Collage, as a game in art making, runs like a thread through all disciplines for the last hundred years. From the cutting and pasting of images to the montages of words and phrases creating new poems, to the books of prose constructed from quotes, to the DJ’s mix recordings, the collage, as the Surrealists put it, “systematically exploits the meeting by chance or provocation of two or more different types of reality.”
In its origins, Surrealist collage was deeply political as it called into question worn-out metaphors, hierarchical values, and the tiresome myth of the genius. Now this viewpoint has become distorted by the aesthetic amusement trade and in these vacuous times collage becomes mere decoration and the “genius” returns as a brand-name celebrity.
In “Beyond Reconstitution,” Morgan Santander sets out to re-appropriate and reclaim the collage’s radical Surrealist roots – not as an imitator, but as a fellow artist immersed in playing the same game. Santander makes photocopies of works by minor “geniuses” of European painting: landscapes, interiors and historical subjects. And into these spaces he inserts masks and sculptures from various time periods, ancient to contemporary, and from all the world’s continents – Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. In this process, new narratives are created that are both witty and poetic. Here, representations of things that are far apart in scale, in culture, in time and in space, and which we assume would feel profaned by association with each other, suddenly find themselves sharing an intimate new world.
The twelve collages in this exhibition read like a picture novel that defies logic and reminds me of Max Ernst’s collage novels of the 1920s and 1930s, “Le femme 100 tÊtes”, and “Une semaine de bonté”. Apart from the similar results achieved through the manipulation of existing material and then combining it with disparate elements, both artists found ways to create unity by eliminating the scissor cut marks which are visible in the original collage. Max Ernst achieved this by making photographic enlargements, and Santander gets the same results by the digital giclee print process.
Aside from the twelve collages, Santander is here exhibiting two oil paintings that are closely based on the collage works. In fact, one collage does duty as a detailed sketch for the painting entitled, “The Tax Man Cometh.” The tax man of the title is seated in his office, probably two centuries ago, engaged in an occupation which we can assume has something to do with counting money. He is completely absorbed and therefore oblivious to what the viewer can see is an invasion of cavorting, post-modern contemporary figures. While all the collage prints have a yellow ocher-ish tint, the large painting of the tax man is a cooler grey, like a black and white photograph. And though the painting is a fairly accurate realization of the collage on a larger scale, it isn’t just a hyper-real imitation, but the surface is sensuous and painterly. In fact, it could said to have been painted in a way compatible with the traditions of European oil painting.
In Max Ernst’s development and use of collage, frottage, grattage and assemblage, he intended to push art to an unknown place that he referred to as “beyond painting.” Though “Beyond Reconstitution” has returned us to painting, where we began, the haunting imagery in Santander’s paintings has forced new connections and an altered reality is among us.