Perspective Squared: Some Personal Angles (Part Two)
The previous blog post was about perspective as a means of representing space and dimensions. But perspective is also a word used to denote both individual subjectivity and larger interpersonal issues of identity. Collage is a great medium to address misrepresentations and transforming the imagery that’s already within the mass media can be a means of asserting one’s own point of view.
There’s a tendency to think that all collage looks the same but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s an abbreviated history of women working in collage or with appropriated imagery. Whether they change their source material a lot or a little, they all have highly individual approaches and their work could hardly look more different.
One of the originators of photomontage, Hannah Höch was a key figure in German Dada during the Weimar period. In the 1920s she parodied the "New Woman" a media creation of sexual and economic liberation (complete with bobbed hair) who in actuality faced conditions of low-status work with unequal pay. When the Nazis declared her art degenerate, she worked in private, resuming her career once the war had ended.
Marianne Brandt was best known for her metal work as a product designer with the Bauhaus. Her extensive work in photomontage was rediscovered in the seventies after a period of (relative) quiet during the Cold War.
In the sixties, Rosalyn Drexler carved out a career as an artist, a steamy paperback novelist and a wrestler. Her large scale paintings based on her collages of movie posters and other pop culture imagery were filled with huge flat areas of primary color and helped place her in the middle of the New York underground.
Andy Warhol borrowed photographs from newspapers and magazines. Roy Lichtenstein enlarged frames from comic books. In theory, the meaning of the images were changed through repetition, or by placing it in a new context. Elaine Sturtevant copied works by Warhol and Lichtenstein, changing the meaning of their artwork through repetition and by placing it in a new context.
During the punk era, Linder Sterling's collages brilliantly combined pin-ups, deserts and household appliances. [One extremely NSFW (not safe for work) piece became the cover for a classic Buzzcocks single.]
The Pictures Generation of the eighties introduced a new set of sophisticated artists, most with graphic design training, access to commercial art resources and a grounding in French social theory.
Barbara Kruger's work – which typically took images from 1950s black and white magazines to critique consumerism and sexism – became instantly recognizable (and much imitated).
Like Sturtevant before her, Sherry Levine made seemingly minimal changes to existing artworks which shifted the meanings of the original. Most famously, she rephotographed Walker Evans' photographs of families displaced during the Dust Bowl and exhibited it as her own work. All of which opens up the question "What does it mean when images of poverty become valuable commodities separated from the experience of the people photographed?"
Like Levine, Sarah Charlesworth's work usually made its points with minimal intervention to the original source material. Images and objects were isolated into fields of pure color, parodying the way cultural objects can be displayed without context in art magazines or museums.
Julia Wachtel's work typically matches cartoons from seventies postcards with images from mass media. “We’re viewers of images all day long, and we live in a surreal environment of juxtaposition. Images have an explicit and sometimes even hidden agenda,” said Wachtel in a recent interview. “My work, I hope, is a poetic response to that experience, and an attempt to pull apart the language and grammar of pictures.”
The range of contemporary approaches to collage can be shown by looking at some recent work by African American Women.
Adrian Piper recently received a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In her series Vanilla Nightmares she draws Black bodies into the pages of the New York Times that interact with the news stories and advertisements.
Lorna Simpson is mostly known for her image/text work which test the limits of language and supposedly objective representation. But she also has a decade of collage work, giving new hairdos to women from Ebony, or providing new contexts for the knowing stare of a model advertising Riunite on Ice.
Born in Kenya, New York based Wangechi Mutu has had work shown in the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Tate Modern in London, in addition to the Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal as well as a 2010 exhibition at the AGO.
A major retrospective of Mickalene Thomas' work, Femmes Noires will be opening at the AGO on November 29 and running through March 24, 2019. Thomas works in multiple media, combining the pattern on pattern aesthetic of Malick Sidibé, the wood paneling of 1970s rec-rooms and images of women recalling Pam Grier and other stars of classic blaxploitation films. But no matter the medium, even in her large scale wall works with beading and embroidery, the works' roots in collage is undeniable.
This is just a small sample of the contemporary and historical approaches to perspective and collage. We welcome you to come explore thousands of arts materials available on the Arts Department on the 5th floor of Toronto Reference Library.