Society Cut-Ups at the Art Gallery of Ontario

As with most notable art Museums, the AGO hosts some tremendously interesting curator talks, usually as an accompaniment to a new exhibit. “Society Cut-Ups” was no exception. Given by the curator of probably the only exhibit/collection of its kind anywhere in the world, this was a fascinating look into one of the lesser known aspects of the world of a high society Victorian ladies.

Forget Photo-shop, these dilettantes had the art of manipulating images for witty, ironic and satirical purposes sewn up way before.
Amazingly, even though these photo-collage albums were prolifically created and displayed amongst the upper 10,000 of Victorian Society, very few have circulated into the public domain or commercial world, which is what makes this exhibition unique.
So what is Photo-Collage and why was it so significant for British Victorian ladies of a certain class?
In the 1800’s these upper class British women, exhausted after a frantic London season of Society Balls, theatre and Royal Court, either went on extended continental travel, or retired to their country estates. During this down-time they amused themselves by creating unique and bizarre photo collage albums; carefully cutting up photos from the plentiful supply of the multi-framed “carte de visites” media available at the time and superimposing these onto watercolour scenes that they had painted themselves  placing cut-ups of heads, whole bodies. By combining photographic facts with painted pictures, they challenged very early on the perceived notions of photography to be truthful. Blimey, Kate Winslett wuld have something to add here after her “re-shaping” fiasco in the British tabloids some years ago.
Think Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Punch Magazine and those terrifying Victorian nursery rhymes and you will get a measure of the not so suppressed wit of those scandalous Victorians, and of how clever and apt this type of art-form was for its time,.
The Society Cut-Ups exhibit itself was beautifully displayed with great audio-visual pieces, and well documented photo-collage albums. I made my way around the gallery torn between the horror I have of Victorian cartoons and the respect I was beginning to feel for these erstwhile dilittantes in an era where little was expected of them intellectually and who consequentially had nothing to do but pick the fluff out of their belly buttons, but who chose to showcase their intellect and their political and social views through this medium.
One last comment on the parallels of this echelon of Victorian Society and the Facebook/Photo-shop trends of modern times. The art of photo-collage and displaying/showing your albums to your “circle” of society became such an obsession to the extent where it was all about the collecting of images for your album. It became not just confined to pictures of family and friends, but to friends of friends; people who knew your friends; friends of your dogs friends and so on. Anybody’s photo would do, just so long as it created the illusion of a well-connected life through the existence of a packed album.
Fast forward to the current social networking forums of today and our ability to manipulate photo images electronically often inserting these into these forums to illustrate and sometimes to  manipulate truths. Couple this with the current trend to measure ones importance by reference to how many Facebook.MySpace or Linked-In friends one has.
So newsflash, we haven’All that has changed in the 150  years or so that have passed is the technology and the fact that these networking forums are open to the masses rather than the select few………………………
Art Gallery of Ontario

1-877-225-4246 or 416-979-6648  

AGO art talks

Society Cut-Ups sounds like me

Don’t forget Wednesday’s are free between 6 – 8.30 (permanent collection only. excludes surcharged exhibitions.)

Oh and if you are need of a little somethin to eat try the unusual crepes (sweet and savoury) at Art square cafe 334 dundas st. w. (at mccaul st.) • 416-595-5222

Over & Out
Five go to Penetang
Realise the Dream in High Park

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