...in with the new.

(above, work on paper by Ray Yoshida - information unavailable)

...in with the new.

A new show of collage artists at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut Street, Rock Paper Scissors: American Collage Now, seems to investigate the age-old questions of chaos and order. Some possible answers are explored, through both lovingly “conventional” and bracingly unconventional means. The show includes some of the usual suspects, as well as contemporary Fleisher-Ollman fare.

Left to its own devices, the enormous amount of flotsam and jetsam that floats through our lives and accumulates over the years can become oppressive. We feel this after a few weeks of not sorting mail on the kitchen table. The piles can seem psychologically troubling – yet instinctively there are scraps of paper, curious ephemera and plastic gewgaws which catch our fancy, and for various reasons, hang on to us.

For centuries artists have found this stream of peripheral scraps to be fertile material for the imagination; an imagination that re-appropriates, reworks and redefines, creating new language from old words. Collage cashes in on this fascination, using a poetic assembly to entrance and beguile us, to hold our attention. It appeals to the miniaturist in all of us.

This show features an assemblage by one well-known practitioner of the aesthetic, Joseph Cornell. This particular box construction his usual charm, vague nostalgia and often-inscrutable, yet almost accidental profundity of object relationships. Gold rings wait quietly for the call to ascend moonward along the white length of the box – there is a light, airy expectation to this environment. And this is often the curious, naive strength of Cornell’s work: the feeling that a narrative is unfinished; that the action is just suspended, until we turn away, and all the tiny objects – balls, feathers, paper fans – will whirl back into the continuation of their story. The box has much to do with this of course. It’s a frame, window, diorama – a peephole into another world – an encapsulated world with material parameters.

Furthermore, this helps explain the strength in general of collage – the tautness of choice over randomness, the power of delineation over scattering, the freedom of limits: the easing of order out of chaos. Or at least reordered chaos. In an interview recently, actor Matt Dillon expressed this idea rather nicely when he talked about actors who like working with strict directors because “ they want to feel safe so they can take chances.” With the contemporary concept of freedom, this smacks initially of paradox. Not so. Without parameters, freedom becomes a meaningless concept; without edges, art becomes simplistic simulacrum.

An artist, who has made much of the Max Ernst style of collage – yet in a more tongue-in-cheek, less macabre way, is Felipe Jesus Consalvos. There are similar tactics to Cornell here – a framing, and a story-like feel. Yet in these exists a political undertone. Victorian lovelies cavort and promenade with George-Washington headed figures and Napoleon-torsoed creatures. It seems Tim Burton and Thomas Nast have birthed a bastard child, a Hannah Hoch collage absurdist that writes weird plays-on-paper. Cheekily seeming much like government, we can see things are happening, but we’re not sure what’s going on. Pasted-on phrases attempt to help us, but they seem more red herring than slogan. Felipe Jesus Consalvos has created a physically reordered world that’s become psychologically chaotic. Order is riding the edge of entropy.

Ray Yoshida, on the other hand, manages to wring both an order and a fresh breath out of collage’s sometimes-dingy reputation. His beautiful assemblages of cut-and-paste sections of comic-pages manage to feel at the same time like a box of delicately iced chocolates; a delightful space-age cuneiform; and a page from Buck Rogers’ guide to architectural elements. In addition, Yoshida adds little expressive speech balloons here and there, imparting a murmur of narrative – a color TV on low volume in the next room. Gallery owner John Ollman informed me that Yoshida is ill, and will most likely not be creating more work. This is sad, but any oeuvre that has major work as is in this exhibition, is a collection both well conceived and subtle. This type of collage is so unlike “traditional” collage that one almost hesitates in calling it such. But there is still the reordering – albeit on a more serene and severe structural level – and a definite sense of the old becoming new, the leftovers raised to silver platter status. This is a collage of sublimity.

There is so much more worth saying about the rest of the work in this delightful show, but hopefully this will suffice to whet your appetite for what is one of the more rich – and fun – exhibits I’ve seen for a while.


roberta  – (Friday, 21 April, 2006)  

great post, Tim! and I'm so sorry to hear about Ray Yoshida being ill. Thanks for sharing that. I'm going to post a link to this at artblog. I think our readers would be interested.

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