A Show With All the Pleasures of a Highly Refined Flea Market


“One cuts and chooses and shifts and pastes and sometimes tears off and begins again,” said the painter and collagist Robert Motherwell. A provisional and disjunctive art, often pieced together from the cast-off fragments of consumer culture, collage would seem perfectly attuned to restless, postmodernist sensibilities. How has the genre evolved since its heroic birth under the star of cubism and its apogee in the seamless Freudian imaginings of surrealist Max Ernst? Pavel Zoubok Gallery’s quasi-encyclopedic show of post-war and contemporary work by some 70 Americans and Europeans marks its first anniversary in Chelsea. The show feels a bit like a grab bag or a highly refined flea market. But the exhibit’s heterogeneity and elegance argue for the medium’s continued vitality.

In fact, it’s hard to locate many of these works in time, composed as they are of varied bits: dry-cleaning stubs, plastic flowers, and 19th-century diaper pins. Yet if chronology proves elusive, certain themes keep emerging. One is an ironic take on the female form, a sly nod to the way collage mixes up high-art traditions. May Wilson’s elderly, winking face glued into a line of pert, pastie-clad showgirls and Al Hansen’s zaftig, primitivist nude made of Hershey bar wrappers whose chopped-up letters render expressions of sensual enthusiasm (HER, YES, HEY, OH, etc.) are two favorites examples.

Religiosity (another high-art staple) shows up here in works taking their cues from popular culture. The gem-studded, cloth-draped reliquaries and altars of Latin America serve as inspiration for Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s glitzy, Polaroid-and-tinsel infused Infant of Prague, while Wallace Berman’s cryptic Verifax paper assemblage evokes kabbalistic and Far Eastern mystical practices.

Frustrated with your work? Do as Lee Krasner did—tear it up (occasionally throwing in some of your husband’s stuff) and glue it back together. Feeling the need to impose some order? See Michael Cooper’s 16 Yellow Things, or Fred Tomaselli’s Orioles, cut from brightly colored skiwear catalogs. Or maybe you just can’t get enough of one material. Arch Connelly’s
Self-Portrait, a paean to the faux pearl, suggests an impossibly fey personality.