Friday, October 20, 2006

the thinking eye previews "a private eye"

Opening tommorow at the Johnson, is A Private Eye: Dada, Surrealism, and More. Included are "over 150 works" on loan from the collection of Dr. Arthur Brandt, a Cornell alumnus. Not just Dada and Surrealism are to be seen; other early modernist movements will provide both context and interest of their own.

Granted that I only returned to Ithaca a little over a year ago (after spending five years in Boston), it seems like its been a while since the city has seen such a large grouping of classic modern art. Needless to say, I'm thrilled, and other art fans of Ithaca should be excited too. These were iconoclastic movements, protesting against the "academic" art of their time; one hopes that not just today's academics will see the show.

My personal favorite amongst the included artists is Kurt Schwitters, who ran a one-man Dada movement in Hannover. He dubbed it "Merz", part of "Commerz" (commerce), a word fragment found on a paper bit used in one of his earliest collages. Best known for his paper collages and three dimensional assemblages, he also worked as an avant-garde graphic designer, which was still a fairly new career in the nineteen twenties. Check out his links to the Constructivist work in the show.

Anyway, I liked Schwitters enough to spend a year of art school imitating him. I would gather detritus from used bookstores, from my apartment, and from the street. I would spend hours, days, weeks arranging and layering the pieces over paper or board. I would add paint and ink, brushing and dripping, layer after layer. It was disappointing to me that the magazines and candy wrappers I used seemed to lack the richness of those from Weimar Germany. Eventually, I moved on to more unexplored territory, but I still get a thrill from seeing his work. Never did I expect to do so in Ithaca.

I'll be reviewing the show (which I have yet to see) for next Wednesday's Times. I intend to find something I can gripe about, but really this is a show that shouldn't be missed.

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Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Blogs are a bit like collages. At least, I've had a lot of fun cutting and pasting from yours.

I like Kurt Schwitters' work also. In a sense Renaissance artists made collages when they borrowed elements from other works, either their own or of different artists. Maybe part of the attraction of collage is that the crudeness of the technique is apparent, but the power of the work is still there. With "great art" of the more distant past, the power seems wrapped up in the refined quality. Collage suggests that there is more to it than that.

It is always a challenge to recreate the aesthetic effect of an artwork of a past era, because in part, as you point out, the materials available now are different. This is a major issue with pigments as well as papers. The point of collage seems to be to accept and make the most of the crumby materials of own's own time. What about "spam collage"?

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Looking back at this comment, I don't like the way I start talking about cutting and pasting from yours blog, and then end with the idea of "spam collage." I posted this comment early in the morning. It might give the idea that I think of your blog as "crumby material", but I was refering to the everyday types of materials used in the actual German collages. What I have referred to from your blog over these months is only "high quality materials"

1:32 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

Well then Karl, you're doing what I did, trying to find nice materials to collage rather than accepting the crummy stuff floating around everywhere.

8:33 PM  

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