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Assembling

Assemblage is the technique of creating three-dimensional compositions from found objects. Similar to collage, which is two-dimensional, assemblage typically employs unexpected, nontraditional materials, which are combined to create a sculptural piece. The resulting artwork not only retains references to its original components but also takes on new narrative meanings, which may reflect the artist's personal experience or refer to a larger sociopolitical context. Assemblage is the technique most closely identified with West Coast art of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This art form gained greater recognition thanks to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition The Art of Assemblage in 1961.

A number of black Southern California–based artists experimented with forms of assemblage. Daniel LaRue Johnson's black boxes and hybrid paintings were identified early on in more general discussions of West Coast assemblage, particularly in the 1960s, when his work was included in shows at Dwan Gallery and the Pasadena Art Museum. In 1965 the Watts rebellion caused many artists to rethink their approach to art making. Noah Purifoy claimed that the event truly made him an artist, while John Outterbridge and John Riddle employed assemblage in order to convey the intensity of this event and to consider its potential as a representational strategy to explore the experience of African Americans. In 1966 Purifoy organized the exhibition 66 Signs of Neon, praising the use of discarded and abandoned objects to create beautiful art. Betye Saar used the technique to highlight spiritual, political, and social concerns, as well as to question African American stereotypes in popular culture.