Wednesday, January 11, 2006


For most of the twentieth century, collage has been understood as being a unique mixture of “real” and “represented” elements. The Encyclopedia of World Art, for instance, says that collage’s chief innovation is the “inclusion of a piece of reality within a painting [that] projects it into the world of objects, narrowing the distance between painting and spectator” (597), and this appraisal is frequently echoed.2 Pablo Picasso’s Verre et bouteille de Suze is often reproduced as an example. [fig. I]. With its real label affixed to a painted bottle, this work helps exemplify what is often asserted to be one of the most striking developments in twentieth-century art—the movement from metaphor to metonymy, which may seem in line with Zukofsky’s Objectivist predilections.

However, Picasso’s collage also exemplifies why many recent theorists have found collage rife with ironies that question the earlier definition. That is to say, in “reality” when you hold a bottle of Suze, you consider the liqueur the “real” part. The label is the representational part. But in Picasso’s collage, the bottle is painted in a particularly flat way, eschewing the painterly illusion of depth, while the label is real. Thus the collage can be interpreted as showing the constructed nature of reality and the materiality of representation. For this reason, Rosalind Krauss argues that collage challenges “any simplistic idea of reference” and “effects the representation of representation” (37). Thomas P. Brockelman contends that collage should be seen as the “origin of postmodernism” (6).

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