The Washington Series: Collage on Paper. At the Corcoran, Saturday through July 5.
"I think that collage is still considered a bastard art form," says Allen Appel, one of six artists in the Corcoran Gallery's "Collage on Paper" exhibit.
Each of the artists in the show is side-tripping into collage from some other discipline -- painting, sculpture or photography -- and all would argue that the form is due more respect. Collage can be clever, beautiful and intricate. It can also be disappointing.
Richard Lutzke gets the most laughs: He takes mundane objects (phone books, crossword puzzles, road maps, dollar bills) and slices, weaves and otherwise patches them together. His tiny pieces of oil paint painstakingly sewn and stapled to paper parody other art forms but are striking on their own.
Mystical snakes and horses clipped from bright paper by Raya Bodnarchuk convey a sense of depth and movement. Her use of triangle shapes in backgrounds is a dramatic signature. Appel, who came to collage via photography and admits he can't draw or paint, cuts up line engravings from old books, photostats them and glues them together in elaborate scenes that, on first glance, don't look like collages. Death is his consistent theme.
More typical of what most people think of as "collage" are painter Dale Loy's works: beautiful papers arranged to accent tones and edges, producing a feeling of elegance. And sculptor Rebecca Kamen makes stark black-and-white assemblages of metal, wire mesh and metallic thread; she sees these as three-dimensional drawings or marquettes, working studies for sculptures. Although they become repetitious, each design has a sharp definition.
Jim Sundquist cuts up newspaper and gauzy tissue, leans heavily on Japanese themes and laminates the mix in plastic to create collages that are more curious than beautiful. Some may say that collages of similar materials are produced in grammar-school art classes, but associate curator Clair List argues: "They work. It's subtle." She admits the formal guidelines are vague: "The esthetics of collage aren't taught in art school, and that's why it's often done as a sideline."
Most of these artists say impermanence comes with the territory. If the newspaper yellows, the edges curl and the work falls apart with time, that's a calculated risk. If the Corcoran's show, third in Washington Series presenting regional artists, raises questions about this stepchild art form, that's intentional, too.