Candace Karu

The Art of Assemblage

Ten Maine artists explore the bricolage of found objects

Craft of Maine by Candace Karu | Photography by Scott Dorrance

“When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life—a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created.”
– Louise Berliawsky Nevelson

Artists have been making assemblages for centuries, using the materials and objects around them as vehicles of expression. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, artists such as Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, and Pablo Picasso worked with objets trouves, or found objects, regularly experimenting with scavenged pieces to give new voice to materials that had long been silenced. 

The French artist Jean Dubuffet often incorporated dirt, stones, discarded papers, and other organic materials onto his canvases. In 1953, he created a series of compositions using butterfly wings, which inspired him to coin the term assemblages d’empreintes (assemblages of fingerprints). Taking the concept of collage from two dimensions to three, Dubuffet’s work used banal materials and man-made objects to create art that was both immediate and sculptural. In describing this technique, he said: “Art should be born from the materials and, spiritually, should borrow its language from it. Each material has its own language so there is no need to make it serve a language.” 

In 1961, responding to a world and culture in transition, the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched a daring exhibition called The Art of Assemblage, to wide public and critical acclaim. As the first major show of assemblage art, it included more than 140 European and American artists, including Picasso and Dubuffet, as well as Joseph Cornell, Georges Braque, Man Ray, and Robert Rauschenberg. 

Assemblage art reflects and amplifies the ephemeral nature of the material from which it is created, reimagining the intent and purpose of the discarded original. The juxtaposition of components explores relationships, often awkward and frequently complicated, bringing fresh intent through evocative composition. 

We have invited ten Maine artists to share their work on these pages, using the vocabulary of bricolage to give each of their assemblages a rich and varied resonance.