The three-dimensional counterpart of collage, assemblage similarly traces its origin to Pablo Picasso. In collaboration with Georges Braque, he created the first assemblage in 1913 with his sheet-metal Guitar, two years before the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp attached a bicycle wheel to a stool and called it a readymade. Previously known simply as “objects,” assemblages were named by Peter Selz and William Seitz, curators at the Museum of Modern Art, for the exhibition “The Art of Assemblage” in 1961.
Assemblage involves the transformation of non-art objects and materials into sculpture through combining or constructing techniques such as gluing or welding. This radically new way of making sculpture turned its back on the traditional practices of carving stone or modeling a cast that would then be translated into bronze.
The use of non-art elements or even junk from the real world often gives assemblages a disturbing rawness and sometimes a poetic quality. Assemblage shares with Beat Generation poetry of the late 1950s a delight in everyday things and a subversive attitude toward “official” culture.
Assemblage can be mysterious and hermetic, like the shrouded figures of Bruce Conner, or aggressively extroverted, as in the biting tableaux of down-and-outers by Edward Kienholz. Assemblages are not always representational: John Chamberlain fashions abstract sculptures from crumpled auto fenders, and Louise Nevelson made enigmatic and sensuous painted-wood abstractions. Assemblage is a technique, not a style.
Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.