Art History Lab

Unlocking the Extraordinary: Exploring the World of Assemblage Art

Assemblage art is a form of mixed-media sculpture that involves the use of three-dimensional objects and materials found in everyday life. This form of art incorporates and blurs the lines between the ordinary and the extraordinary, and it allows the viewer to see everyday objects in a new light.

In this article, we will explore the world of assemblage art, starting with its definition and characteristics, its origin and influences, and how it challenges the notion of medium specificity. Then, we will delve into the recontextualization of everyday objects used in assemblage art, and how it elevates the status of seemingly mundane junk into art.

Defining Assemblage Art

Assemblage art is defined as sculpture made by assembling found or cast-off objects, sometimes including painted or altered surfaces, and it is often described as a form of three-dimensional collage. This art form involves the use of mixed media, with emphasis on the physical structure and texture of the sculpture.

It can be made from all kinds of materials, including natural and manufactured materials, such as metal, wood, plastic, and fabrics. The characteristics of assemblage art are its use of found objects and everyday materials, which become the primary focus of the piece.

Assemblages are often rough or incomplete in appearance, and the different materials used are not necessarily harmonized. Instead, the focus is on the individuality of each component piece, with the overall composition taking on a life of its own.

Assemblages aim to push boundaries, and they often reflect a critical or satirical point of view about society.

Origins and Influences of Assemblage Art

Assemblage art has its origins in the early 1900s, when artists started to incorporate various objects into their work. Marcel Duchamp was one of the first to pioneer this art form with his collection of readymades, which were everyday objects that he recontextualized as art.

Duchamp’s work encouraged artists to see everyday objects in a different light and to find new ways to create art. With its influence, artists started to experiment with materials found in everyday life, creating pieces that reflected the changing times.

Jean Dubuffet, for example, created a series of works called “Accumulations” which combined everyday objects like buttons, string, and hair. He expanded on this with his later series of work called “Combines,” where he combined multiple media, including collage and painting, to create a new art form.

Challenging Medium Specificity

One of the main challenges that assemblage art poses to the formal art world is the idea of medium specificity. Formal art academics often place art into categories, such as sculpture, painting, and performance arts, based on medium.

However, assemblage art blurs the lines between these categories, as it often involves using found objects as the primary material. Assemblage artists challenge the notion of medium specificity by creating works that defy classification.

The use of objects that were not initially intended for art allows these artists to create novel connections, and it allows for new meaning and interpretation of the objects. Assemblage art takes objects that have lost their value or are often discarded and turns them into unique pieces of art.

Recontextualizing Everyday Objects

The recontextualization of everyday objects is at the heart of assemblage art. By taking objects that we see and use every day and combining them into an art form, assemblage artists elevate these objects’ status by redefining them as art.

This process allows viewers to see these objects in a new way, creating a sense of discovery or surprise and inviting a critical examination of society and culture. The process of recontextualizing creates a dialogue between the artwork and the viewer, encouraging the viewer to bring their experiences and perspectives to the work.

The use of everyday objects often creates a sense of familiarity with the piece, making the work more accessible to a broader range of audiences. This democratizes art and helps to break down the barriers between art and everyday life.


Assemblage art is a fascinating and innovative art form that pushes boundaries and challenges traditional notions of art. By combining found objects and everyday materials, assemblage artists create works that redefine these objects’ meanings and significance.

The art form’s ability to elevate and recontextualize mundane objects encourages the viewer to see everyday life in a new light.

Through the use of formal and informal elements and techniques from different media, assemblage art redefines the boundaries of the art form, allowing for novel connections, new meaning, and unique interpretations.

Assemblage art proves that art can be found in anything and that art does not have to be confined by traditional mediums.

The History of Assemblage Art

Assemblage art is an art form that involves the use of everyday objects to create unique pieces of art. It has a rich history that can be traced back centuries and has been influenced by a diverse range of artists and cultures.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the history of assemblage art, exploring its early influences, early assemblage artists, and the significance of Dada and readymades.

Early Influences

Curiosity cabinets, also known as wonder rooms, were a precursor to assemblage art. They were a popular trend dating back to the Renaissance period, where people would collect various objects, including exotic specimens, shells, and artworks, to display in cabinets.

Gabriel Kaltermarckt, a Dutch physician, was known for his elaborate curiosity cabinets, which contained various scientific instruments, curious mechanical objects, and natural specimens. The Victorian society was also known for its love of collecting and displaying objects.

They would curate elaborate displays of natural specimens in large glass cases called dioramas. Collecting and displaying objects were a means of showcasing one’s knowledge, wealth, and taste.

These early influences would later influence modern and contemporary art movements.

Early Assemblage Artists

Assemblage art started emerging in the early 20th century, with the Italian Futurists and Russian Constructivists experimenting with different materials, including wood, fabrics, and metals, to create assemblage works. Vladimir Tatlin, one of the leaders of the Russian Constructivists, created a piece called “Corner Counter Relief” in 1914, which consisted of a countertop protruding from a corner, with various materials like glass, wood, metal, and cardboard attached to it.

Pablo Picasso’s “Still-Life with Chair Caning” in 1912 marked one of the first examples of assemblage art, incorporating a piece of oilcloth printed to look like chair caning into the painting. The piece’s use of mixed media and unconventional materials was considered revolutionary for its time.

