ATTITUDES AND ISSUES

Assemblage is a new medium. It is to be expected, therefore, that it should be the carrier of developing viewpoints for which orthodox techniques are less appropriate. It has indeed provided an effective outlet for artists of a generation weaned on abstract expressionism but unwilling to mannerize Pollock, de Kooning, or other masters whom they admire. Because of their concern for subject matter, painting and sculpture are not their only influences. Many cultivate attitudes that could be labeled "angry," "beat," or "sick"; they inherit a malaise shared by authors such as Kafka, Sartre, Beckett, and Ionesco. Certain of their attitudes are comparable to those of the dada period; but why (especially considering the overtone of tired academicism which it can imply) is the prefix "neo" more applicable in 1961 than it was in 1921? Social and emotional life is scarcely more secure at present than it was during the youth of Jarry, Vaché, Schwitters, or Duchamp.

The current wave of assemblage owes at least as much to abstract expressionism (with its dada and surrealist components as it does to dada directly, but it is nevertheless quite differently oriented: it marks a change from a subjective, fluidly abstract art toward a revised association with environment. The method of juxtaposition is an appropriate vehicle for feelings of disenchantment with the slick international idiom that loosely articulated abstraction has tended to become, and the social values that this situation reflects. The technique of collage has always been a threat to the approved media of oil painting, carving, and casting. Inherent in Kurt Schwitters' MERZ collages, objects, environments, and activities (which, in various ways, all incorporated the spectator and the life around him into the fabric and structure of the work) was an impatience with the line that separated art from life. The medium of which Schwitters must be recognized as le grand maître, still expanding after more than forty years, cannot be dismissed as the affectation of a group of incompetents. It is an established mode of communication employing words, symbols, and signs, as freely as it does pigments, materials, and objects. Wordlessly associative, it has added to abstract art the vernacular realism that both Ingres and Mondrian sought to exclude by the process of abstraction.

Assemblage has become, temporarily at least, the language for impatient, hypercritical, and anarchistic young artists. With it, or admixtures of it with painting and sculpture, they have given form to content drawn from popular culture: more recent equivalents, as the English critic Reyner Banham argues, of Boccioni's love of "all anti-art manifestations of our epoch -- café-chantant, gramaphone, cinema, electric advertising, mechanistic architecture, skyscrapers . . . nightlife . . . speed, automobiles, aeroplanes and so forth."87

For the first time since the period of the futurists, the automobile, for example, has been effectively dealt with by the plastic arts, but with an emotional tone that is not at all the same. By now, the automobile has become a mass killer, the upholstered love-boat of the adolescent, and the status symbol of the socially disenfranchised. In our period the impact of these "insolent chariots" is at least as great as previously was that of the horse -- whose role as a living symbol could be said to have ended with the agonized scream of the disemboweled victim in Picasso Guernica. In the mag-

-87-

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The Art of Assemblage
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Foreword and Acknowledgments 6
  • Introduction 9
  • The Liberation of Words 13
  • The Liberation of Objects 21
  • The Collage Environment 72
  • The Realism and Poetry of Assemblage 81
  • Attitudes and Issues 87
  • Notes 150
  • Photograph Credits 152
  • Catalogue of the Exhibition 153
  • Assemblange: A Working Bibliography 166
  • Index 174
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