Jim Jarmusch

Newspaper Collages

James Fuentes
55 Delancey Street
New York
Lower East Side
Sep 29th — Oct 31st

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Phantasmagoria is a state of mind these days, but it started as a physical place: the “horror theaters” of 18th-century Germany. Often tricked out with magic lanterns, these proto-cinemas projected visions of skeletons, ghosts, demons, a whole cast of monsters born of the human imagination. While the independent filmmaker and musician Jim Jarmusch isn’t primarily associated with the supernatural, several of his films (including the 2013 vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive and the 2019 zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die) suggest a longstanding fascination. For the past 20 years, he’s undertaken a chimerical experiment: a series of more than 500 haunting and humorous newsprint collages, 40 of which are currently on view at James Fuentes.

Here, Jarmusch has gathered a captivating selection made from 2016 through the present. The pieces are small and intimate, mounted on cardboard, paper or cardstock and composed in a muted palette punctuated with moments of riotous color. Some of the tiniest images could fit in a lover’s locket; the larger works, often diptychs or triptychs, recall altarpieces in the style of a kindergarten scrapbook. Displayed in simple black frames, the scenes range from decadent feasts to concert halls, government press conferences to the Land of Oz. Jarmusch guts these Hollywood scenes and fragments of the daily news and transforms them into raw material for his arch and artful manipulations.

The show, paced thoughtfully and with a precise sense of visual rhythm, reads like a book of parables. A group of Academy Award winners clutch their golden fetishes , but their faces have been erased, identities consumed by the glamorous machinery of prestige. Only the statuettes keep their countenances, power waxing as a new crop of talent is conscripted into Oscar’s legend.

What’s in a face? Not much, apparently. Perhaps they’re more interchangeable than we’d like to believe—across social and professional roles, types of media, even species. And collage, with its long history of mixing high and low, proves the ideal medium for Jarmusch’s strain of visual gag. Andy Warhol wears a t-shirt featuring a cutout of Andy Warhol; elsewhere, a man’s head is swapped for a Brillo box. Albert Einstein grips a microphone, delivering a TED Talk or leading congregants in prayer. Two solemn clowns conduct a heist, their ghoulish painted faces looking dismal under fabulous, sequined dunce caps. Picasso generously endows a politician with a new polychrome visage.

Jarmusch’s signature melancholy pervades, at home in yesterday’s detritus. Sheets of newsprint that would otherwise be skimmed and forgotten or reused as packing material regain a sense of autonomy and fluidity. Temporality is beside the point; instead, the collage proposes a kind of time travel, a world of anachronism, heady juxtaposition and uncanny disjunction. Governed only by the logic of pastiche, they ask simple questions: Does the composition hold? Does it seem animated by some insistent spirit? Is it sufficiently strange?

Perhaps we could give these object lessons another title: “Animals Strike Curious Poses.” (While Prince doesn’t appear in the gallery selections, he makes a cameo in the accompanying book, Some Collages, published in September by Anthology Editions with essays from Lucy Sante and Randy Kennedy.) A suited man with a coyote head appears framed in a car window, dashing and inscrutable. Another fellow with a kangaroo head delivers an impassioned speech to a table of rapt comrades. Three snowmen perched on a ridge have been robbed of their faces; Jarmusch has grafted one of them onto a solitary man seated on a sun-dappled bench at a botanical garden, his fate dangling overhead like the sword of Damocles. Intriguingly, the only figure to escape Jarmusch’s slicing and dicing is a lone dog standing on all fours, peering into the camera’s eye, miraculously unbutchered and unbothered, allowed its place in the river of images, at peace in time. —Christopher Alessandrini

Jim Jarmusch, Untitled, 2017. Initialed lower right recto Newsprint collage on paper, 5 x 7 inches, 8 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 1 inches (framed). Photo: Jason Mandella.