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by Shirle Gottlieb

(University of Judaism, West Los Angeles) Ever since Marcel Duchamp attached a bicycle wheel to a stool and declared that it was art people have been fascinated by assemblage. Down but never out, assemblage is still going strong in its various reincarnations.

Though it didn't make a big splash until the 1950s, artists have been using castoffs, broken discards, and mundane items to create art through most of the 20th-century. By combining select unrelated pieces, or juxtaposing them in new and unexpected ways, assemblage artists have transformed meaningless, disparate "found objects" into meaningful, mesmerizing artwork.

Sometimes the results are playful, whimsical, and full of humor. More often, as in Assembled Allegories, assemblage art is intensely personal, emotional, and highly symbolic; or laden with biting satire and hard-hitting, social commentary.
You don't need to read Eva Kolosvary-Stupler's tragic biography to know that her life has been marked by pain, loss, and survival. One look at her powerful constructions and you feel her deep sorrow and hope for the future. Born in 1940’s war-torn Budapest, Kolosvary depicts her former self as a tear-streaked child whose body (a chest-of-drawers) is full of skeletons, locked compartments, and rusty keys.

Eva Kolosvary-Stupler, "Self,"
mixed media, 66 x 14 x 12", 1994.

Eva Kolosvary-Stupler, "World Piece,"
mixed media, 67 x 23 x 12", 1992.

Joan Vaupen, “Hollywood
Smoke House (Male),” plexi/mixed
media, 13 x 13 x 9”, 2000.

Joan Vaupen, “Hollywood
Smoke House (Female),” plexi/mixed
media, 13 x 13 x 9”, 2000.
A violin forms the figure of Muse and represents, symbolically the inner artistic vision Kolosvary hopes to find. Nearby, a blood-stained world globe (split through the middle with its stuffing falling out), swings from a bird-cage stand. A stunning image, it alludes to our imperiled planet and humanity's cry for World Piece [sic intentional].

By contrast, Joan Vaupen constructs pristine, transparent little houses filled with neat, orderly contents. At first glance, these plexiglass environments appear to be charming, innocent tableaux or maquettes. A close inspection of the interiors proves otherwise. With stinging wit and biting satire, Vaupen makes social and political commentary on serious issues that threaten post-Modern culture. Inside Hollywood Smokehouse, for example, are seductive images of smoking that were romantic elements of almost every film produced in Hollywood. Think Bogart, think Gable, think Stanwick. Think love, allure--and lung cancer.

In Ice House, Vaupen tackles DeBeers Diamond Corporation and human rights issues in South Africa. In Power House, she highlights the devastating effect of atomic warfare and its ongoing covert testing. And in Fire House she addresses the L.A. riots. Inside of each little house a different drama is presented with no holds barred. That includes Retro House, where the Seven Dwarfs adorn the pretentious pseudo-classic facade of Disney Corporation Headquarters.

Although the assemblage art of Annemarie Rawlinson is more traditional it is nonetheless haunting. Growing up in Austria during World War II, Rawlinson has wrought art from terrifying memories, religious meditations, and metaphors for war. Some of her work is autobiographical, some universal, and some spiritual.
Through the use of broken artifacts, family photographs, feathers, old fabrics, and doll parts, she creates memorabilia that purge her soul and heal her wounds. One of the most powerful works, After the Wedding, depicts an old widow, sitting in a chair, wearing a long Victorian black lace dress. Taking its lead from the late Ed Kienholtz’ work, the widow's head is a faded wedding portrait of herself and her young husband.

The rusty medical instruments in Hospital address the "torture chamber" trauma she suffered when she was hospitalized as a child. While the Dance I Never Danced refers to her heritage (the Viennese Waltz) by means of a broken black box filled with fancy party slippers, flowers, and other festive paraphernalia.

Rawlinson sums everything up in Under the Yoke. Portraits of her ancestors are nailed under an old oxen yoke that is surrounded by barbed wire.

Annemarie Rawlinson, "After the Wedding,"
mixed media, 45 x 17 x 19", 2000.

Annemarie Rawlinson, "Under the Yoke,"
mixed media, 14 x 33 x 6", 2000.