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ntary Turning
A Tryst in the Park, 1995 Garden of Angels, 1978
Vigil, 1996 Incognito, 1995


Learn about our other concurrent exhibit: Toward Abstraction

He Forgot His Hat, 1996

“Ultimately, since all images are found, they depend on chance or some mysterious affinity between images. A montage cannot be carefully planned in advance because, as new images surface to tempt me, a work is constantly changing through trial and error. This state of flux continues until I somehow declare a work ‘finished.’ “I am often surprised! If asked why I use certain combinations of images, I can only reply, ‘Why not?’ ”

— Mary Helen Horty

MARY HELEN HORTY (1923–2005) began her art education in ceramics at the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art. She pursued weaving and eventually painting before finding her niche with paper montage in the 1960s. She worked in this medium for more than 40 years, developing the surrealistic style that endeared her to her audience. Widely recognized by museums and collectors who honored her with awards and purchased her work throughout her prolific years, Horty described her paper montage as an “artistic composition created from few or many paper images or designs arranged or superimposed upon each other.” For Horty this included magazines from popular culture, medical textbooks and many art history publications and catalogs.

Gallery Installation

She was fascinated with surrealism,1 particularly the work of René Magritte, whom she collected and admired. However, it is not just her appropriation of the art of the surrealists that gives her images a dreamlike quality, but also how she dismantled and recombined images that the viewer comprehends within a certain cultural context. Horty took these images out of that context and refreshed them, charging them with humor and mischief.

The result is an image that the viewer finds simultaneously familiar and new. This psychological altercation allies her work with surrealism, yet many of her elements — her use of appropriation, humor and parody — reframe that surrealism within the context of postmodernism.2 Horty’s work dismissed the grand narratives of culture and dismantled the boundary between high and low art. She used paper montage to create new allegories that operate between the viewer and the artist, as well as among the fairytale characters of her making. Horty’s art extols the virtues of multiple narratives by creating intimate conversations between the puppets of her imagination and the viewer.

This suggests why her art engages such a diverse audience. Rather than beckoning the viewer to interpret the symbolisms and intellectual underpinnings of every art-making decision Horty made, her work asks the viewer to enjoy the humor. By employing images recognizable to viewers, she created a comfortable relationship between viewers and the work. Therein lies the artist’s gift — a chance to share a humorous juxtaposition or witty play on meanings or words with Mary Helen Horty.

Extremities, 1989

1. Surrealism was a movement that began in the 1920s and is characterized by visual expressions of the mechanics of thought, emphasizing the importance of dreams through surprising juxtapositions and improbable landscapes. The surrealists aimed at creating realities marked by an absence of reason and morality by incorporating purely psychological associations in their art.

2. Postmodern art developed as a rejection to modernist trends such as purity of form and originality. Some characteristics of postmodernism include fragmentation of the artist’s medium and genre through humor and parody, as well as art that dismantles the meta-narratives of culture by blurring the line between craft and fine art and embracing consumerism and popular trends.

Learn about our other concurrent exhibit: Toward Abstraction