The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two presents Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage. Spanning across six rooms, the exhibition traces the development of collage across the Western world from the 16th century to the modern day, tracking the art form as a mode of social critique alongside major art and political movements.
Although substantial attention and space is devoted to work by major artists such as Picasso, Braque, and Ernst, the exhibition never feels asymmetrical. In fact, it is successful precisely due to its inclusion and examination of a multitude of voices and the pivotal role they play in the development of collage as a medium.
Many of the works in room one are by often-anonymous amateurs rather than the celebrated avant-garde artists included in later rooms, providing an invaluable cultural insight into post-industrial Britain as they demonstrate the sheer accessibility of collage as an art form for the masses. The idea of collage as an art form of accessibility, as well as alternativity and protest, becomes a recurring theme throughout the exhibition.
Although collage became briefly appropriated away from amateur pursuit and into what we would typically recognise as ‘High Art’ throughout the first half of the 20th century, in the 1960s and 1970s it was reclaimed by numerous anti-establishment movements. Among these was the Punk subculture and within this the Sex Pistols, who saw collage in the same way as they saw Punk music: just as ‘anyone could play three chords on the guitar, so anyone could make a Punk collage’, stripping back the associations of the form with avant-garde pretension and returning it to the accessibility of mass industrialised Victorian valentine card kits.
Much of the exhibition prioritises female contribution; most notably, room four examines the use of collage as a form of feminist protest in the 1960s and 1970s. The Second Wave Feminists used collage, derived from the Victorian pastimes of scrapbooks and photomontages, to counter the dominance of male abstract expressionist painting, reclaiming and politicising a traditionally feminine craft activity.
One of the most striking works is a set of three photomontages by Penny Slinger. Taking inspiration from surrealist Max Ernst, Slinger continues the strong tradition of collage as a means of exploring issues of sex and gender by rearranging body parts and challenging the traditional sexualisation of feminine features, simultaneously redefining the relationship between the typically female subject and the typically male artist.
Ultimately, the exhibition leaves the visitor with the impression of collage as an ever-present part of our culture. Just as the Victorians used collage to create scrapbooks and photomontages as a means of recording and understanding their day-to-day lives, today we create digital collages through our use of social media and technology to ‘interpret, evaluate and criticise’ contemporary culture.
Image: Kat Quinn