Book Review: Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object

Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object (book cover)

Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object by Diane Waldman. (1992). New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0-810-93183-1

In Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object, Diane Waldman takes readers through a history of collage, with a nod to its origins starting as far back as the twelfth century, but focusing on the twentieth-century when collage and assemblage took hold in the realm of fine arts. Collagists took commonplace and ordinary objects and used them in their work to experiment with the spatial plane; rethinking and restructuring how media (paint, paper, and other objects) influence and alter the surface of a canvas or other substrates. Artists chose collage to challenge the traditional techniques and practices in the art world of the time, to problem solve, "sketch" ideas for other works in painting or sculpture, and consciously or subconsciously "capture the noise, speed, time, duration of twentieth-century urban industrial experience." (p. 11)

Right: Le facteur Cheval (The Postman Cheval) (1932) by Max Ernst in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Right: Le facteur Cheval (The Postman Cheval) (1932) by Max Ernst in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Waldman's structured the book so, at each stage, readers can develop an understanding of how the Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists, Abstract Expressionists, Pop culture artists and others took the foundation of collage laid out by the Cubists and exploited technological advances to broaden the scope of the practice. Photography, photocopying, print making changed the way artists could alter their imagery. The popularization of automatism and the role of chance in art making helped artists break from the constraints of traditional practices with surprising, and sometimes, shocking results. Collage, it seems, helped artists get closer to their materials, their subjects, and define a visual language that could not be achieved in any other way.

Left: Medici Slot Machine (1942) by Joseph Cornell in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Left: Medici Slot Machine (1942) by Joseph Cornell in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

I have never been a real fan of Pop art, but seeing how it fits into the historical development of collage, I gained a new appreciation for artists who, essentially, made their own "ready mades" (like Warhol's soup cans) to represent their engagement with the every day objects around them. It seems collage started with enthusiasm and optimism, then moved to experimentation and boundary-pushing, then shock and awe, and then settled into a sort of pessimism, with modern day collagists looking back, in a sense, appropriating symbolism and ideas from past artists, as a way of rejuvenating and revitalizing well-worn ideas, political and personal. 

Right: Field Painting (1963) by Jasper Johns in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Right: Field Painting (1963) by Jasper Johns in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.

Of the art history books I have read lately, Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object is one that, time and again, deepened my understanding of how each period of art, starting with Cubism and moving toward the present, brought its own innovations to the practice. Waldman's writing style, though academic, is easily understandable and the images provided as examples throughout the book bring the history to life. Though the inclusion of women artists was scarcer than I would have liked to see, when their work was included, Waldman treated their art with equal weight as their male counterparts (something that does not always occur in older art history books). For those looking to ground themselves and develop a foundational understanding of collage, this may well be the book for you.

Have you read this book? Let me know what I've got wrong (or right!).

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Cheers!--Janyce

 

Janyce Boyntonbook review