Sat, Dec 28, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: Collage and abstraction as Cubist legacy

Photo 1: Pablo Picasso. Still Life with Chair Caning. 1912. Oil on oil-cloth cover canvas edged with rope. 29cm × 37cm. Collection of Picasso Museum, Paris, France.

Photo: Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times

Collage, a Cubist invention, gets its name from the French “coller,” meaning glue. As a house decorator in his earlier career, Georges Braque was certainly very familiar with wallpapering. The simple act of pasting something from real life onto a painting, on the other hand, was a revolution that shook the art world.

Still Life with Chair Caning (1912) (photo 1) is the first collage by Pablo Picasso. An oilcloth with the cane seat of a chair printed on it was glued onto the oval framework of a canvas instead of depicting the chair (not even in Cubism did objects seem to be all fragmented). This direct “quotation” from reality in place of a hand-drawn effort problematized the mystified “master’s touch” by the act of cutting and gluing, and it also confuses the line between mass-produced goods and high art.

The “readymade” introduced in 1914 by Marcel Duchamp, once a Cubist, can be understood in the same vein, although the idea of readymades was pushed further, into complete rejection.

Art has since then become irrevocably conceptualized, igniting meta-thinking about the question “what is art?” This continues to this day, and these concepts have come to override the physical artwork and become art itself.

From Paul Cezanne, Cubists learned the method of abstraction — breaking down reality into geometric elements and reassembling them in art (see Bilingual Arts on Nov. 30). As a favorite motif of Braque and Picasso, violins/guitars, which are seen in many of their works, were repeatedly used to experiment with the Cubist style.

How the early Cubists broke down reality can be seen in Braque’s Violin and Palette (1909, photo 2). The violin, sheet music, and other shapes were “crushed” and then put back together like a mosaic.

Braque’s Guitar (Scouts) (1913, photo 3) ventured much further from representation. Only wood grain paper, newspaper fragments, and a few charcoal lines were used as keywords or reminders, leaving the viewer to reconstruct the objects and fill in the gaps communicated by the art based on their own knowledge. Although this way of creating meaning is highly dependent on signs, it is not completely abstract, and the attempt to “representation” can still be seen in traces of reality.

Picasso’s Violin and Bottle on a Table (1915, photo 4) is just like a 3D version of Braque’s Guitar (Scouts), echoing the pair’s close artistic relation, and demonstrating the application of Cubist principles to sculpture.

Cubism was like a “big bang” of the art world. From it radiated collage, abstraction, avant-garde art and other movements, which would later each develop their own galaxies, making modern, post-modern and contemporary art seem like footnotes to Cubism.

(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)







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