Susquehanna Art Museum’s educational Explore series presents an investigation of how artists, both historic and contemporary, utilize found objects in their work.
Collecting and displaying found objects for their aesthetic qualities dates back to at least the 16th century. Collectors displayed their prized objects in curiosity cabinets or what the Germans called wunderkammer. These collections provided insights into the unique tastes of the collector and told stories about the wonders and oddities of the natural world. It wasn’t until the 1900s that artists began to regularly incorporate found objects into their work.
Historically, some artists utilized found objects through assemblage. Assemblage is a similar art form to collage. Typically, an assemblage is created using three-dimensional materials while a collage is created by layering two-dimensional material. Surrealist artists particularly embraced assemblage in their work. They were inspired by psychologist Sigmund Freud’s writings about the unconscious and dreams. Their combinations of unlikely found objects resulted in surprising and unsettling sculptures.
Artist Marcel Duchamp coined the term readymade to describe his sculptures made from manufactured objects. In 1917 he unveiled the sculpture Fountain, which was an upside-down urinal presented on a pedestal. This piece shocked the art world, raising questions about what art is and the role of the artist in physically creating the work.
In the 1960’s, Arte Povera artists made use of a wide range of natural and everyday materials. The Italian phrase arte povera translates to ‘poor art.’ These artists used seemingly worthless found materials to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialized art world.
Thanks to artists who came before, contemporary artists now freely use a variety of found materials to express their ideas!