When I was a teen I used to cut up old magazines to make photo collages. The walls of my room were covered with ads and personal photos of mismatched bodies and heads, one of them being Gwyneth Paltrow’s head on a baby’s body. I did this because I loved magazines and abstract art—in all its quirky and bizarre glory— and it definitely seemed like a postmodern art form innovated by male artists like Picasso.
But “Playing With Pictures,” a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is stone-cold proof that a form of mixed media photo collages were made way before Picasso’s time. In fact, they go back to as early as the beginning days of photography and were made by Victorian women from the 1860s and ‘70s.
This uncovers important aspects of women and art: As a leisure activity of upper-middle class Victorian women, it exhibits a whimsical, lighthearted personality that surprisingly contradicts their stuffy, serious façade that we’ve stereotyped them to be like. Also, it reveals the incomprehension we have of women in art’s history. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith writes, “It suggests that women’s art history…is still only just beginning to be examined and understood.” Better now than never.
“Playing With Pictures” is organized by The Art Institute of Chicago. It’s showing now until May 9, 2010 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Photo Courtesy of The New York Times via George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film