What Collages Do: Four Lessons and a Timeline

Speaker: Yuval Etgar (Curator and Art Historian)


The introduction of collage to modern art shortly after the turn of the twentieth century revolutionised both the material and conceptual conditions for art making henceforth. But while collage initially emerged as a way to break the rules of traditional painting and monolithic sculpture, the term itself soon became the subject of debate and controversy, raising questions about its role as mediator between popular visual culture and high art. And indeed, by the mid 1970s, collage had transformed from a defined artistic practice to a sweeping visual dialect that extends across disciplines; doing so at the risk of undermining its potency as an artistic strategy.

This lecture sets out to explore several of the physical, ideological and historical extremities of collage through the prism of four artworks by Max Ernst, René Magritte, John Stezaker and Sherrie Levine. Operating in two pivotal moments in the history of collage (Ernst and Magritte in the 1920s, Levine and Stezaker in the 1970s) each one of these artists attempted to redefine the limits of collage by replacing material and technical questions such as ‘what collages should look like?’, or ‘what they are made of?’, with a strategic approach centred on what collages do?


Yuval Etgar is an art historian and curator, specialising in the history and theory of collage and image appropriation. He is currently acting as Director of Research and Exhibitions at Luxembourg + Co., London and New York, and Adjunct Curator at the Bauhaus Foundation, Tel Aviv. He holds a PhD in History and Theory of Contemporary Art from The Ruskin School of Art, Saint Edmund Hall, the University of Oxford, and an MA in Curatorial Studies from the Royal College of Art, London. Among his publications, Etgar is the author of John Stezaker: At the Edge of Pictures (Buchhandlung Walther und Franz Koenig, 2020), and editor of the anthology The Ends of Collage (Luxembourg & Dayan, 2017).

Organised by Dr Pia Gottschaller (The Courtauld) 

Detail from John Stezaker, Marriage, 1988-89, Cut and folded photographic reproductions on paper,