Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 9, 2010.
A brief and hearty shout-out to Elizabeth Siegal, Associate Curator of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, for her charming exhibition about the forgotten amateur pastime photocollage.
Here, photographed portraits are cut out of cartes-de-visite and pasted into skillfully painted watercolor environments. Unlike the Cubists, who commented on art and material culture in their collages, these highly-educated Victorian aristocrat women aimed to merely entertain with a dash of discrete humor. So, forget decontruction and semiotics, these nimble, and sometimes naughty, little confections are simply carefree, unpretentious inventions.
On the more historical side, it should be noted that collecting cartes-de-visite was adopted by the upperclass after it became the rage among the middle class. The craze for collecting the cards was dubbed "cartomania." By this point in the mid-nineteenth century, the classes not only rubbed shoulders in public spaces but also influenced each other's taste in consumer goods.
Patrizia di Bello informs us in her catalogue essay that sitting together over an album definitely signaled romantic interest. She cited an episode in Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? where a young widow shares her album with the handsome Bellfield and touches his little finger "as they held the book between them." Can you imagine the same sexual heat sharing an IPhone app? I doubt it.
"Playing with Pictures" was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago. It features a beautiful exhibition catalogue edited by Elizabeth Siegal, who wrote the principal essay, "Society Cutups." Marta Wiess wrote a wonderfully informative "The Page as Stage," photocollage as theater. Patrizia di Bello presented the social agenda in "Photocollage, Fun, and Flirtations." Published by The Art Institute of Chicago in association with Yale University Press, this catalogue can be the perfect gift for your favorite Anglophile. It is rich in references to the royal family, represented by works lent to the show.
Scheduled Venues:The Art Institute of Chicago: October 10, 2009-January 3, 2010
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: February 2-May 9, 2010
The Art Gallery of Ontario: June 5-September 5, 2010