Significant highlights of my visit to MoMA were the connected exhibitions Print/Out and Printin’ that look at the way print is used in contemporary art. The latter, organised by artist Ellen Gallagher and Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator in MoMa’s Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, is centred around Gallagher’s DeLuxe a grid of 60 frames each containing a collaged print based on adverts found in mid-twentieth century black lifestyle magazines and newspaper articles. DeLuxe is an extraordinary, fascinating work that demands, and rewards, close scrutiny. I am fascinated both by the adverts Gallgher has found and by her use materials – particularly plasticine – in the collages.
John Chamberlain, Hatband, 1960
The automobile has a very particular place in American culture. It’s central to countless films and novels, helping to drive (sorry) the narrative. Though cars do appear in art – in photography, painting and sculpture – they are less prevalent here though from the minimalist sculpture of the mid-twentieth century onwards there was certainly a clear interest in using industrial processes and making work that defied expectations about the nature of sculpture in particular. Expectations about painting had already been shattered by minimalism and abstract expressionism.
Flowers have a long history in art, not least in the history of pretty but clichéd painting. The flowers in Anya Gallaccio’s work aren’t painted though, nor sculpted. They are real, presented in panels and not altered – or, crucially, preserved – in any way.
At first glance, Ambrosine Allen’s pictures appear to be black and white photographs of a familiar but somewhat fantastic landscape; it’s only when one looks more closely that the structure of the images becomes apparent. The images are photographic in a sense but there is a strangeness to the surface. These are collages made of tiny scraps of photographs cut from books and used to build up the strange worlds Allen depicts. In the series Compendium to the New World, images from which are on show at Room, the world becomes a strange dreamscape in which odd geological features sit in uncomfortable proximity to one another under stormy skies or in the shadow of volcanic eruptions.
Cutting up old photographs or magazines to make collages is territory artists share with pretty much everyone who’s ever kept a scrapbook, maybe with everyone who’s ever been a child. But nonetheless – or maybe as a consequence, we all recognise the activity after all – it can be incredibly fertile ground for artists. Even something as simple as cutting up two pictures and sticking them back together can result in intriguing and sometimes disturbing new images.