Monday, 24 March 2014


When the Dadaists first appeared on the art scene in the early twentieth century, professing their dandyish indifference not only to artistic conventions but as well to their own anti-art creations, the members of the then highly-regimented art world were shaken and affronted to have their conventions and core beliefs so unequivocally defiled. No doubt the majority of the artistic community hoped that it would be a passing fad, that the explosive rebellion of the avant-gardists would fizzle out after some time if only they weren’t paid any heed. From our modern vantage point, however, we know that that wasn’t the case, and the fickle hand of history bestowed favour upon the artistic insurgents. This trajectory was without doubt a fortunate one, for we are now witnessing the modern incarnation of avant-gardism in the form of Gavin Brown, our contemporary King of Experimental Art in Melbourne who is making waves the world over. 

A significant medium which the Dadaists and avant-gardists were responsible for bringing into existence, one with which they worked regularly, was photomontage. The term photomontage was coined by the Dadaists in Berlin in 1918, who used it to refer to a technique by which a composite photographic image is formed by combining images from different photographic sources, often from mass-produced, commercial sources such as newspapers and magazines. Thus, whereas collage is a not-necessarily-cohesive combination of images from different sources pieced together on a single surface, the photomontage artist goes one step further by building a new image from various image sources. The result is a bridge between high and low art, a triumph of the artist’s flair for visual construction and a slap in the face of commercialism and pop-culture consumerism. 

After almost one hundred years of existence, the photomontage has recently had it’s twenty-first century renaissance, as the art world has begun once again to take a serious look at the unorthodoxies of the avant-garde as a legitimate and critical modern artistic movement. Earlier this year, the Whitechapel Gallery in Britain housed a restrospective of the works of Hannah Höch, one of the original pioneers of photomontage within the Dada movement, which examined her highly influential career from the 1910s to the 1970s as well as re-assessing the relevance of photomontage as a key medium for modern artistic expression. In November 2013, just a few months before the opening of Höch’s Whitechapel exhibition in Britain, Melbourne’s RTIST Gallery played host to an exhibition by one of the most critical names in contemporary photomontage, Gavin Brown, who has taken up the mantel as the new pioneer of the movement. 

The recent RTIST exhibition, which showcased Brown’s latest collection of prints entitled Running With Scissors, was the first time in 15 years that Gavin Brown’s works had been exhibited to the public and received a significant amount of attention within the Melbourne art scene, with names such as Peter Alexander, Phillip Boon and Jenny Bannister making appearances as guests and buyers. Brown’s images, which he meticulously pieces together from a combination of magazine images and photographs, have the dramatic affectation of high-end grunge and continue in the idiosyncratic tradition of Dadaist photomontage whilst achieving a crisp, modern aesthetic. 

With a career spanning 30 years, Gavin Brown has proved a master of all trades, having tried his hand at art, design, and fashion. But collage has provided the basis for the majority of his work, and in this most recent exhibition he was able to give credibility to the relevance and continued presence of photomontage in the art world. Brown’s artworks are often described as a kaleidoscope of shape and colour, and his imaginative collages build a painted world of paste and paper that reveal an incongruous array of figurative and mythical characters. With a shift towards grungier, more alternative forms of cultural expression, Gavin Brown’s audacious presence in the art world is timely and propitious. His pieces are bold and astute, mastering the poetic beauty of a medium that has a long and important history in the art world. 

Kirsty Sier // RTIST Gallery 

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