Day 5/13: The history of Contemporary Art
– Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59
Assemblage art consists of making three-dimensional or two-dimensional artistic
compositions by putting together found-objects.
Key points
– Though the term was not in use until the 1950s, the origin of the artistic practice
dates to the early 20th century avant garde movements that sought to challenge
traditional artistic media.
– One of the most significant assemblage artists, active beginning in the 1930s
and 40s, was Louise Nevelson, whose wooden wall-like sculptures disguised their
found-object components under spray-paint.
– In the 1960s, neo-Dadaist Robert Rauschenberg became notable for his
"combines." These pieces served as instances in which the delineated boundaries
between art, sculpture, and the everyday were broken down so that all were
present in a single work of art.
Assemblage is an artistic process. In the visual arts, it consists of making threedimensional or two-dimensional artistic compositions by putting together foundobjects. While similar to the process of collage, it is distinct in its deliberate
inclusion of non-art materials.
The origin of the usage of the term in its artistic sense can be traced back to the
early 1950s, when French artist Jean Dubuffet created a series of collages of
butterfly wings, which he titled "assemblages d'empreintes. " However, the origin of
the artistic practice dates to the early 20th century when both Marcel Duchamp
and Pablo Picasso had been working with found-objects for many years prior to
Dubuffet. They were not alone. Russian constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin created
his "counter-reliefs" in the middle of 1910s. Alongside Tatlin, the earliest woman
artist to try her hand at assemblage was Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the Dada
The most recognizable assemblage pieces from this period are the readymades of
Marcel Duchamp, such as Fountain (1917). Readymades were found-objects
which Duchamp chose and presented as art. The idea was to question the notion
of art and the accepted canon, and the adoration of art, which Duchamp found
Another one of the earliest and most prolific assemblage artists was Louise
Nevelson, who began creating her sculptures from found pieces of wood in the late
1930s. Nevelson's most notable sculptures are her walls: wooden, wall-like,
collage-driven reliefs consisting of multiple boxes and compartments that hold
abstract shapes and found-objects from chair legs to balusters. Nevelson
described these immersive sculptures as "environments." The wooden pieces
were also cast-off scraps, pieces found in the streets of New York. Unlike
Duchamp's poor attempt to mask the urinals true form, Nevelson took foundobjects and by spray painting them she disguised them of their actual use or
meaning. Nevelson called herself "the original recycler" owing to her extensive use
of discarded objects, and credited Pablo Picasso for the cube that served as the
groundwork for her cubist-style sculpture.
In 1961, the exhibition "The Art of Assemblage" was featured at the New York
Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition showcased the work of early 20th century
European artists such as Braque, Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, and Kurt
Schwitters alongside Americans Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Robert Mallary and
Robert Rauschenberg, and also included less well known American west coast
assemblage artists such as George Herms, Bruce Conner and Edward Kienholz.
William C. Seitz, the curator of the exhibition, described assemblages as being
made up of preformed natural or manufactured materials, objects, or fragments not
intended as art materials.
Of the assemblage artists in this period, Robert Rauschenberg is a significant
proponent. Rauschenberg picked up trash and found objects that interested him on
the streets of New York City and brought these back to his studio where they could
become integrated into his work. These works, which he called "combines," served
as instances in which the delineated boundaries between art, sculpture, and the
everyday were broken down so that all were present in a single work of art.
Technically "combines" refers to Rauschenberg's work from 1954 to 1962, but the
impetus to combine both painting materials and everyday objects such as clothing,
urban debris, and taxidermic animals continued throughout his artistic life .
Source: Boundless. “Assemblage.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 25 Jan. 2015. Retrieved 10 Feb.
2015 from
See Robert Rauschenberg's artworks
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