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Cutting and Pasting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 4, 2010
There is something satisfying about cutting out pictures and pasting them onto things in unexpected ways. Maybe it has something to do with recontextualizing bits of reality in transformative ways. Maybe not.

A exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled "Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage," demonstrates what can be accomplished with a pair of scissors, a pot of paste, a stack of cartes de visite, a set of watercolors and a fanciful imagination. The show features about 45 collages created during the 1860s and '70s. All but one were made by women.

The exhibition is introduced with a display of cartes de visite – the Victorian equivalent of calling cards. A carte de visite is a black and white photograph of a person, typically formally dressed and posed, pasted onto a 2 ½ by 4 inch card. People traded them with friends and collected them in albums which were specially designed to hold them. During the 1860s and 1870s, as cardomania swept through Europe and America, the more artistically gifted collectors began painting designs on the album pages surrounding the cards. Some transformed the designs into backgrounds – watercolor landscapes or drawing rooms – onto which cut-out photographs from the cards were strategically placed to create photocollages.

The results are not high art, but they are clever and whimsical, fun to look at. Too bad I don't have a stack of cartes de visite or the talent to create the watercolor contexts for them, but I do have a pair of scissors, a container of Elmer's glue, and a drawerful of images that I have collected for my decoupage projects. Maybe there are some pictures in our photo albums that I can use…

As I was riding home on the train, it occurred to me that cardomania could catch on again. I would be happy to pass the idea on to Moo if they would give me 1% of the gross revenue.