Photograph courtesy of IU Art Museum

Generale, 1961 oil and collage on canvas by Italian artist Enrico Baj is part of the "Art of Assemblage" on display at the IU Art Museum.

In 1962, the view that anything could be art was at its peak in the art world. Artists would use unconventional materials -- metal scraps, buttons, cardboard -- whatever they thought would express their ideas best.

In that same year, the Indiana University Art Museum (IUAM) received four works of art that fell into this category. These works, including one other piece received in a different year, are on display as part of the IUAM's "New in the Galleries" exhibition titled The Art of Assemblage.

Ned Puchner, a graduate student in art history and the curatorial assistant for Western Art after 1800, prepared the exhibition. It was partially inspired by the New York Museum of Modern Art's 1961 Art of Assemblage exhibition. He said the works are "an excellent group, indicative of the range of works categorized under the terms 'neo-Dada' or 'assemblage'."

According to the Grove Dictionary of Art, assemblage is an art form similar to collage "in which natural and manufactured, traditionally non-artistic, materials and objets trouves are assembled into three-dimensional structures." And "neo-Dada" was more of a term applied to certain works than an actual movement, said Puchner. It described any art that used found objects.

"Because each artist used items from the everyday world, like a newspaper, a beer can, light bulbs, military medals, stockings and so forth, they were blatantly denying the importance of traditional materials in the creation of art, like paint, bronze and marble," he said.

The term was first used after 1958 when American artist Allan Kaprow presented his sculptural installations, Environments and Happenings. But by 1964 when "Pop Art," popularized by Andy Warhol, was more widely used, "neo-Dada" had become a derogatory term that was eventually discontinued by critics, Puchner said.

Puchner is fascinated with Allan Kaprow's work, and his interest in Kaprow's Environments and Happenings was another source of inspiration for the exhibition. "I wanted to look into how Kaprow's work was received and how it simultaneously caused a return to the subversive ideas of a generation earlier in the Dada movement," he said.

The Art of Assemblage exhibition is easily put into context with other artistic movements of the time, as the gallery also contains work from the Dada movement by artists Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters works by Jackson Pollock and David Smith that exemplified the popular notions of formalism which these 'neo-Dada' works challenged and examples of "Pop Art" by Andy Warhol and other artists.

One of the five pieces in the exhibition that stood out for Puchner was "Narcotica" by Bruce Conner. "It plays with our assumptions about sexuality and addiction in a way that show the full extent to which assemblage or neo-Dada works use found objects to create association in the mind," he said. "Conner is interested in how these associations reveal our narrow-mindedness when confronted with subcultures."

Alison Hamm can be reached at .


Exhibition details

The Art of Assemblage exhibition opened Feb. 5 and will be on display through September in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World and Doris Steinmetz Kellett Gallery of Twentieth-Century Art on the first floor of the IU Art Museum. The exhibition is free and open to the public. The IU Art Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and on Sundays noon - 5 p.m.