A view of one of the walls of “All That Remains” (all photos by the author)

Curator Charles Wilkin has put together a show of collage, All That Remains, at Picture Farm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show, presented by Ugly Art Room, opened last Friday and made me wonder how the art form might be different today in contrast to its origins in the early 20th C. I spoke to the curator about contemporary collage.

Poster for “All That Remains” featuring a collage by Winkin titled “All That Remains” (2011).

Hrag Vartanian: What do you think is unique about collage today, if anything?

Charles Wilkin: One of the exciting things about collage is its primary use of discarded paper media which ultimately keeps it in motion, constantly changing like a chameleon. A quick look at the diversity of styles, concepts and technique found in contemporary collage proves it’s moved well beyond simply cut paper and glue.

I suspect many artists find it alluring for not only its immediacy but its unique and inherent nature to reinvent the familiar into something mysteriously new. Collage also has a long history of integrating itself in to political and cultural movements so it seems natural there’s a collage revival happening in these uncertain times. Which is why I believe many contemporary collages artists are focused on bold narratives rooted in some type of analysis, making All That Remains not only relevant now but also for the future.

HV: None of these images are digitial, correct? Well, what do you think is different about paper collage, compared to digital?

CW: Ninety percent of the show is paper collage done by hand however there are a few artists working digitally. I personally have done both mediums and in my mind they are equal in many respects. The overall techniques are completely different but the approach is often the same.

Ciara Phelan, “Birds Of Eden” (2011) (click to enlarge)

The challenge of paper collage is working with what you have on hand, the size of the images, the color and texture of the paper. It’s almost like trying to make something out of nothing really, this seems to be the draw for a lot of collage artists in general. Working digitally gives you the ability to manipulate every aspect of the collage, I personally have found working digitally creates too many possibilities. Up until recently there seemed to be a strong division among collage artists on the paper vs. digital topic but lately I’m seeing more and more artists mixing the two, which is great.

Collage has historically has been a medium that embraces technology, I mean where would those Punk Rock flyers of the 1970s and 1980s be without a Xerox machine? So from my perspective the blend of both hand work and digital technology seems like a natural evolution of the medium.

HV: Were there any overarching themes you were seeing in the collage work of artists today?

CW: Collage artists have always been fascinated with the idyllically mundane and the scraps of pop culture tossed aside. This seems to be a unifying theme that transcends collage beyond it’s stylistic roots to Dada, Pop Art and Surrealism. However, All That Remains is more than just a survey of contemporary collage but effectively a commentary on modern living, with its 24-hour news cycles and social media.

For me it’s fascinating to see how 25 international artists with completely different perspectives and cultural backgrounds can actually find a mysterious sense of commonality. Collage artists have the unique ability to transform the familiar, bridging the past with the present, into universal narratives and themes that reveal the things that make us all human. I truly believe this is what makes collage and this exhibition so amazing.

HV: Are all these north Brooklyn artists?

CW: Sadly, I’m the only North Brooklyn artist.

All That Remains is an international collage exhibition curated by Charles Wilkin at Picture Farm (338 Wythe) continues until November 19. For more images of some of the art in the show, please peruse their Flickr set.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

5 replies on “What’s New With Collage?”

  1. I was talking about the issue of “digital collage” vs. “traditional collage” with a friend earlier this week. It seemed to both of us that it was silly to draw such a distinction for two reasons. One is alluded to above; collage is institutionalized as a paper-and-glue media now, but it is historically and methodologically linked to the idea of popular media. A magazine in the 20s is not the same as a magazine in 2011, and the internet is probably a more apt comparison in terms of its cultural effect. The second is that, in drawing images from magazines, contemporary collage artists are inevitably already working with, and commenting on digital technology. The photograph they’re using, or advertisement, or whatever the image happens to be was almost certainly manipulated with Photoshop at some point if it was made in the last twenty years. Even disregarding the undeniable effect that technology has on the kinds of images we consume now, the printing technology itself is a miraculous process of laser etching on metal cylinders carried out essentially by an extremely complex robot. 

  2. Erik, as some one who religiously creates using scissors, paper and glue and other objects, I think there is a significant difference between the media of found reality and the media of light and magic.  Digital creation in my opinion lies more in the realm of advertising and print (editions); I make editions from my collages, but believe that the accidental nature of cutting and pasting and gluing and stripping down and then handling the object gives a different meaning to the work than marrying disparate elements to a piece of sky (for example) on a computer screen. I know many collage artists who make insanely beautiful work on the computer.  But it’s just not the same; it lacks texture and a certain layer of meaning. It’s like paint. No? In my humble opinion. 


  3. Glad to see this discussion here.  I cut and paste the old school way and have since the 70s. I love to see that it has come back around! It is the material itself that makes the difference. Some say it is all about texture and the look, but there’s more to it. Many of us who cut from paper (or other analogue materials) have a personal relationship to the material. I spend a lot of time with the paper and the stories attached to the images – in some cases, a lifetime. That could be editorial or advertising; there’s no right or wrong.

  4. I’m on board with you two.  I wouldn’t change a thing in my multi-step “workflow” – shoot film, hand-develop film, make prints in darkroom, cut up and mount into collage.  As someone once said, “untouched by photoshop.”

    Adrienne Moumin

  5. I am a cut and paste girl all the way. The progression went something like…I learned about cutting and pasting type first as a typesetter/pasteup artist for a litho printer in the 80’s and then again in Photoshop on a Mac starting in 1986, way long before I started to do collage work on a studio table in 1998. I have never considered any of them the same thing even though I can relate to your parallel. They feel like vastly different beasts. Researching ephemera, culling textures from life, this is part of my work flow. It doesn’t compare to an image search in google! 
    However, I use my own digital photography and scans extensively in my work. I go crazy with vintage cameras and analog photos just as easily as I use Pure Data or MAX/MSP to alter them on a computer to another color scheme…so I know the digital influence is there looming in the background larger than life. Without all of these various modern and not-so-modern methods, my work wouldn’t be the same. These very methods are the essence of the reason why there is such a variation in collage work these days. It’s all creativity, worming it’s way towards the future.

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