[UPDATED] In January 2015, Sugarlift celebrated the opening of its second-ever exhibition, Volume 002 (Cut & Paste), a collaboration with the Brooklyn Collage Collective, a diverse group of artists from the area who make collage in a wide range of styles. Twelve artists produced more than forty new pieces for Sugarlift. We decided to take a step back and think about how collage has shaped the visual arts in the 20th century, and why the spirit of collage is even more vital to the artists of our generation.
Collage gets its name from the French word for glue and describes a broad range of art-making techniques that rely on re-appropriating previously made images and found materials into new compositions. Although some skeptics in the past considered collage a "lesser" form of art than painting and sculpture, its role as a tool of the avant garde in the 20th century is impossible to ignore.
The method, and the word, were first popularized by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1912, when the two were radically transforming the painting world with their dive into Cubism. (Because the two worked so closely and weren't vigilant about dating their pieces during that time, no one can quite agree on which artist was the first to paste paper works -- newsprint, postage stamps, painted paper, etc -- into his painting.) The art critic Clement Greenberg wrote in a 1959 essay, "Collage was a major turning point in the evolution of Cubism, and therefore a major turning point in the whole evolution of modernist art in this century." For the Cubists, collage became a central part of their campaign to explore painting's illusion of three-dimensionality while frankly acknowledging the flatness of the canvas, a break from hundreds of years of Western painting tradition.
The European avant garde after the First World War -- the Dadaists and their Surrealist cousins -- continued in the collaging spirit of the pre-war Cubists, filling their work with found objects, assemblage sculptures and images placed outside of their original or normal contexts. Other artists, including Jean Arp and Henri Matisse, saw in collage a potential for abstraction and simplicity in their work, using glued pieces of painted paper in their compositions. Matisse's work with collage became especially central to his art as he struggled to paint in his old age. (Sidebar: If you haven't seen the Matisse Cut-Outs show at MoMA yet, do it as soon as possible.)
During the postwar years, collage became a favorite medium for artists like Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton, whose iconic 1956 piece "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" used material cut out from magazines and advertisements. Like many other artists of the era, Hamilton incorporated images from commercial media and advertising into his work, disrupting long-held conventions about the subjects and materials allowed in serious art. In the United States, Robert Rauschenberg's "combine" paintings blurred the lines between mediums, with material (including, most famously, a stuffed bald eagle) jumping off the canvas in his pieces.
From Picasso and Braque's Cubist experiments to Richard Hamilton's pop art masterpieces, collage has been a primary tool of our most forward-thinking artists for more than a hundred years. For many young artists in the twenty-first century, the spirit behind collage is enduringly appealing, even though the shock-value of using collage as a fine art medium has largely passed. The modernistic spirit of 20th century collage -- the juxtaposition of images and ideas, the questioning traditional definitions of high and low art forms, re-appropriating material into new aesthetic and conceptual contexts -- remains a through-line in the work of the Brooklyn Collage Collective.
The BCC, which came onto the scene in late 2013, is the artistic home for many of the most exciting artists in our borough -- in any medium -- and we are pleased to welcome the BCC for this show, opening on Thursday, January 15th. The artists in "Cut & Paste" capture the innovative spirit of collage by assembling striking pieces out of re-appropriated images and found materials with technical mastery, subversive humor and imaginative beauty.