Collage: 1900 - Present
“Our environment is a collage. It is all these different elements colliding with each other constantly.” This is just one of the many comments Dr. Christian Conrad made about collage as an important and pivotal art medium. He spoke at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA) on Saturday, November 7th, as part of LHUCA’s newly started community programming in art and art history. Dr. Conrad received his PhD from the Texas Tech University School of Art, and he is currently a featured art history lecturer at both LHUCA and the TTU Museum Association. He discussed a series of artists and art mediums, like Dada and Cubism, that have been influenced by collage, and the profound impact that collage has had on modern art, and continues to have in contemporary art and artists.
Pablo Picasso: Glass and bottle of Suze, 1912
Dr. Conrad began with where he felt that collage really began to take off. While collage had existed in the 1800’s, there was a point where it did come into the public view as a fine art form. It began with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, widely recognized as the fathers of Cubism, in the early 1900’s when Picasso and Braque were sharing a studio and collaborating. They seemed to be striving toward this concept of art imitating reality. The results were several vital works. Cubism, by itself, brings those central objects into the foreground. Glass and bottle of Suze, 1912, by Pablo Picasso highlights the central objects and really makes them jump off the page. Rather than working with simply a flat canvas, these key objects are incorporated and at the center of the work. A critical point is that the object was created organically from the use of other objects. Dr. Conrad noted this as an important part of collage in that “rather than relying on creating representations for form, collage uses existing form to create new form.” Braque’s works went even further to create a dialogue. Still life on a table with ‘Gillette’, 1914, is not just creating form, but also creating a vocabulary of symbols within the work. These symbols of culture and life in early 20th century Paris are heavily reflected in the work itself.
Georges Braque: Still life on a table with ‘Gillette’, 1914
Dr. Conrad noted that another prolific collage artist, Kurt Schwitters, was working at the same time as Picasso and Braque in Germany. Beyond Cubism, collage was strongly present in Dadaism and Surrealism in the 1910’s -1930’s in Berlin. Kurt Schwitters was well known amongst the Berlin Dada scene and is most famous for his collage called the Merz Pictures. Dr. Conrad pointed out that Schwitters’s term “Merz”, used by the artist to describe his range of artworks, was derived from the German word “Kommerz”. Schwitters’s Merz Picture 25A is from this series of Merz Pictures. Its composition is composed of these layers of newspaper clippings that create this ordered chaos full of color and symbols. Schwitters also demonstrated that collage can be busy or simple in its nature. In the 1920’s, Schwitters’s Merz pieces began to be more constructivist and less complex, such as Untitled (Oval Construction), 1925. While Schwitters was never formally accepted into Berlin Dada, his good friend Hannah Hoch was one of its stars.
Kurt Schwitters: Merz Picture 25A
Hannah Hoch was a Berlin Dada artist who used collage to reflect her fascination with human anatomy and drive forward new concepts of feminism. Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919, is a loaded commentary of social, political and cultural issues taking place in Berlin in the aftermath of World War I. This collage is a dynamic narrative on the chaotic and corrupt German democracy that surfaced after the war. Her insights resulted in a display of many of the concerns that artists had in Germany during that time. Collage fed into Surrealism much in the same way it fed into Dadaism.
Hannah Hoch: Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919
Max Ernst was fascinated by, as many surrealists were, with the intricacies of the unconscious mind. Ernst began making his first collages in Munich in 1919. Ernst’s piece The Fall of an Angel, 1920, is described by Dr. Conrad as a “weird surrealistic narrative.” Like Braque, Ernst told a story with collage, but rather than his work reflecting realities, it reflected the human psyche. Ernst’s work later inspired and led to the popular 1950’s movement, Abstract Expressionism.
Max Ernst: The Fall of an Angel, 1920
Dr. Conrad discussed several other prolific artists in collage such as Koloman Moser, Rene Magritte, Piet Mondrian, Romare Bearden, Sergei Parajanov, and Robert Rauschenberg. Today, some examples of local artists’ collage are on display at LHUCA.
Glenn Downing, on display through the end November in LHUCA’ s main gallery, uses real materials to create raw and emotional pieces. Downing uses collage and assemblage (3-D collage) that reflect the realities and spontaneity of life, much in the way Braque and Picasso did. Another Texas Artist inspired by collage is Karin Broker. Her prints have much of the same effect that Max Ernst’s did in that she builds forms with collage to tell short, one page stories.
Dr. Conrad will continue the Saturdays at LHUCA series. His next talk will be on the life and works of Robert Rauschenberg on Saturday November 21st at 11:30-1:00 at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts. More of his art history lectures can be viewed on his website conradmerz.com. For more information about LHUCA’s weekend community programming, which includes artist talks, art history lectures, and topics on health and wellness, visit the LHUCA website lhuca.org.