''.....there is nothing in the world that cannot lead a second and more expansive life, if only someone is to release it from its everyday connotations.”
- John Russell, The New York Times
This exhibition presents an unexpected grouping of artists united by their transformative use of found objects in their artistic practice. Bethesda Fine Art is proud to bring together these major artists — of varying ethnicities and gender — who salvaged items such as scrap metal, wood, discarded tools, old newspapers or everyday objects from their environment and gave rise to expressionist reliefs and sculptures known as “assemblage art.”
Found objects — whether natural or man-made— are not typically regarded as artistic material, but are kept because of the intrinsic value and creative potential the artist sees within. In the 1900s, artists began to incorporate found objects into sculptural works as an artistic gesture. From the '40s on, as American Abstract Expressionism dominated the Western art landscape, this pivotal movement influenced how artists saw and used found objects in their work — incorporating them as pieces of a larger whole composition. In the 1950s and 1960s, this style of assemblage became widely used. Taking otherwise mundane items and placing them together in the context of an artwork, artists turned found objects into monumental, evocative works that filled the spaces of museums and galleries.
“I maintain that the expression of junk and objects has an intrinsic value, and I see no need to look for aesthetic forms in them and to adapt them to the colors of the palette.” - Arman
French-born Armand Pierre Fernandez (1928-2005) was an unconventional artist who gained prominence with his sculptures composed of metal and trash. Early in his career, Arman’s fascination with found objects and their accumulation in vast quantities became a significant concept in his art. In 1961, Arman established himself in the New York art scene, and began exploring the creation of art through the destruction and decomposition of objects. Musical instruments, specifically the strings and bronze, became a major theme in Arman's work and his sculptures of violins became some of his most recognizable works. The son of an antiques dealer and cellist, he was captivated with form, music, rhythm and the exploration of culture. Exposing the hollow interior of the instrument, Arman juxtaposes the elegant curves of the violin with jagged fragments of metal —expressing that beauty can exist in the aftermath of destruction.
“If you got the scale right, the size never mattered, as long as you understood how the pieces fit together.” - John Chamberlain
John Chamberlain (1927-2011) is known internationally for his long career of making vividly colored and gesturally dynamic sculptures using discarded automobile parts that he twisted and welded into monumental shapes. He took the early modernist techniques of collage and assemblage and magnified them, emphasizing the brilliant colors of automotive paint in a large sculptural scale.
Chamberlain used the jagged edges and curved surfaces of the salvaged auto parts in his spontaneous, instinctual process — similar to that of abstract expressionist painters who used house painting brushes, mops, brooms, and poured or splashed paint to create gestural marks on canvas. Chamberlain chose materials that were cheap and abundant, enjoying the process of finding and accumulating. Their vibrant commercial colors and flashy surfaces inspired his creativity. Chamberlain's art gave the common materials he used a new meaning through his intervention. From autobody steel to foam rubber, Plexiglas boxes, and paper bags, his experiments with what he openly called "junk" or "garbage" took place at a monumental scale and opened up the possibilities for large-scale assemblage art.
Nancy Graves (1939-1995) was an American sculptor, painter, printmaker, and sometimes filmmaker known for her focus on natural phenomena and her enthusiastic use of varied materials and found objects in sculpture. In the early 1980’s, she began to produce the works for which she became most widely known: the colorfully painted, playfully disjunctive assemblages of found objects cast in bronze, including plants, mechanical parts, tools, architectural elements, food products and much more. Graves drew from an extensive inventory of these items within her studio and pieced her found items together in new compositions. Through her transformative processes of bronze casting and welding, Graves obscured the original forms of the found objects and entices the viewer to question the superficial reality of her sculptures.
“I fell in love with black; it contained all color.” - Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) is best known for her dynamic, geometric, and abstract wood sculptures. After emigrating to the US in 1905 from Russia, Nevelson soon began experimenting with early conceptual art using found objects. While walking around New York City, she would gather discarded wooden objects and pieces — a process influenced by Dada artist Marcel Duchamp’s found-object and ready-made sculptures — to turn into art. Each object was typically small and nondescript, but when assembled together became immensely meaningful. From her small-scale tabletop works to her larger-scale public works and installations, Nevelson used found objects as essential pieces of a wider whole.
Wooden boxes, each filled with carefully composed assemblages of smaller objects, would be stacked together and painted monochromatically black to create a sense of harmony and emphasize the effects of light and shadow. A finished piece, resembling a three-dimensional puzzle, might stand alone, be mounted on a wall, laid on a museum floor, or exhibited in a combination of placements to prompt viewers to become aware of their immersion into the artwork and to question their perception of space and three-dimensionality.
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American artist who was well-known for incorporating everyday objects into his art, blurring the distinctions between painting and sculpture. He aimed to bridge the gap between art and life, using these objects to create playful and tactile works. Rauschenberg continued to practice assemblage over the years, and from 1974 to 1976 completed the Hoarfrost series. In this series of unstretched lengths of fabric, Rauschenberg imprinted the ghostly afterimages of newspapers and magazines onto gauzy silk by way of silkscreening. The transparency of the silk and the printed images reflect Rauschenberg’s interest in multiplicity and variation, and the use of fabric and ephemera embody Rauschenberg’s practice of re-contextualizing found objects.
Carroll Sockwell (1943-1992) was an African-American abstract artist from Washington, D.C. who emerged in the city’s art scene in the 1960s. In his work, Sockwell engaged with both geometric and gestural abstraction, working more often in collage, charcoal, and pencil rather than painting. Sockwell’s mastery of gesture and line was not limited to those marks made by hand — he incorporated fragmentary found objects such as pieces of wood and scrap metal into his collages as well. A piece of wood or twisted scrap metal contained just as much gestural energy as a swath of ink or charcoal and Sockwell’s unrestrained use of materials — including found objects — characterized his expressive sensibility.