Assemblage Art
History, Characteristics of Contemporary Assembled Sculpture.

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For an explanation of the
post-modern era, see:
What is Postmodernism?

Assemblage Art

What is Assemblage?

Popularized in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s by artists like Robert Rauschenberg (b.1925) and Jim Dine (b.1935), Assemblage is a form of three-dimensional visual art whose compositions are formed from everyday items, usually called "found objects" (objets trouvés). (See also Junk art.)

The term 'assemblage' dates from the early 1950s, when the French faux naif artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-85) referred to his collages of butterfly wings, as 'assemblages d'empreintes'. Sometimes referred to as bricolage, collage and construction, Assemblage was a stepping stone towards other contemporary art forms such as Pop-Art and Installation art.

Note: For facts and information about 20th century art, please see: Modern Art Guide; for the avant-garde, see: Contemporary Art Guide.


Very Hungry God (2006)
By postmodernist artist Sudobh Gupta.
Assemblage made from stainless steel
kitchen utensils, pots and pans.

Back Seat Dodge '38 (1964)
Assemblage/Installation Art
Paint, fiberglass, 1938 Dodge,
recorded music, chicken wire, beer bottles,
artificial grass, and cast plaster figures.
By Edward Kienholz (1927-1994)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Time of All (1989)
Saint Lazare Station, Paris.
Assemblage by Arman.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.


Despite its post-modernist image, 1950s Assemblage compositions can be traced back to the early twentieth century Synthetic Cubist works of Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). In 1912, Braque began mixing sand and sawdust with his paint in order to create interesting textures. Picasso went further and introduced collage in his painting Still Life with Chair-Caning (1911-12). Braque responded by inventing Papier Colle which he used in Fruit Dish and Glass (1912). These artworks were the first to obscure the traditional distinction between fine art painting and sculpture, by violating the picture plane with the incorporation of three-dimensional 'objets trouvés'. Other early examples include the sculptural assemblages of the Italian Futurist artists Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) and Fillipo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), as well as the Constructivism of Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953). The Dada and Surrealism movements also experimented with the inclusion of natural and industrial objects in their paintings. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the so-called father of Conceptual Art was another innovator in this area. One should note that purists insist on a distinction between collage (supposedly 2-D) and Assemblage art (3-D). However, a difference in principal is not detectable, being merely a matter of degree.

See: History of Art Timeline.

For a list of the top 100 3-D artists
(500 BCE - present), please see:
Greatest Sculptors.

For two essays on sculpture
appreciation, please see:
How to Appreciate Sculpture
3-D art from Stone Age to 1850.
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture
19th/20th century sculptors.

For the latest news
about assemblages and
other contemporary sculpture,
see: Art News Headlines.

For a guide to the chronology
and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

Modern Assemblage

The contribution of post-modernist artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) lies in their assembly or accumulation of modern, every objects (or images thereof) such as: boxes, old shoes, baked bean cans, machine parts and so on. According to William Seitz, curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art, assemblages were defined by preformed, natural or manufactured materials, which are not intended as art materials. The movement was exemplified by the work of Robert Rauschenberg, whose 'Combines' made use of the assemblage of large physical objects. Another example is Untitled (Felt Tangle) (1967) by Robert Morris (b.1931) comprising remnants of felt from an old felt factory. Felt was also used in numerous contemporary works by the German avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). One should also note the influence of the American artist Allan Kaprow (b.1927), whose book 'Assemblage, Environments and Happenings' (1966) became a bible for a wide range of art performances and their commentators.

One could say that the value of Assemblage hovers between its conceptual meaning and its visual attributes. Leaving aside the issue of fine art, one might ask: what is the artist trying to achieve, and how visually effective is his method of achieving it.

For trends like Assemblage, see Art Movements, Periods, Schools (from about 100 BCE).


In 1961, the New York Museum of Modern Art staged an exhibition entitled 'The Art of Assemblage'. In addition to showing works by early twentieth century famous painters such as Picasso, Braque, Dubuffet, and Kurt Schwitters (creator of the Merzbilder collages and the 'Merzbau', a whole building filled with objets trouvés, destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943), the exhibition also showcased assemblages by American artists such as Man Ray (1890-1977), Joseph Cornell (1903-73) and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as lesser Californian assemblage artists such as Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and Edward Kienholz. In addition, works by avant-garde European artists were also shown, including the compressed automobiles of Cesar Baldaccini (1921-1998), and Arman (1928-2005), members of the French movement Nouveau Realisme (New Realism) the French variant of Pop art.


Assemblage art may be described as bridging the gap between collage and the Pop-Art sculpture (eg. Ale Cans, 1964) of Jasper Johns. Its use of non-art materials anticipated the use of 'popular' mass-produced objects and cultural imagery of Pop-Art, and was an important influence on Arte Povera and contemporary Installation art.


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