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Collage Turns 100 and Continues to Inspire

From Georges Braque to a suit of easter baskets, mixed media remains a potent form of visual expression

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Nick Cave’s exuberant sculpture, “Soundsuit,” from 2009 marks a recent application of assemblage. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

How is a sculpture of neon-colored Easter baskets similar to a Picasso collage? That question is at the heart of the Hirshhorn’s new exhibit, “Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present,” which brings together roughly 100 works of mixed media from the 20th century. Starting with the early experiments of George Braques in 1913, the exhibit shows the wide range of applications, from playful to nostalgic, political to personal.

Drawing on mass-produced media and objects allows artists to comment on common cultural touchstones. Every movement from Cubism to Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, utilized “non-art” materials.  Though found objects sometimes appear in artworks predating modernism, the exhibit points to the 20th-century concept of collage or assemblage as a new moment in art, one whose influence is still felt 100 years later.

Man Ray’s “Nut Girls” from 1941 plays on the representation of the female form. Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Joseph Cornell surrounds a conventional portrait with ephemera inside a box in his 1952, “Medici Princess.” The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Bruce Conner’s 1959 “Walkie-Talkie” turns a modern technology into a decayed material object, an outstretched arm reaching through. 2013 Estate of Bruce Conner/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Elements of everyday life from artist Robert Rauschenberg’s Lower Manhattan neighborhood enter his 1959 work, “Dam.” Estate of Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Ann Hamilton, in collaboration with Kathryn Clark, covered the walls of this room with hand-written excerpts of memoirs in reference to an elderly man who used notecards around his apartment walls to jog his memory. Palimpsest, 1989. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Drawing on the emotive quality of found objects, still haunted by the people who once owned them, Colombian artist Doris Salcedo created this tribute, “Untitled,” to her country’s “desaparecidos,” in 1995. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.

Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present” runs April 18 through Sept. 8, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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