The medium of collage entered modern art in the first years of the 20th century through the hands of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, bringing with it possibilities for formal experimentation and new meanings that today’s artists continue to deploy and investigate. To explore the sensibilities and worldviews that underlie collage, and to document the special place this medium held for U.S. artists in the wake of World War II, The Menil Collection presents The Precarious. Comprised of 30 works on paper and sculpture by thirteen artists, the exhibition casts new light on a strain of practice that brings to the foreground reconstituted materials which are worn, distressed, or discarded.
While every artwork is, in a sense, precarious—from a fragile Kazimir Malevich painting to the ancient stone monuments that today suffer purposeful annihilation in parts of the Middle East—collage acknowledges precariousness as a foundational principle.
With two exceptions that serve as geographical and chronological bookends, the artworks included in the exhibition—those by John Chamberlain, Gene Charlton, Sari Dienes, Ellsworth Kelly, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Anne Ryan, Kurt Schwitters, Richard Tuttle, and Cy Twombly—come out of post–World War II America. By chronologically beginning with the modestly scaled and tenuously constructed collages by German-born artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) and ending with the cardboard constructions of Vietnamese-born artist Danh Vo (b. 1975), the exhibition concentrates on a strain of artistic practice that foregrounds the marginalized as always both an artistic concern and social phenomenon.
The Menil Collection