Digital Montage: On Collage and the Legacy of Modernism

Published in
7 min readJan 10, 2020

Crosslucid, Touchless S(t)Imulation, © courtesy of the artists. a visual poem, was created for FASCIA BLUES, a collaboration between deCode & Hervisions. The piece comments on connection as a relative means to facilitate new methods of communication, and was exhibited at CADAF during Art Basel Miami 2019.

By Marie Chatel

Copy-Paste. Today we take for granted this functionality on our laptops as if it had always been there. But the fragmentation, dislocation and recombination of visual and textual content only have a short history that finds all its meaning in art. Flourishing in the early 20th century through the movements of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism, collage and montage still have a visible impact on digital art. Beyond its actual process, the practice brought distinct aesthetics and new ways to represent society and technology. Highlight on the legacy of this revolutionary art technique.

Left: Kurt Schwitters, Der Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus), 1922, collage, 28.4 x 20.8 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Right: Pablo Picasso, Guitare, feuille de musique et verre (Guitar, Sheet Music, Glass), 1912, papers and newsprint (Le Journal, 18 November 1912) pasted, gouache and charcoal on paper, 48 x 36.5 cm, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX. With collage, Modern artists compiled and pasted together paper materials of various sources including newspaper prints, tickets, drawings, fabrics and papers with all sort of textures. Kurt Schwitters’ composition follows a random pattern of geometric and cluttered shapes of paper put together with the printed text in the lower-left corner, defining the name of the work. Meanwhile, Pablo Picasso’s continues the vision of a nature morte with sheets of the journal and music sheets embodying their original function. At the same time, paper cuts are assembled into a geometric shape to form a guitar.

Collage: Kicking Off the Information Age

Collage is the action of pasting (in French); montage is the action of assembling. Depending on your affinities, the artistic practice might bring about the vision of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso’s Papiers collés, the geometric compositions of Jean Arp, the photomontages of Hannah Höch, Raoul Haussman and John Heartfield, the Merz assemblages of Kurt Schwitters or the surreal narratives of Max Ernst. All these productions vary greatly. Yet they mark a shift away from the traditional art forms of painting and sculpture into a new media whose style and content both reflect changes in society.

Hannah Höch, Das schöne Mädchen (The Beautiful Girl), 1919–20, photomontage, 35 x 29 cm, private collection, ©1999 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild Kunst, Bonn. Hannah Höch’s photomontages are known for reflecting the role of the New Woman in German society. In this composition, the woman relates to a form of industrialised, rational perfection. Nuts and bolts remind of mechanical function, while the light bulb reminds of the period’s striking innovations and BMW logos are spread across the work recalling the mass availability of the commodity. The clock held in one’s hand signifies the dramatic pace at which production flows in the era of mechanical reproducibility.

The end of the 19th century set pace for an industrialised culture. Train and mail, cinema and radio, entertainment and consumption became reachable at an increasing rate. Images turned widely available with entry to museums and movie theatres, but even more so with the beginning of shutter photography. The commercialisation of portable cameras and roll films in the late 1880s made the recording of photographs accessible to the masses. Likewise, the arrival of autotypy allowed for the mechanical reproduction of images. Pictures and illustrated prints went mainstream for the first time, with an unprecedented boom of the press media in the 1920s.


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