Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Victorian Photocollage at the Met

My beloved Uncle Steve in Texas is a brilliant collage artist. I've spent loads of time over the last two decades staring at his layered work, spotting scattered meanings in each painstakingly made piece along the way. His work has often been rooted in his study of mysticism; the Photocollages of the Victorians, currently on show at the Met, seem to have been rooted... well, in boredom.

Who but the wealthy Victorians had time to take professionally shot photos of their loved ones (cats and dogs included), and spend hours meticulously cutting their heads and bodies from the prints, arranging them into natural and supernatural scenes (think Audobon meets Lewis Carroll)?

This diminutive and quirky show is riveting. Forty-eight images from the 1860s through the 1870s "turn early photography on its head", yes, and when the Met's own press release tauts that it does so, take it literally. Heads are literally stripped from bodies and stuck onto other creatures (like ducks) and objects (like trees) with abandon.

I'm sure a scholarly look into this collection has yielded deeper political underpinnings of the Victorian Age. Bored and contstrained married women and wealthy widows are able to offer up their regard for dear ones by planting them into fantastical worlds made permanent in thick and irreplaceable albums, heirlooms in their own right. Loved ones who have passed on are forever remembered in this uninhibited way by Mistresses with names like "Viscountess Jocelyn". What does it really mean that a beloved daughter now sits forever, guarded beneath a giant mushroom, like a toad?

Before these Victorian souls depart the Met for good, try to catch their show. It's on through May 9th.

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