ITHACA, NY – Founded in San Francisco in 1962 and based in New York since 1967, Artforum magazine has long been a fixture in contemporary – specifically, so-called “contemporary” – art. Known for its distinctive 10½ x 10½ inch footprint and bright, often garish visual content, the post was both widely read and widely mocked. At least half of every volume of the phone book is made up of advertisements for major commercial galleries – a tradition that led New York Magazine art scribe Jerry Saltz, not entirely unfairly, to describe advertisements for publication as the “porn” of the contemporary art world. .
Painter and mixed media artist Barbara Page, long established in Trumansburg, is known for her eclectic and often offbeat series. “Iterations: New Work by Barbara Page” is on view now (January 15 through February 26) at the Corners Gallery in Cayuga Heights. She often worked with collage in her previously exhibited paintings. This is the first local exhibition of his “AdForum” photocollages, which use the work of other artists published in the magazine as raw material. She has been working there for several years, although all the pieces here are from last year.
Photocollage as an art can be traced back to Dadaism and Surrealism which rose to prominence in Europe in the years following World War I. An offshoot of the slightly earlier Cubist collage of Picasso and Braque, the artists took disparate fragments of often media-focused images, assembling improbable fictions of often polemical or dreamlike character. What was once a new and transgressive way of creating images has long been absorbed by the artistic and popular movement. Nevertheless, when artfully executed, his unexpected juxtapositions retain a power of rapture and provocation.
Like some classic photocollage artists, Page rephotographs his work rather than showing his original cut-and-paste configurations. As products of the digital photo age, the printed images on display at Corners have gone through many stages of screen and analog manipulation. It finds its origin in paintings, drawings, photographs and strange sculptures of supposedly famous artists. (Alas, this provincial art critic was only able to recognize a few – which apparently puts me above the artist herself.)
Some pieces here hit a little harder than others. Among the most memorable is a couple that emphasizes bold, flat colors and abstract design over easily recognizable images. “AMuse” (the title derives from a bit of hidden text in the upper left corner) juxtaposes an irregular, square shape – made up of areas of flat colors and mixed patterns – against a background of similar colors but more detailed photographic textures and pictorial. Likewise, “Fringe Benefits” suggests a Pop version of Matisse’s cutouts, with ripped and cut shapes in bold colors in a seemingly casual yet evocative layering.
But the dominant ‘theme’ here is the endless borrowing and re-borrowing of high and low culture that has characterized traditional ‘contemporary’ art in its post-pop condition of the last half century or so. There’s something a little tedious and academic here, even in the typically animated iterations of Page.
Examples abound. “About Face” manages a density that hurts readability but eventually comes into focus. A small propeller-driven plane – reminiscent of the artist’s self-mythologized story as a pilot – occupies the right side of a band of solid red “sky”. Below: the images of a mosaic, an antique map and the engraving of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1504) express an apparently overflowing imagination. Imagery becomes texture.
Cartoon animals, some of which are already “appropriated” as high art, are once again being retconned in plays like “Seeing Red”, “Framed” and “Mickey March”. “Stealing Thunder” notches the drum badge of “Sgt. Pepper” – reminiscent of British pop artist Peter Blake’s ingenious photocollage cover from this artist’s twenties high-low mashup.
“Iterations” is made up of shamelessly minor works. (That’s part of the fun of following Page’s strategically expansive body of work.) The formal design element of most of these pieces is strong enough – perhaps stronger than some of the “sampled” contemporary artworks. The metaphorical and imaginative resonances of the juxtaposed images are entertaining and witty, and the social commentary is not overplayed.
This is the first exhibition at Corners since owner Ariel Bullion Ecklund abandoned her design boutique experience, “the living room”, a few weeks ago in order to refocus her various endeavors as an artist, framer and gallery owner. At first glance, she is still restoring order in the gallery.
One could have hoped for a larger exhibition – especially since excess is, in fact, the central theme of this work. It would also have been invaluable to us dedicated watchers of the page if this new work had been contextualized with some older photocollage prints. Or, better yet, his collage paintings, which would have offered viewers a greater sense of the material presence that lies behind his manipulations of image and sign here.
Corners Gallery is located at 903 Hanshaw Road in Ithaca. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.