, concepts, and materials by means that possibly best reflect our overstimulating environment. And having arrived quite firmly in the digital age, artists are furthering the idea that computers can, in addition to transmitting images, actually be a version of collage, given certain circumstances.
Featuring works either culled from New York’s International Collage Center’s permanent collection or on loan, Remix traces the paths collage has taken since it became an approach favored by avant-garde Dadaist and surrealist artists like Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, and Marcel Duchamp, among others. In his lecture earlier this month, titled “Collage Culture: From Picasso to Facebook,” Pavel Zoubok, founder of the ICC, remarked that collage hasn’t been deemed “big art”; as such, it’s gone mostly unrecognized by museums and other venues.
However little importance the art world has assigned to collage, its capacity to confront issues related to societal upheaval and chaos, cultural fragmentation, and the dehumanizing effects of the machine age and advanced technology is undeniable. With more than 100 participating artists, Remix exemplifies a range of motivations when it comes to collage—everything from emphasizing socio-political statements or unique materials to utilizing cut-outs as a medium. Many works combine some of the above objectives. And it’s no wonder—the panoply of pieces in Remix results from what Zoubok has called “intergenerational mining.” Some employ humor or rely on the appropriation of found objects and images, whereas others function as offshoots of abstract expressionism and pop art or honor a taxonomic impulse.
Regarding the latter, Barton Lidicé Beneš’ “Reliquarium,” a wood shadow box of sorts with 56 sections, incorporates items related to AIDS. The artist’s “trophies”—including a condom signed by John Waters and part of the sole of one of Elizabeth Taylor’s shoes—are displayed like saints’ relics alongside a vial of HIV-positive blood removed from a Swedish art show titled Lethal Weapons, pharmacy labels, an injection bottle of morphine sulfate, and a tile from the Chelsea Gym steam room. Together, Beneš’ objects amount to an in-your-face expression of suffering. Jarring in a different way is Radcliffe Bailey’s untitled wall-mounted blanket with felt arrows indicating Caribbean slave-trade routes.
Among the pieces in which components lacking external references serve as their very substance is Hilla Rebay’s 1928 “Three Women,” a graphic image with strips of patterned paper serving as the figures’ clothing. Along similar lines is Matthew Cusick’s portrait of a woman and her pet monkey, made up of maps. Although what’s used to create the woman and monkey (sections mapping places in Germany and Eastern Europe, and in Africa, respectively) suggest the subjects’ origins, colors and shapes play a dominant role. The meticulous “Kunstpostkarte” (2006), by Henrikje and Beat Kühne and Klein, crafted from torn art postcards, is likewise a matter of recognizable elements forming something more expansive.
Unusual materials distinguish Carlos Vega’s “Star Nursery” (photos framed by punctured lead with etched line possibly alluding to a family tree, and sketches of what look like dandelions gone to seed) and Donna Sharrett’s “Hundreds of Memories: The 24th Memento” (rose petals, hair, and beads in a mandala-like arrangement). Geoffrey Hendricks’ “Moon. Tire. Root.,” with its rubber inner tube and twine, resembles an urban Detroit spirit catcher.
Numerous digital videos in Remix present morphing imagery that alludes to the fragmented essence of collage. An especially strange use of projection in Max Greis’ “The Archaic Armageddon” has figures riding, complete with sound, through a kitschy painted scenario on canvas. As for cyberspace being collage’s new frontier, viewers can type a URL into the show’s computer and artist Mark Napier’s Shred the Web program will render odd results onscreen.
If the primary impact of montage in films like Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin was to accustom viewers to shifting and malleable perspective, the advent of collage signaled a like-minded effort to convey the complexity of visual perception. Remix exuberantly addresses perception from a number of angles, acknowledging collage’s past and entertaining notions about its future.