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First survey exhibition of collage ever to take place anywhere in the world opens in Edinburgh
Pablo Picasso (b.1881), Bottle and Glass on a Table), 1912. Charcoal on paper, collage, 61.60 x 470 cm. Collection: National Galleries of Scotland © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2018.

EDINBURGH.- Consisting of work by anonymous amateurs, famous artists and forgotten figures alike, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage is the first survey exhibition of collage ever to take place anywhere in the world. This wide-ranging exhibition dispels the myth that collage is a 20th-Century invention set in motion by cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, and points to a richer and much more diverse history.

The word ‘Collage’ comes from the French verb ‘coller’, meaning ‘to glue’, and it is often associated with cut-and-pasted paper, photographs, newspaper cuttings, string etc. However, with Cut and Paste, curator Patrick Elliott sets out to challenge traditional definitions, and expand our understanding of collage, both in visual art and as a practice that has influenced all forms of creativity in the 20th Century, from literature to punk.

Cut and Paste presents a huge range of styles, techniques and approaches – spanning a period of more than four centuries and including more than 250 works. From sixteenth-century anatomical ‘flap prints’, to computer-generated images; from collages by children to revolutionary cubist masterpieces by Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris; from nineteenth-century do-it-yourself collage kits to Cindy Sherman’s playful collage film Doll Clothes (1975). Highlights of the exhibition include a three-metre-long folding collage screen, purportedly made in part by Charles Dickens; a major group of Dada and Surrealist collages, by artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Joan Miró, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst; Henri Matisse’s exquisite Jazz series; and post-war works by Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Andy Warhol and Peter Blake, including source material for the cover of the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The importance of collage as a form of protest in the 1960s and ’70s is being shown in the work of feminist artists such as Carolee Schneemann (her Body Collage film, 1967, shows her covered in wallpaper paste and leaping about in shredded paper), Penny Slinger, Nancy Grossman, Annegret Soltau and Cindy Sherman; punk artists, such as Jamie Reid, whose original collages for the first Sex Pistols’ album and posters will feature; and the famously subversive collages of Monty Python founder Terry Gilliam. The exhibition also features the legendary library book covers which the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell doctored with collages, and put back on Islington Library’s shelves – a move which landed them both in prison for six months. Collage’s ability to juxtapose seemingly disparate images and ideas accords perfectly with the role of political tool, with artists such as Linder and Hannah Wilke revisiting and reinventing the traditional female pursuits of cutting, pasting, stitching and patchwork (represented in Cut and Paste in Victorian-era works by Kate Gough, Sarah Eliza Pye and many others) to create subversive and highly political artworks.

Cut and Paste highlights the playful, experimental nature of collage, finding antecedents to the absurdist creations of Dada and Surrealist artists in the scrapbooks and crazy collages of 19th-century amateurs. The process of manipulating, swapping, lifting and testing to create unexpected and sometimes bizarre images runs right through the exhibition, from Mary Watson’s puzzling collage scrapbook of engravings, handwritten notes and fragmented words cut out from newspapers (1821); to Kate Gough’s Gough Album (1875-80), in which the artist stuck portrait photographs of bewhiskered Victorian gentlemen onto a watercolour of apes in response to Darwin’s recently published theories on evolution; to Sarah Eliza Pye’s exquisite Crazy Patchwork (1897); to Hannah Höch’s weird, hybrid figures, Hausmann’s satirical, cut-and-paste portraits and Max Ernst’s dreamlike collages. Cut and Paste also features work by children, including a child’s bedroom door, covered with stickers, and Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith’s famous Cottingley Fairy photographs, in which the two girls copied book illustrations, added wings, and collaged the fairies onto themselves, for a time unintentionally duping the world into believing in fairies. These works form part of a section on photography and the vogue for ‘composite’ images in the Victorian period.

Cut and Paste demonstrates how collage continues to inspire artists working today and includes recent collage works by Adrian Ghenie, Deborah Roberts, Chantal Joffe, Christian Marclay, Jake and Dinos Chapman and many others. Owing to the fragility of much of the work, the exhibition will not tour: it can only be seen in Edinburgh, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland said: Cut and Paste is, surprisingly, the first survey exhibition of collage ever to take place anywhere in the world. Collage has a rich and varied history that is not often told: it embraces cut-and-pasted paper, photography, film, patchwork, modern-day stickers and computerised Photoshop – Cut and Paste explores this highly creative, utterly subversive and often overlooked art form in a way that it has never been explored before. And you can only see it in Edinburgh!

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: We are excited that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting the first survey exhibition of collage ever to take place in Britain and that their support has enabled the National Galleries of Scotland to realise this ambitious project.

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