Collage at 100—Virtual Annex: Strange Glue (Traditional and Avant-Garde Collage)

Collage at 100 I/III
 
September 7 - November 20, 2012


Collage at 100—Virtual Annex: Strange Glue (Traditional and Avant-Garde Collage)
 
 
Anything can become something else, that's what I wanted to show.1
Marcel Duchamp
 
The Higgs Boson may glue this universe together, but we are the ones who give it meaning.2
David Horsey
 
 
Virtual Annex to the Analog Exhibition
With the addition of the Virtual Annex, part one of Strange Glue became a collaged, or rather, a sliced exhibition, grouped into two categories: an analog exhibition that exists on the walls of the Thompson Gallery and a virtual exhibition that exists at the Thompson Gallery's Blog website. When it comes to assembling an exhibition with an acute focus, typically speaking, artists receive rejection letters when the curator either achieves the goals for a particular grouping of art or space runs out preventing more work from being included. The latter being the case, limited space prevented the 49 artists of Virtual Annex from gracing the walls of the exhibition proper. Strange Glue was not conceived to support an additional facsimile exhibition. It was designed as a three part exhibition series, with the first show celebrating works on paper, the second show exploring installation-based strategies and the third show focusing on the work of Michael Oatman, who's art embodies both foci. However, the strength and haunting nature of the work that could not fit on the walls of the analog show inspired a unique idea of inclusion. Literally tacked on to first exhibit in the series, Virtual Annex is an extension of the same set of interests promoted by its analog counterpart, designed for digital display, with an additional focus all of its own.
 
Not at all slighted by being appended, as its name suggests, Virtual Annex mirrors the invention of collage in some interesting ways. First and foremost, just as Picasso and Braque chose facsimile images to paste onto their work, so too has Strange Glue pasted a virtual showing of a portion of the work it exhibits. As the historical record demonstrates, when artists fuse or divide categories of visual expression, the result is often not immediately appreciated. Sometimes there is a delay in appropriate recognition. One hundred years after Picasso made his first collage in May of 1912, Strange Glue letters of acceptance and rejection were sent via email to 524 artists. And almost to the week, one hundred years after Braque made his first papier collés, the idea to create this catalog to commemorate the virtual exhibition was proposed to the artists in the virtual show. As the idea for this virtual showing evolved, so did its focus. Not planned, but beautifully parallel to the story of Braque and Picasso, a missed opportunity transformed into something greater, not only something virtual, but something essential. In order to better appreciate this odd set of occurrences, it is helpful to explore just a few instances of delayed responses to seminal moments in time. The following three events, taken from the timeline of early collage history, highlight themes of exclusion and/or missed opportunity.
 
 
1912
In May of 1912, despite being the first collage—with its over-painted, collaged wallpaper scrap depicting chair canning and it's assemblage rope frame—after Picasso created it, neither Picasso nor Braque initially recognized the power of Still Life with Chair Canning. Which is to say, the potential of collage and assemblage as a vehicle for creating fine art laid dormant at first. Later, because of a chance encounter with an inspiring new material, Braque's conscious shift to overtly construct art by unifying paper and paint occurred late in the first two weeks of September 1912, nearly four months after the accredited first collage. What then prompted the conscious invention? While in Avignon, Braque happened upon a storefront window display, showcasing facsimile wood-grained wallpaper. He purchased the material and made the first fine art paper collages that same day.3 Soon afterwards, when Picasso ultimately saw Braque's invention of papier collé, he responded with over a hundred of his own in the weeks to follow. In other words, it took the separate creations of both artists and their apparent one-upmanship, to invent collage as a conscious and viable artistic process.
 
History has clearly demonstrated the power of that joint invention.
 
 
1917
As suspected, despite an atmosphere of artistic openness propelled by Picasso and Braque's exploits with cubism and collage, the value of the most infamous readymade was not recognized during its debut appearance in April of 1917. Duchamp had predicted as much by testing the American, Society of Independent Artists (SIA) committee, of which he was a member, to see if they would indeed uphold their liberal and democratic values toward modern art. He set a trap for them having submitted a porcelain urinal, under the pseudonym R. Mutt, which he titled Fountain, as part of his application to the first SIA exhibition. The exhibition committee rejected Fountain—despite advertisements that touted "No Jury, No Prize," and "…no requirements…" other than paying fees and dues—on the grounds that it was "not art," it was "vulgar" and it was a work of "plagiarism." Duchamp's responses to the SIA's determination were a swift resignation and an editorial in the second and final issue of the Blind Man, a magazine designed by Duchamp and the magazine's other editors to follow SIA's premiere exhibition. Duchamp's seminal rebuttal,4 The Richard Mutt Case, not only amended the act of collage to include conceptual transformation; it changed the course of modern art and ushered in post-modern art:
 
What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt's fountain:
1. Some contend it was immoral, vulgar.
2. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing. 
Now Mr. Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bath tub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show windows.
 
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
 
As for plumbing, that is absurd. The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.
 
Duchamp's contributions to the history of collage are so ground-breaking; we are still trying to make sense of them today.
 
