The success of collages has spanned through part of the 20th century, favoring and deeply affecting the evolution of pictorial art. The addition of paper cut-outs (cardboard, newspapers, photos…) on the sheet has widened the possibilities of expression, allowing to interpret our times through new, stimulating forms.

Nico Zardo

An important exhibition, “Collage/Collages. From Cubism to New Dada”, was held a few months ago in Turin, Italy, at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM), with the aim of proposing a historical interpretation of the collage through the exhibition of 160 works coming from prestigious Italian and international public and private collections.

From Picasso to Sironi, from Max Ernst to Breton, from Schwitters to Matisse, the works on show illustrate how many protagonists of modern art have engaged in this technique, drawing inspiration for their own artistic experience.


THE INVENTION OF THE COLLAGE – a technique born during the Cubist experience – is attributed to Braque and Picasso who, between the Spring and Fall of 1912, begin to add oilskins to their compositions, imitating the woven straw seat of a Thonet chair (Picasso, still life, May 1912) and cut-outs of wood-like printed paper (faux bois) (Braque, Compotier et verre, September 1912). The additions, besides constituting the quickest means of attaining the faux bois effect, in their ensemble establish a plane, an “extraneous”, rigid fragment that is placed in a dialectic relationship with the other painted elements. The presence of these “foreign” but real and recognizable elements, offers a cue for the immediate interpretation of works that are often made cryptic by the cubist fragmentations of the figure. In particular, the presence of newspaper, which at the beginning of the century witnessed strong diffusion thanks to the development of printing mediums, enriches the works through a direct dialogue with reality.

As this technique spreads (in Paris Juan Gris, Henri Matisse, Henry Laurens; in Italy Ardengo Soffici, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà, just to mention a few), the way it is used changes. Many more types of material are used, from wallpaper to music paper, from wrapping paper to visiting cards, from tin-foil to newspapers. Even the weight of the presence of “papier” increases until it sometimes occupies all the space of the painting, without even a brush stroke.

The surrealists (Aragon, Max Ernst, Breton) in the 1930s mix newspaper cut-outs, photos, prints taken from product catalogues and illustrated magazines of the XIX century, creating suggestive/provocative oneiric relations that clearly allude to Freudian experiences. In the period between the two World Wars, the collage expresses its critical strength in Germany’s political drama through the works of Hanna Höch, George Grosz and Otto Dix. Still in Germany, the refined Kurt Schwitters figures as one of the most prolific pioneers of collages: master in the use of waste materials “in his collages he oscillates between allusion stylized to the natural world and a more abstract and dynamic game with shapes and forms”, states Alessandro Nigro in the exhibition’s handsome catalogue.


AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR, THE COLLAGE UNDERGOES FURTHER METAMORPHOSES both in its technique and expressive capabilities. In the last years of his life, Matisse uses the assembly of tempera-painted cartons for the production of the Jazz portfolio, printed in 1947 by the artist’s friend, Tériade.

In the 1950s, Villeglé, Hains and Rotella use the décollage of street posters, representing through their stratification an urban landscape undergoing fast and continuous mutations. And while with his stitched sacks Burri recovers the absolute capability of enticing emotions through the material itself, Dubuffet re-elaborates reality with the assemblage of papers imprinted with organic debris, and Rauschenberg “seizes and exorcises the obsolescence of things by impregnating the canvas with the slags of our daily life experiences so that it becomes a testimonial, as in Memorandum of Bids of 1957”, writes Maria Grazia Messina in the catalogue.

The exhibition also documents neo-Dadaistic quest in Italy during the second half of the 1950s, (Scialoja, Afro, Capogrossi, Turcato, Tancredi, Baj, Scarpitta) and the conceptual works of the beginning of the Sixties, (Piero Manzoni and Giulio Paolini, Ron Kitaj), years that mark the disappearance of this practice, that will be supplanted by Pop Art and favor the subsequent complex expressive fragmentation of contemporary art.

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