[Until 27th October]
It is exciting and inspiring to see the National Galleries of Scotland tackle collage as an art form worthy of entering art history. Even more so to know that it will be on record for future curators, academics and critics to note that collage art is as ‘legitimate’ as any other. Some claim that collage cannot be called art. But this seems as pointless as arguing about whether a Jaffa Cake is really a biscuit or a cake, when it simply should just be enjoyed. Much the same can be said of this exhibition.
Collage, as shown at the start of this exhibition, was historically used as a ‘practice’ medium for artists’ creative experiments rather than a completed work in itself. Collage seldom appeared outwith the studio. Thanks to the influence of high profile 20th Century artists, collage has reached a point where it needs to be examined and included as an artwork.
So, it is not surprising that all of the first floor of Modern 2 is dedicated to 20th Century collage – that’s four out of the six rooms in this exhibition. The two rooms which bookend the exhibition are pre- and post-20th Century respectively. In Room 1 (1550 – 1900), the foundations of collage are laid bare, and Room 6 shows contemporary artists working with collage today – the Chapman Brothers and John Stezaker. Altogether over 250 works are shown.
Upstairs you will find Rooms 2 – 5. Here is where collage is beginning to be accepted into an artist’s body of work, so you’ll naturally find more artworks which have been collected and well-preserved. The NGS also has a considerable Surrealism collection to draw from, so it is no surprise that practically a whole strand is devoted to this era of collage in art. It is also the Surrealist method of working that is the most recognisable form of collage art to us and still popular today.
Here on the first floor, you will find the heavyweight stars of the century: Schwitters, Gris, Picasso, Goncharova, Duchamp, Paolozzi, Grosz, Blake, Matisse, Haussman, Höch, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Gilliam. By the time you’ve made it to Room 5, it must be difficult to argue that this is not a medium to be taken seriously.
In Room 4, things get rebellious as we examine collage as a form of protest in the 1960s and 70s. Here you can view a video by Cindy Sherman alongside punk artist Jamie Reid, best known for his work on the Sex Pistols vinyl LP covers and posters.
Back downstairs in Room 6, compare the first and last rooms of the exhibition to see the huge impact that the 20th Century has had on the use of collage as an experimental, rebellious and accessible creative tool.
The exhibition continues outwith the gallery rooms, spilling out into the corridor to ponder how collage infuses our everyday culture and creativity. Any exhibition which acknowledges the benefits of Fuzzy Felts as a tool for early creativity gets the thumbs up from me, as I compose myself from what can best be described as a Proustian moment.
For fans of collage, there is nothing new here except the joy of seeing collage embraced by UK art history curators. For those new to the idea of collage as art, there is much to reconsider in this comprehensive and thoughtful exhibition.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)
Edinburgh EH4 3DS