Collages & Fragments: |

Collages & Fragments:

The artist, Robert Motherwell, was one of the important figures on the New York art scene in the 1940s and 1950s. A recent volume, “Robert Motherwell: Early Collages” (Guggenheim) by Susan Davidson and Megan Fontanella explores a little known aspect of his work.

The pieces, most made during his first decade of exploratory art making, are a combination of figurative and purely abstract works, unlike the purely abstract works and paintings that came later in his career.

Four essays explore various aspects of his endeavor including his use of materials, the political stances of his works produced during and after World War II, his early career with the support of Peggy Guggenheim—his first exhibition of these works was at Guggenhiem’s Art of This Century Gallery, in New York in 1944—and an overview of his works in regard to other practitioners of the art form in the early twentieth century.

Motherwell called he art of collage, “the greatest of our [art] discoveries,” and he was an adept and inspired collagist.

Collages and fragments of a different sort are documented in “Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings” (New Directions), a project by Marta Werner and Jen Bevin with a preface by poet Susan Howe.

It is a kind of exhibition in book form, a collection of facsimile reproductions, along with transcriptions, of the envelope poems notations and and jottings of one of America’s finest poets. Emphasizing the spacing—the visual, acoustic and disparate collaged tendency of the poet’s original works—which have largely been ignored.

The nothings are fragments and scraps, but also poems that are simultaneously verbal constructions and visual objects. The authors also provide an index of the envelopes by page shape and characteristics—flaps and seals, arrows, envelopes with multi-directional text, envelopes turned diagonally, ones addressed by the poet, ones with erased text.

The authors note the demands of their task, saying that trying to accommodate Dickinson’s eccentricities—an elastic concept of space, differences in scale of letterforms, a wildly ambiguous sense of what to capitalize, short lines and non-linear placement of words.

To address this, they view the transcriptions as a “key into—not a replacement for—the manuscript pieces.” The transcriptions and envelope facsimiles are placed on facing pages making for an intriguing set of puzzlements to page through—such as this one in the corner of a stamped envelope:

“A mir

acle for


Kirk Robertson covers the arts and may be reached at