This pioneering exhibit—the first to focus on frottage as an art technique– currently ongoing until May 31, is a scintillating, deceptively simple display of approximately 100 artworks by fifty artists using the technique known as frottage (French: “to rub”). Rubbing a textured surface with a pastel, charcoal pencil, crayon, or printer’s ink over paper or canvas on top of a textured surface, the artist creates a relief image. Associated with the surrealist movement, particularly Max Ernst (1891-1976) , these rubbed images add texture and imagery often as one layer of many in a composition. It is believed that Ernst was inspired by an old wooden floor where the grain of the planks was raised. In “Apparitions” several contemporary artists pay homage to Ernst’s wooden planks. Giuseppe Penone states: “I feel the forest breathing.”
Eileen Agar creates two different planks, suggesting the intertwining trees after death of the two lovers in a Greek myth.
“Apparitions” evokes the transient and dream-like images of frottage in a stunning exhibit ranging from medieval church rubbings and gravestones to the sophisticated and unexpected contemporary (post-1960) compositions that play with the cognitive blind spot in which people think about an object conventionally, and not as shapes (e.g. bolts and screws become body parts). Like photography, the technique borrows from the real world but infuses the rubbing with the imagination of the artist and the viewer. Highly influenced by Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, frottage was a darling among Surrealists who considered it a semi-automatic process tapping into the subconscious. Frottage continues to be a popular and experimental practice today.
The Hammer Museum is the first museum to explore the contemporary impact of this technique. Key examples of the technique by artists from various periods and regions are wildly diverse, including provocative examples by Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst and Jack Whitten.
Try to see “Apparitions” before it moves on to the Menil Collection in Houston from September 11, 2015, to January 3, 2016.