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The ends of collage / Luxembourg and Dayan, London

Writing in the press materials for the wide-ranging group show, The Ends of Collage, which spans Luxembourg and Dayan’s London and New York City spaces, the show’s curator, Yuval Etgar posits that “[i]n a time when the term ‘cut and paste’ refers more often to allegorical and digital operations than the use of scissors and glue, it seems imperative to go back and examine the technical invention that lies on the historical seam between pictures and images”. I’m not sure I go along entirely with Etgar in believing that the foregrounding of the technical aspects of the invention of collage is necessarily the “imperative” element of reconsidering collage in the age of Dank Memes for Freedom/Totalitarianism. Thinking of early work by Kurt Schwitters, in particular, tearing and other modes of intervention which are not necessarily strictly technological in nature seem as important in the development of the form as classic, material “cut and paste” processes. Quibbles aside, Etgar’s exhibition is far from an arid exercise in retro-fetishism. Indeed, elsewhere in the press materials, a connection to the meme “culture” which increasingly defines the production and norming of image production in the digital age is drawn. The role of collage as a politically charged medium is one of the crucial undercurrents of the London branch of Etgar’s exhibition.

Certain obvious touchstones are easy to find when considering the status of the agit-collage. Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (We won’t be our own best enemy”), in which a woman rests uneasily on a bed beneath a hovering, manicured hand that threatens to crush her, is terrifyingly relevant in the age of splintering solidarity networks and revanchist patriarchy. Living in a decade that feels like a bleak revenge drama starring some weird animistic version of the 1980s themselves in the Liam Neeson role, the date of Kruger’s work, 1986, feels somehow elegiac and minatory at once: those who do not change the future are condemned to repeat the past.

Repetition is, of course, another crucial aspect of the way images and collage collided over the evolution of the form. The manipulation of mass-produced imagery features in a number of works included in Etgar’s exhibition. Notable is the Giulio Paolini’s “La Ronde”, which offers an examination of the relation between perspective, focus and similitude, as well as a Richard Hamilton work from 1969 which bespeaks the willingness of the man credited with coining the term “pop art” to disassemble the components of the mass imagery on which pop’s foundations rested.

The Ends of Collage is expansive enough to reward repeated viewings and the low key presentation of the works prevent superstars like Miro and Richard Prince from visually shouting over quieter but equally urgent works, for example, a haunting photomontage by Linder from 1977 depicting stately buildings stacked on top of each other. Looking closer, one sees female faces in the doorways of this unnatural and unstable edifice. Collage, therefore, provides a window into the closed off spaces of our culture. Hidden in the clutter of endlessly proliferating images are realities that can only be conveyed by transcending the possible. Etgar’s exhibition is a kind of tribute to this process, but also a call to arms for the renewal of the form’s will to power.

The Ends of Collage
Luxembourg and Dayan
5 Savile Row
London W1S3 PA
Until 13 May

Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.
Richard Prince, Four women looking in the same direction, 1978