Out of the Box

This being the year that sees a major Joseph Cornell retrospective exhibition at The Royal Academy, I shall be looking at other Assemblage artists that are inspiring me to produce boxes of stuff.
This post is about the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition at The NoFormat Gallery in Woolwich, in SE London, that was on Nov-Dec 2014.
The exhibition was curated by graphic/Assemblage artist Tom Buchanan.

I spent several hours at this exhibition, enjoying the total immersion into ‘Box Art’, as it was marketed. Traditionally, this kind of work has been called ‘Assemblage’ with a tradition, within Fine Arts, spanning the C20th till the present day. In the earlier part of the Century, Surrealists, in particular Dada artists, often used this method of assembling, often everyday, objects into humourous or political artworks, as a form of ‘anti-art’. One such artist, Joseph Cornell, collected ephemeral objects and paper and combined them with photographs or magazine clippings, into small glass-fronted vitrine-like containers. These have become known as his ‘Shadow Boxes’. Cornell continued to make art over the next few decades. An exhibition at MoMA in 1961, ‘The Art of Assemblage’ saw 14 of his artworks being displayed.



In the 1960s, other artists were influenced by the exhibition at MoMA. These included the Fluxus movement of artists. They put art in containers/boxes, often using found objects/ephemera that had been developed by the artists or given new meanings. These ‘Fluxkits‘ required the recipient to interact with the works inside the box/case, to read the book, watch the film, touch the objects, put on a show/event etc.



The work in the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition owes much to these artistic precursors. The diversity of objects, forms and methodology used to produce this huge array of art is testimony to the legacy of these art movements in the C20th and today.


These ‘assemblage’ boxes also put me in mind of Contemporary Book Arts too.
Some pieces were more obviously of the ‘altered’ book art form, such as Rachel Smith’s ‘Pride & Prejudice ‘, shown below.


But many other pieces are like visual poetry, like visual flash fiction, with clear narratives that change with each viewer.


The above Assemblage is called ‘A Box of Deights’ by Glenn Anderson. The box is packed full of found objects (objet trouvé) and ephemera. It is hard to know how much has been found and how much the artist has made especially for this piece. Is this a window into the artist’s mind, his life, his soul, ? Or just a window into his studio?
Either way there is a definite narrative in the piece and we as audience can ‘read’ into it what we will.


Another British assemblage artist is Frank Jennings. He had several pieces in the show, some shown above. He calls his boxes of art ‘Deceptive Receptacles‘ and has made approximately 400 over the last 40 years.

Tom Buchanan, the curator of the ‘Out of the Box’ show, is hoping to write a book to document this unique collection of Assemblage ‘Box Art’ in the near future, and I for one will definitely be buying it!


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Filed under Artists, Book Art, Reflections, Reviews: exhibitions, fairs, shows...

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