Artist: Jiri Kolar (Czechoslovakian, 1914–2002)
Medium: Cut and pasted printed papers in bas relief on wood panel
Dimensions: 35 1/2 x 25 5/8 in. (90.2 x 65.1 cm)
Credit Line: Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998
Accession Number: 1999.363.34
Kolar was born in Bohemia, then part of Austria-Hungary, at the start of World War I. His earliest training was in carpentry, but he soon developed an interest in avant-garde poetry and musical composition. In 1942, he was a founding member of Group 42, a group of scholars and artists who were critical of academic art and sought instead to depict contemporary urban life. By the time he moved to Prague in 1945, Kolar was writing experimental poetry and creating Surrealist-inspired collages from black-and-white reproductions of artworks. He was briefly imprisoned in 1953 for his writing, which was considered subversive during the Stalinist era.
Kolar has created numerous types of collages from the printed matter of books, newspapers, maps, musical scores, and reproductions of works of art. One type, of which Homage to Georges Braque is an example, he named "chiasmage." In Kolar's chiasmages, torn fragments of text are arranged in a random, allover pattern and applied to flat surfaces, to reliefs, or to three-dimensional objects. The disintegration of the text as a whole, through tearing and arbitrary reassembly, renders its words meaningless.
This particular chiasmage is a tribute to the artist Georges Braque (1882-1963), the French painter who, with Picasso, played a leading role in the development of Cubism. Braque produced portraits and still lifes that combined painting and collage, through the application of pieces of pasted paper, newsprint, commercially printed wallpaper, and labels. In Kolar's homage to this pioneer of mixed-media abstraction, the wood support of the work has been covered entirely with small torn fragments of pages printed with French text, pasted into a rhythmic but dizzying chance arrangement. A bottle-shaped form has been coated in more text fragments and affixed to the background, and bits of musical score decorate the applied relief of an elongated rectangle with two circular forms that suggest a wind instrument. The wine bottle and musical instrument are typical Cubist imagery, often included in tabletop still lifes that referred to the free-spirited lifestyle of young artists in Paris.