Assemblage art (1992)

Excerpt fr. John A. Walker’s Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.

John A. Walker
artdesigncafé - art | (Re-released:) 2 December 2021
This text is an excerpt from Walker’s 1992 glossary previously published by Library Association Publishing, London.

The term "assemblage" was first used in a fine art context by Jean Dubuffet to describe his own work in 1953. He preferred it to collage because he thought the latter should be restricted to cubism. Assemblage is a technique or method similar to montage—constructing a work from various bits and pieces—while Assemblage Art describes the end results of that process. This form of art marked a departure from traditional artforms. Objects were made from various materials and items of junk; they were mixed-media works or composites and thus they transgressed the purity of medium aesthetic and blurred the difference between painting and sculpture. This kind of art was especially fashionable in the late 1950s and early ’60s. William C. Seitz’s 1961 survey show entitled “Art of Assemblage” illustrated the historical origins of Assemblage Art in cubism, dada, futurism and surrealism and the range of work being produced in Europe and America. Amongst the contemporary artists featured were Jean Dubuffet, César, Bruce Connor, Joseph Cornell, Ed Kienholz, John Latham, Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg and Daniel Spoerri.

During the 1980s a renewed interest in making objects from waste materials was evident in the work of a number of British artists and designers. Historical curiosity was also indicated by the 1988 exhibitions Lost and found in California: Four decades of Assemblage Art organized by several private California galleries.

References and further reading:
> William Seitz. The Art of Assemblage. (New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1961).
> Allan Kaprow. Assemblage, environments, happenings. (New York, Abrams, 1965).
> Sandra Star. Lost and found in California: Four decades of Assemblage Art. (Los Angeles, Shoshana Wayne & other galleries, 1988).