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Assemblage is a versatile term used across various fields of study, including art, to describe the process of bringing together diverse objects, entities, or elements to create a new whole that possesses unique properties beyond the sum of its individual parts. In the realm of visual art, assemblage is a technique used to create three-dimensional artworks by combining found objects , such as discarded materials or everyday items, in a new composition. This approach challenges conventional notions of artistic creation by emphasizing the recontextualization of pre-existing materials rather than the production of original works from scratch.

Jean Dubeffet
Coursegoules, 1956
Oil on canvas (assemblage)
115 x 147 cm (45.3 x 57.9 in.)
© ADAGP, Paris / MAD, Paris
Photo: Laurent-Sully Jaulmes
Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Jean Dubuffet coined the term "assemblage" in 1953 to describe his collages of that year. However, the practice of creating three-dimensional artworks by combining both natural and manufactured objects in their original form can be traced back to the early 20th century, particularly in Cubist collages and Dada readymades. The 1961 exhibition The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art, New York brought the term to the forefront of the field and highlighted works by Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso.

Many artists continue to utilize this approach, such as Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, whose creations include large-scale sculptures and installations constructed from discarded metal, copper wire, and bottle caps. Anatsui's works serve to highlight the intrinsic value and potential of what is often considered waste or debris. Betye Saar has also been an active participant in the assemblage movement since the 1960s, utilizing found objects and cultural artifacts in her artwork to explore a range of themes, including race, gender, and spirituality. Through her use of assemblage, Saar brings together disparate elements to create a cohesive and profound artistic expression.

Betye Saar
House of Tarot, 1966
Etching with relief printing and relief-printed and embossed found objects
Plate: 45 × 60.4 cm (17.7 x 23.8 in.)
Sheet: 50.6 × 70 cm (19.9 x 27.6 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Related categories

Mixed Media


Everyday Objects

Kinetic Art

Image Production/Reproduction/Transformation

Large Scale Installation/Sculpture

Recycled Materials



Mixed Media Sculpture

20th Century Art

Mixed Media Installation

Freedom of Expression

Found Objects

(Inspired by) Cubism


Exhibitions in New York