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A showcase for fine assemblage

Arthur Comings: Park Bench
Photo: Bob Barclay

With a pedigree only a century old, assemblage is a brash newcomer in the realm of fine art. Indeed, if you don't count graffiti (which has actually been around forever) assemblage is the youngest member of the artistic pantheon. Betsy Thomas of Chubb Collectors summarizes the possibilities of the form when she describes “ a technique whereby artists gather found items of no particular value and make compositions that place these “objets trouve” into an imaginative dialogue with each other.” Curator Matt McKinley staged the only recent show of pure, fine assemblage (rhymes with “collage') that I can remember back in April 2012; I wrote about it here.

Although many of the greats (Picasso, Duchamp, Rauschenberg) have executed major work in the discipline, even some other artists don't always give it the respect it deserves. And when would-be assemblagists set out to produce a piece, they're often all too willing to take the easy way out and settle for something which, although it may have elements of the street, often falls somewhere between craft and kitch.

That's going to stop, if I have anything to say about it. I've rented a small space with a big skylight in a local art co-op, and I'm taking no prisoners. I'm going to show the best assemblage I can find – there's some great stuff out there – and let the world see what world-class work looks like. Right now I only have that space for sure for five months; after that, I'll take the exhibition somewhere else if necessary. But the bottom line will remain the same: high-quality work – when at all possible, at reasonable prices. My goal is to educate art fans about what can be done in this form – and provide support and inspiration for the best of our assemblage artists.

I'm setting up my gallery and display space, called The Art of Assemblage, within Art Works Downtown, a multifaceted organization housed in a venerable San Rafael building that's older than assemblage itself. Built in 1878, 1325-1337 Fourth Street was originally Gordon’s Opera House, but it's been through quite a few incarnations since then. Thanks to a group of community visionaries led by artist Phyllis Thelen who began working together in the early 1990s, the massive building now houses art studios, community meeting rooms and display spaces, second-floor low-income housing, and a fine gallery on the main floor. The Art of Assemblage is just down the hall from that gallery; our first show opens February 14, 2014.

But we'll do more than hang art – or put it on a pedestal. The primary purpose of The Art of Assemblage is educational, and to that end we'll sponsor talks and Q & A sessions with exhibiting artists, workshops in which artists encourage the public to experiment with assemblage techniques, and somewhere down the line, “assemblage challenges” where practicing artists work side-by-side in real time to create new pieces using a common store of materials.

Stay tuned to as the story unfolds, and check out for further details. This baby has just begun to toddle.

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