Dada and Readymades

The emergence of Dadaism in 1916 marked a turning point in the history of assemblage art. The Dadaists were a group of artists, writers, and intellectuals who rejected traditional forms of art and embraced the absurd and unconventional.

Marcel Duchamp, one of the most famous Dada figures, was known for his use of readymade objects in his artworks. Readymades were everyday objects that Duchamp repurposed by signing them and displaying them as art.

The first readymade object was “Bicycle Wheel,” which Duchamp mounted onto a stool in 1913. This piece’s significance was that it challenged the concept of art and the role of curators and critics, questioning what constitutes art in the first place.

Duchamp’s work also allowed artists to feel free to work with unconventional materials and challenge accepted notions of art, emphasizing the importance of artists’ freedom.

Surrealism and Assemblage

The Surrealists, a group of artists who emerged in the 1920s, also embraced assemblage art, exploring the juxtaposition of objects in unexpected ways. Meret Oppenheim’s “Object” (1936) is a famous example of Surrealist assemblage art, involving a fur-wrapped saucer, spoon, and teacup.

The piece’s incongruous combination creates an eerie and mysterious tension, reflecting the Surrealist’s interest in exploring the unconscious mind.


Assemblage art is an art form with a rich history spanning centuries. Its evolution has been influenced by artists and cultures all over the world, and it has been shaped and challenged by various artistic movements, including Dada and Surrealism.

Assemblage art continues to evolve today, with contemporary artists using the form to explore a range of themes, from political and social issues to personal experiences and memories.

International Trends in Assemblage Art

Assemblage art has evolved over time and has been influenced by a range of art movements and styles. In this article, we will explore some of the international trends in assemblage art, including the assemblage art movements of Pop Art, Arte Povera, and Nouveau Realism, as well as some of the famous examples of assemblage artwork from around the world.

Assemblage Art Movements

Pop Art emerged in the 1950s and emphasized the use of everyday objects and consumer culture in art. Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines” were a key feature of Pop Art, combining everyday objects with painted surfaces.

Arman, a Nouveau Realism artist, also worked with found objects, producing a series of pieces called “Accumulations,” where he glued objects to a base to create sculptures. Arte Povera was an Italian art movement that emerged in the 1960s and emphasized the use of everyday materials in art.

They aimed to challenge the mainstream art world by rejecting the notion of art as a commodity and emphasizing the importance of process and materiality. Jannis Kounellis, a key artist in the Arte Povera movement, created works that incorporated found objects, such as beds, doors, and walls.

Global Recognition

Assemblage art gained international recognition in 1961 with the “Art of Assemblage” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition featured works by artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Marcel Duchamp, and Louise Nevelson, among others.

The exhibition was significant in highlighting the importance of assemblage art as a legitimate art form, and it helped to bring the form to a wider audience.

Famous Assemblage Art Examples

The Mechanical Head, created by Raoul Hausmann in 1920, is a landmark example of assemblage art. The piece consisted of a dummy head made of scrap metal, gears, and other machine parts.

The piece reflected Hausmann’s critique of contemporary German culture and its obsession with technology and machinery. Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram, created in 1959, is a famous example of assemblage art.

The piece features a taxidermized Angora goat with a tire around its middle and a tennis ball on a stick. The combination of materials creates a playful yet absurd composition, reflecting Rauschenberg’s interest in mixing media, objects, and textures in his work.

Homage to New York, created by Jean Tinguely in 1960, was a kinetic sculpture made from found objects, including a go-cart, a piano, and a bathtub. The piece was designed to self-destruct, reflecting Tinguely’s interest in the impermanence of art and society’s obsession with progress.

The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, created by Betye Saar in 1972, is a political statement that recontextualizes the stereotypical image of a “mammy” figure. The piece features a tattered Aunt Jemima figure inside a birdcage, reflecting the struggle for empowerment and equity for African American women.

Long Term Parking, created by Arman in 1982, featured a grid of cars embedded in concrete blocks. The piece reflects Arman’s critique of consumerist society and the endless cycle of consumption and waste.

The work was intended to communicate the scale of the problem of waste in contemporary culture and to challenge viewers to confront the consequences of their choices.


Assemblage art is a rich and diverse form of art that has been evolving for centuries. The art form has been influenced by artists and movements from all over the world and has gained global recognition with significant exhibitions like the “Art of Assemblage” in 1961.

Famous pieces like The Mechanical Head, Monogram, Homage to New York, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, and Long Term Parking reflect the endless possibilities of assemblage art, from political statements to abstract explorations of form and texture. Assemblage art continues to evolve, and artists will undoubtedly continue to find new ways to incorporate objects, materials, and new aesthetics into their unique compositions.

Assemblage art is a diverse and innovative art form that has a rich history and has been shaped by various art movements and international trends. From its early influences in curiosity cabinets and Victorian displays to the emergence of assemblage artists like Marcel Duchamp and Meret Oppenheim, this art form has challenged traditional notions of art and pushed boundaries.

The global recognition of assemblage art was solidified with exhibitions like “The Art of Assemblage,” bringing the form to a wider audience. Famous examples such as The Mechanical Head, Monogram, Homage to New York, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, and Long Term Parking showcase the power of recontextualizing everyday objects and materials.

Assemblage art’s ability to transcend medium specificity, elevate mundane objects into art, and provide social and political commentary make it a vital and thought-provoking form of artistic expression. Assemblage art reminds us to question, appreciate, and find beauty in the ordinary.

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