In the fall of 1912, using only scissors and cheap commercial papers glued to their drawings, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso invented collage and forever altered the way in which art was made and received. Artists throughout Europe and the United States immediately recognized the new medium’s far-reaching potential. In Italy, the Futurists, advocates of World War I, used collage to capture the fury of battle and celebrate the dynamic pace of city life. In Germany and Switzerland, the war brought disillusion and the birth of the Dada movement. The Berlin Dadaists George Grosz, Johannes Baader, and Hannah Höch conceived of photomontage as a medium of protest against the existing social and political order. In the new Soviet nation, on the other hand, artists Liubov Popova, Gustav Klutsis, Lazar El Lissitzky, Alexandr Rodchenko, Nikolai Sidelnikov, and Solomon Telingater used collage and photomontage to celebrate the progressive goals of the new nation.
In contrast to these earlier movements, Surrealism, founded in Paris in 1924, drew upon the unconscious as the essential source of art and life. Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Joan Miró collaged together random images to create a new visual poetry drawn from the hidden recesses of the mind. Following World War II, European artists Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tàpies, and Joseph Beuys worked with rudimentary materials that reflected the grim reality of a devastated Europe. Inspired by the Surrealists, Americans Joseph Cornell, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock sought new directions in art based on the unconscious. For each of these artists, cutting, tearing, pasting, and layering materials enhanced the sense of improvisation and freedom of execution that were crucial to their creative process. In the mid- to late-1950s, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns redirected the viewer’s attention from the psyche of the painter to the everyday world using vernacular subjects to question the meaning of art and its relationship to the culture that spawned it. For them, as indeed for all of the artists who work in the medium, collage has been the means by which they could best convey the unorthodox in art and life.