A gilt Mozartkugeln chocolate wrapper, a Tiger Balm ointment label and a yellow Chinese newspaper clipping do not immediately appear to be meaningful, or art. The collages of Deborah Berman and Donald Margulies create art from seemingly meaningless juxtapositions and give layers of meaning to layers of paper.
Berman, the director of development and alumni affairs at the Yale School of Drama and Margulies, Pulitzer-winning playwright and English department professor, have collaborated for the exhibition “Piecing It Together,” now on display at the Joseph Slifka Center gallery.
The exhibition does not have an overarching theme, nor does it make an ambitious statement. It actually lacks a statement altogether. To enjoy the work, the viewer must make it her mission to piece it together and search for connections between the seemingly disparate collages of Berman and Margulies. The process can be rewarding as it invites reflection on the art of collage itself and the different ways of expression made possible through this medium.
Berman’s collages use vibrant primary colors and exude a sense of liveliness and energy. This is ironic, perhaps, since Berman said she found her artistic voice and inspiration after the death of her mother.
“I spent my life as a struggling artist, trying to figure out if I had it in me,” Berman said. “When my mother died five years ago, I suddenly found my honest voice.”
Berman uses handmade paper, pen, paint and occasionally pieces of string and wood to create her collages. Her work is mostly abstract, although in some of her collages it is possible to discern figures of potted plants and flowers, as well as influences of Japanese prints.
The viewers at the exhibition opening last Wednesday seemed delighted by Berman’s work.
“This makes me so happy,” said alumna Ronnie Braun GRD ’91, referring to a collage titled “Cotton Flowers” that represents its subject in placid puffs of color.
But Berman’s collages are generally not representational. Three collages called “Algebra,” “Geometry” and “Calculus” depict neither numbers nor coordinate axes. They are all permeated by the color red, but while “Calculus” has tangential lines and sinuous curves, “Geometry” emphasizes pure space and orderly — yes, geometric — shapes.
Berman’s later collages move away from color into the domain of monochromatic depth. “Midnight Moonlight,” for instance, is intensely black, yet not pessimistic. How can it be pessimistic with a ribbon of white polka dots streaking through the middle? These darker collages emphasize a potential for more somber feeling, contrasted with the open vivacity of her earlier colorful collages.
Margulies’s collages show a more diverse array of materials. Besides pieces of paper, he uses advertisements, chocolate wrappers, envelopes, stamps, labels, newspaper clippings, maps, photographs and pictures of famous artwork. These works are less abstract and closer to pop art. Since 1977, Margulies has made it a tradition to create a collage for New Year’s and send it to his friends and family. This is why many of his collages are New Year’s-themed.
One of these collages features Renaissance nudes, paintings of baby Jesus, a cartoon strip fireplace and Asian dancers in front of a Christmas tree. It reflects the juxtaposition of intercultural and interfaith elements in our celebrations as well as emphasizing the change of meanings and practices over time.
Time and space are important layers in Margulies’s work. A collage called “Cockpit Bar” deftly merges time and space in depicting the physical strata around the earth — sea, atmosphere, outer space, constellations — along with temporal layers depicting the evolution of air travel over the centuries, from hot air balloons to planes. The spiritual enters the collage as well, in the form of tarot cards and astrological charts. All these layers combine to remind us of the plurality of meanings — historical or potential — that can be associated with a given experience.
Although Margulies is primarily a writer and did not create these collages for public display, he said he was delighted to put on a show with Berman, “like Mickey and Judy.”
“Making collages is natural and familiar to me because as a writer I am used to sembling ideas in images,” Margulies said.
The exhibition will be on display until Oct. 26.