 
1918
While in Berlin, Kurt Schwitters wanted to join the Dada Club in 1918, but his application was vetoed5 due to the artist's association with another artist group that did not correspond to the attitudes espoused by the Dadaist revolt against aestheticism and establishmentarianism. Schwitters then adopted the principles of Dada into his studio practice and created a related Dada movement all of his own, which he called Merz. During the first World War, the idea of assembling art using found items from a ravaged and destroyed European city was radical and without precedent. Revered for his work and contributions, Kurt Schwitters was later counted among the most seminal of Dada artists. 
 
Today, using salvaged materials is so widespread most artists do not even know whence it originated or who to thank.
 
 
Dividing Glue: Physical from Immaterial
 
If it is the plumes that make the plumage it is not the glue that makes the gluing.6
Max Ernst
 
Each of the above art-historical rejections prompted actions and responses that ultimately sent shockwaves throughout the world of art and subsequently the world. Moreover, the categorically different kinds of glue these three stories are held together by are interesting to consider. By pointing out the types of connection to the history of collage, each story can be better understood. In other words, if all we took away from these stories was that they are connected to art history and that they all deal with collage and missed opportunity, then we miss gleaning the vital ideas that help us to understand the different strategies of virtual glue they contain.
 
All collage is a process of finding and binding. And of course, most of us take for granted the methods of gluing. We spend time instead with the juxtaposition of images and materials and don't think the glue is important except for keeping things physically stuck together. Such oversight is missed opportunity, because physical adhesives are not the essential glue that binds imagery to the materials used in a collage. With 100 years of collage development, it's time to separate physical adhesives from immaterial binders. Thus, rather than repeat the format of art historical categories which the previous catalog and exhibition examined, this motley grouping of cast off artists has been organized to demonstrate the rich categories of virtual glue only hinted at by its sister show.
 
It may be said that Picasso's and Braque's story is an important example of memorial glue, a story worth being remembered and told again on the one hand, while on the other hand it is a story about not connecting, firmly enough, to what has been glued down—it's a story about the lack of memorial glue. Picasso and Braque missed the potential of the first collage! To recognize what was missed, especially something staring us in the face, is to be ready the next time by being more open. It is interesting to note that both artists bickered over who created the first collage! Thus, at a certain point, they both cared about such memorial glue!
 
Respective of their art, it may be said that Picasso and Braque approached cubism and collage with a kind of formal glue as they helped to define and express the vitality of the elements and principles of design in an effort to break the traditions of naturalism—something the Bauhaus would later build an entire institution of learning upon, which in turn, inspired art colleges and university art programs worldwide to train future generations of artists by. But formal glue is still only a basic and rudimentary type of virtual glue, because it already existed in our art jargon and vernacular7 centuries before. The others types of immaterial glue are not yet in our lexicon of glue terminology and they beckon our attention.
 
Pattern Glue (Reptilian Glue)
Pattern-based glue is perhaps the oldest form of glue and thus the easiest to recognize. The human eye and mind are particularly well suited to identify rhythms, formulas, models, rules and conventions. The heartbeat, shapes in the scattered stars, numerology and anything repetitive, becomes a signal to anticipate what comes next. Patterns identify things we move toward and away from and they help the formation of logic.
 
Emotional Glue (Limbic Glue)
The intuitive, playful and scavenger aesthetic of Kurt Schwitters work has more to do with emotional glue. Gluing with this type of glue champions feelings, intuitions and emotive gestures. This is a particularly difficult glue to point out in works that use it because feelings are often difficult to name and feelings are often experienced without or before words can be formed to frame them. That pointed out however, emotional glue is no less powerful than other types of glue because it so easily sparked if not informed by the other glue types. Memorial and associative glues easily drive the connections to things with great and enduring force.
 
Linguistic Glue (Left Hemispheric, Neocortical Glue)
Language as a unifying factor, any language, all languages, text and numbers constitute this kind of glue. Linguistic glue is the most communicative glue, because of the ease of comprehension and its capability of being translated from one language to the next.
 
Associative Glue (Right Hemispheric, Neocortical Glue)
Associative glue is a metaphorical and allusive type of glue. It allows for the thinnest but often the most rewarding and surprising connections. It tolerates lies and truths together; it extends everything into a possibility of semblances and interconnectivity, and, it is the glue of dreams. 
 
Conceptual Glue (Left & Right Hemispheric, Neocortical glue)
Conceptual glue values idea over all other connective factors. Duchamp's glue is decidedly conceptual with a strong driving political factor. Political Glue, a faction of conceptual glue is about governing beliefs and is the stuff that binds people together through law, religion and custom.
 
Decidedly human in nature, these are but a few of the general and most widely used types of glues artists use when they construct a composite work of art—which is to say any work of art. Virtual Annex then, is an exploration that exemplifies these basic types.
 
 
Virtual Glue: Agent of Meaning
Epoxy, the strongest of commercially available, physical adhesives, is a two-part glue that uses a catalyst to speed and permanently fix or cure the glue. With that in mind, the study of glue type is perhaps best thought of as the identification of the different catalysts of content. As the various types of virtual glue demonstrate, physical adhesives require a catalyst that quickens, cures and fixes the ideas being expressed to the found or manufactured materials used. 
 
