The Vast Possibilities of Tiny Collage and Assemblage

In Hyperallergic January 15, 2016

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Mary Bauermeister, “Lens Box Pencil Theater” (1969), mixed-media assemblage, 6 x 6 x 4 1/2 inches (all images courtesy Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York, unless otherwise noted)

You might want to bring your reading glasses to The Tiny Picture Show at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, because some of the suckers on view are really tiny. From the smallest piece in the show — a painting by Alfred Leslie (“Untitled,” 1960) coming in at a massive 1 3/8 x 2 inches — to the largest — a Tom Wesselmann (“Judy,” 1959), 7 3/4 x 6 1/4 inches — the gallery is a jewel box full of tiny surprises.

Historically, collage and assemblage have often been associated with “smallness.” Think of Victorian scrapbooking, decoupage art, or the works of Joseph Cornell. In the mid-20th century, however, artists like Romare Bearden, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg blew up the scale of these two genres, and they became part of the mainstream art world. The Tiny Picture Show refocuses our attention on the enormous visual and emotional possibilities in artworks that are very, very small.

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Installation view of ‘The Tiny Picture Show’ at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York

The show is beautifully installed with 62 works of art hung so that visual and conceptual connections are made between artists whom you might never have thought of together. On the same wall, we see an almost dizzying array of artists and styles: Ellsworth Kelly, James Garrett Faulkner, Max Greis, Javier Pinon, David Wojnarowicz, Marcel Jean, Wallace Berman, H.C. Westerman, Marietta Ganapin, Mark Wagner, Chambliss Giobbi, John Ashbery, and John O’Reilly. The rest of the exhibition has some equally stunning pairings. The three distinctive visions of Ray Johnson, Arman, and Al Hansen work in harmony: Johnson’s enigmatic images of seemingly unrelated objects and words work beautifully with the tiny collection of old clock faces that Arman assembled in a round box, which in turn resonate off of Al Hansen’s collage of jumbled red letters in a classical gold frame. To me, the three pieces are like clues in a mystery story — all of the elements are there for viewers to create their own narrative.   

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Jacques Villeglé, “Rue de la Convention September” (1973), décollage on original mount, 3 3/4 x 7 3/8 inches (courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York)

The earliest work in the show is Joseph Stella’s “Black Descending” (1920–22) and is representative of the modernist aesthetic of the era. Works from the 1960s, ‘70s, and early 21st century are plentiful, but there is work from every era between the early 20th century and 2015. An impressive curatorial achievement, to be sure. The gallery, which is devoted to displaying collage and assemblage, seems to be saying that though the individual pieces may be diminutive, their collective artistic power has amounted to something quite meaningful.

Among the standout pieces in the show are Jacques Villeglé’s, an artist well known for his work from the late 1940s onward, often called “decollage,” where he created works by subtracting, rather than adding, visual elements, such as by peeling away layers of images. Previous to this show, I had only seen very large pieces of his: big panels, thick with layer upon layer of advertising posters that he found on the streets of Paris. He is represented here by an exquisite piece of torn paper on board entitled “Rue de la Convention September” (1973), a seemingly simple horizontal piece measuring just about 3 by 7 inches. Hints of brilliant pink, red, and orange are interspersed with a bit of the letter “E” and a torn “O.” In between the areas of color there are many subtle shades of white. This deceptively simple composition is quite elegant and the gallery has hung it on a wall, almost by itself so it sings alone.

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Lance Letscher, “Paper Clip” (2015), collage, 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches

One of the fascinating things about The Tiny Picture Show is the sense of individual discovery that comes from looking closely. Another viewer will find different gems; it is a show ripe with encounters that is not to be rushed through. The size of everything here forces the viewer to slow down in order to really focus on the artwork — if size indeed matters, then this exhibition would argue for the power of the small over the large. And I would have to agree.

The Tiny Picture Show continues at the Pavel Zobouk Gallery (531 West 26th Street, Chelsea, New York) through January 23.

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4 Responses to The Vast Possibilities of Tiny Collage and Assemblage

  1. Chris Motley says:

    What a great article, and a terrific introduction to the show that makes me wish I were in town to see it! It hits the historical background to put the show in context, as well as pointing out the connections between the artists made by the curator in arranging the show. Terrific, Melissa – a great invitation to the show!!

  2. Jim Friedlich says:

    This is a fascinating article. Small is Beautiful!

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