The Art of Assemblage
The Art of Assemblage
In May 1912, Picasso finished a small oval still life into which was pasted a fragment of oil cloth that simulated chair caning and around which, in lieu of a frame, he wrapped a length of hemp rope. This cubist composition seems abstract at first glance, but after a short study of the intersecting lines and translucent planes some of its elements can be identified. The letters J O U, which float ambiguously from their position in space toward the surface of the picture, are plainly remnants of the word "Journal," and make up an abbreviated representation of a newspaper. The profiles of a sliced lemon and a glass can be recognized, and at the upper left, above the letters, the stem of a pipe seems to project forward into the actual space in front of the picture. Somewhat less clearly, a knife, and what could be a shell, can also be detected. Common objects of the café table, human in scale, they are those that the fingers manipulate idly, and often unconsciously.
Such subject matter, characteristic of cubist painting, reminds one that the arrangement of ordinary objects, from ancient times until those of the Dutch still-life painters, Chardin, Manet, Fantin-Latour, Harnett, Cézanne, and Picasso, is a form of preliminary assembled art. Moreover, the placement, juxtaposition, and removal of objects within the space immediately accessible to exploration by eye and hand is an activity with which every person's life is filled, virtually from birth until death.
Violating the limitations of representation, the Still Life with Chair Caning, in which "Picasso juggles reality and abstraction in two media and at four different levels or ratios," initiates the absorption of the activity of assembling objects into the method, as well as the subject matter, of painting. Everyone familiar with modern art knows that the area representing a caned surface, and seemingly painted in a trompe-l'oeil technique, is in fact an actual fragment of commercially printed oil cloth. Because of the second innovation, the rope frame, the entire composition is forced into the