Because collages are typically made with many different kinds of virtual glue, in truth, it is difficult to isolate and separate one virtual glue type from another during the process. Concomitantly, it is likely that several human skills transpire simultaneously when viewing art. Indeed, too much of the human mind fires at the same time in many varied combinations to exclude one type of glue or skill from transpiring. In any combination and intensity, we receive, feel, intuit, think, act, express, respect,8 and of course switch or transition between these frequently, every moment throughout our existence.9 
 
As the Strange Glue (Traditional & Avant-garde Collage) exhibition points out, despite affinities with one category, a given collage may be linked to and straddle more than one art-historical category. Identifying glue type runs into the same muddled situation. While a pragmatist attitude might dismiss the need for glue categorization, it is nevertheless not a futile exercise. To understand what binds a multi-node collage is to get to closer to its subject and inspire future endeavors. 
 
While the Virtual Annex is not a ground-breaking show, it nevertheless came into being, ironically, because of an initial exclusion of artists from its sister exhibition, which as we have seen, appropriately echoes the history of collage. Nor is the Virtual Annex the first digital exhibition. That acknowledged however, the Virtual Annex very well might be the first virtually annexed portion of a larger ongoing exhibit. It is fitting then, that the Virtual counterpart of Strange Glue introduces two new categories that are not represented in the analog show: landscape and conceptual art. However, due to the organization of the Virtual show that explores glue types, the attentive eye and mind will have to search for art-historical categories among the categories of glue in this present volume; an encouraged task that demonstrates the permeability of approach and the wonderful treachery of categories. 
 
Virtual Annex allowed for a deeper exploration of the ways in which collages are constructed. Hopefully, Virtual Annex initiates the search for an exhaustive list of virtual glue types. After all, with such a list indoctrinated into collage's vernacular, who knows where future generations of artists will push composite imagery. But for the moment, identifying the types of glue that makes up the work in Virtual Annex provides an opportunity to come closer to understanding why these works of art haunt the mind and keep viewers coming back to take another look—precisely what prompted this show in the first place.
 
Finally and poignantly, because the show afforded an opportunity to articulate what would otherwise have laid dormant, it should be considered that the Virtual Annex is the catalyst that activates the Collage at 100 exhibition series.
 
Todd Bartel
Gallery Director, Curator
Thompson Gallery
 
 
 
 
 
Endnotes                                                                                  
1. "My Fountain was not a negation: I simply tried to create a new idea for an object that everybody thought they knew. Anything can become something else, that was what I wanted to show,” Marcel Duchamp speaking to Ulf Linde (1961), quoted in Harald Szeeman, ed., Marcel Duchamp, Basel and Ostfildern-Ruit: Museum Jean Tinguely Basel and Hatje Cantz, 2002, p. 90.
 
2. David Horsey, Los Angeles Times, Higgs Boson Binds the Universe, But Humans Give It Meaning, July 5, 2012
 
3. Brandon Taylor, Collage: The Making of Modern Art, Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, 2006, p. 17.
 
4. The Richard Mutt Case was probably co-written with the other editors of The Blind Man including, Beatrice Wood, H.P. Roché; William Canfield, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain: Aesthetic Object, Icon, or Anti-Art? in The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp, edited by Thierry de Duve, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press 1991, p. 145
 
5. Marc Dachy, Dada: The Revolt of Art, Abrams, New York, 2006, p. 46.
 
6. Max Ernst, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, The Documents of Modern Art, (Robert Motherwell, Director), Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., New York, NY, 1948. p. 13
 
7. Artists and teachers refer to this as the "formal" aspects of a work, and that has been linked to modernism, which is heavily criticized today. However, when you realize that no work of art can ever escape the use of "formal glue" then the full range of elements and principles of design because a arsenal of possibilities.
 
8. Inspired by the scientific work of Paul D. MacLean and his Triune Brain Model, these seven skills were first proposed by the faculty of the Mead School, of Stamford, CT as being basic human skills. The Mead School was the first school to develop an approach to teaching and learning using MacLean's model, which identifies the Reptilian, Limbic (Mammalian) and Neocortical brains as having evolved in a particular order with different purposes. It was this basic premise of "ordered brains," that the mind of three minds could offer insight and inspiration on the part of the teachers of the Mead school to address different learning styles, by respecting the evolutionary order of brain development within the classroom setting—not jumping to neocortical activity too early when connecting with students. For example, first tend to the creation of a safe and alluring environment (reptilian, then mammalian), then work to develop a strong relationship with students (limbic), eventually and ultimately challenge students through academic rigor (neo cortex), but only after the first two evolutionary rungs are achieved. Todd Bartel taught at the Mead School from 1992 to 2000 and developed an art curriculum that capitalized on an extensive application of the triune brain model.
 
9. Of course, many artists are famous for the work they have made that isolates one skill or glue, Duchamp being a particularly outstanding example.



For a catalog of the Virtual Annex, please visit: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/unfoldingobject
 


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