Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Art of Collage is Older Than We Think

I recently received an email with the following information. Interesting.
Wanted to share with all of you.

August 26, 2009
MEDIA CONTACTS: Erin Hogan Chai Lee
(312) 443-3664 (312) 443-3625
Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage
Premieres at the Art Institute October 10, 2009
First Exhibition of its Kind Will Travel to the Met and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Although collage is commonly thought of
as a modern art form, the act of “playing
with pictures” has a long, rich, and
surprising history. Its roots are on full
display in the unique exhibition Playing
with Pictures: The Art of Victorian
Photocollage, on view from October
10, 2009 through January 3, 2010, in
Photography Galleries 1 and 2 at the Art
Institute of Chicago.

This exhibition is the first to comprehensively examine the little-known
phenomenon of Victorian photocollage, presenting many eye-opening works that have rarely—
and in many cases never—before been displayed or reproduced. Playing with Pictures will
receive its world premiere at the Art Institute before traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of
Art in New York and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
A full 60 years ahead of the avant-garde—and more than a century before Photoshop—
aristocratic Victorian women were already making radical experiments with photocollage.
During the Victorian era, photography became remarkably popular and accessible, as people
posed for studio portraits and exchanged these pictures on a vast scale. The makers of the
collages shown here cut up these portraits and placed them in elaborate watercolor designs in
albums. With their sharp wit, absurd senses of humor, and dramatic shifts of scale akin to
those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these photocollages stand the rather serious
conventions of photography in the 1860s and 1870s on their heads, debunking stuffy Victorian
clich├ęs with surreal, subversive, and funny

Oftentimes, the combination of
photographic portraits with painted settings
inspired dreamlike and even bizarre results:
placing human heads on animal bodies; situating
people in imaginary landscapes; and morphing
faces into common household objects. Such
images reveal the educated minds as well as
accomplished hands of their makers, as they take
on new theories of evolution, the changing role of
photography, and the strict boundaries of aristocratic society. Together they provide a
fascinating window into the creative possibilities of photography in the Victorian era and
enduring inspiration for photographic experimentation today.
Playing with Pictures showcases the best of these albums and loose pages from collections
across the United States, Europe, and Australia; 40 pages are shown in frames on the wall,
while 11 separate albums are displayed in cases, accompanied by “virtual albums” on
computer monitors for visitor interaction. One of the highlights of the exhibition is an exciting
addition to the Art Institute’s permanent collection: the Madame B Album, a fascinating album
of more than 140 pages of photographs and watercolor designs, which was acquired in 2005
and is on public display for the first time. “Madame B” has been identified as Blanche Fournier,
the wife of a French diplomat. In her clever, whimsical, and surreal world, photographic
portraits dot the tail feathers of a turkey, faces decorate the wings of a colorful butterfly, and a
secret language of flowers communicates hidden meanings.
Two catalogues, Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage by Elizabeth Siegel
and The Marvelous Album of Madame B: Being the Handiwork of a Victorian Lady of
Considerable Talent by Elizabeth Siegel and Martha Packer, will accompany this exhibition.
The Art of Victorian Photocollage constitutes the first full-length scholarly examination of the
phenomenon of photocollage in the Victorian era, focusing on the themes and social meanings
of photocollage as well as the avant-garde character of the art form. Published by Yale
University Press for the Art Institute, the book reproduces 140 illustrations, most of which have
never been printed before, and features essays by Elizabeth Siegel, Patrizia Di Bello, and
Marta Weiss, and contributions by Miranda Hofelt. The Marvelous Album of Madame B reflects
on both the experiences of the album’s creator, Blanche Fournier, as well as the history behind
the photocollage album. With more than 55 pages filled with photographs, collages, and
watercolor designs, the book features repeating pictorial themes such as pattern, the animal
kingdom, and keepsakes. The Marvelous Album of Madame B is published by Scala
Publishers for the Art Institute. Both volumes can be purchased at the Museum Shop of the Art
Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage is curated by Elizabeth Siegel,
Associate Curator of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition will be on view
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from February 2 to May 9, 2010, and at the Art
Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto from June 5 to September 5, 2010.
Major funding for Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage is generously
provided by ART MENTOR FOUNDATION LUCERNE, the Smart Family Foundation, and
Brenda Shapiro in memory of Earl Shapiro. Additional support provided by The Hite
Foundation in memory of Sybil Hite and by Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul.
Mary Georgiana Caroline, Lady Filmer (English, 1838-1903), Untitled, loose page from the Filmer Album, mid-1860s, Collage of
watercolor and albumen prints, Paul F. Walter.
Kate Edith Gough (English, 1856–1948). Untitled page from the Gough Album, late 1870s. Collage of watercolor and albumen
prints. V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London. G31910
# # # #
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Debbie said...

Very interesting. I didn't know collage had been around for so long!

Salzanos said...

how cool is that! History, my mother always said, there was nothing new under the sun. Maybe she was right. ;-)

slommler said...

Fascinating Patti! It is amazing! When we think we are the pioneers we find that so many have gone before us.
Thanks for sharing this

Mica said...

I really didn't know that they did those sorts of pieces. I knew they colloged...but this is funky! I love it! Thanks for digging up some interesting history! Love ya

Lydia said...

So cool! Great info. Yes, I have found older collages that are really very neat also:) I get so excited to find well made ones.