Assemblage in Practice: Artists, Ethnography and Display in Postwar London (1948-­‐85)

Newby, Lisa (2017) Assemblage in Practice: Artists, Ethnography and Display in Postwar London (1948-­‐85). Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis examines the relevance of assemblage for the ways artists engaged with ethnographic objects in postwar London and questions the usefulness of assemblage as a model for cultural analysis in art history.
Art historians now recognise that in the postwar period assemblage was interpreted by artists not simply as a formal category but as an act of engagement with their environment. This scholarship has renewed analogies between art practice and anthropology which this thesis explores in an expanded context.
It focuses on the changing status of ethnographic objects in experimental exhibition projects in London and the interdisciplinary debates that they generated. I show that multiple, conflicting narratives of the object were entangled with new ideas about how gallery spaces could or should be used to engage with changing definitions of culture in postwar society. Crucially, this thesis reinstates the different definitions of art and cultural identity being negotiated in London in the postwar period. The first three chapters introduce the different ways that juxtapositions of ethnographic objects and modern art were interpreted by artists and anthropologists at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London between 1948 and 1968.
The final two chapters engage with the new questions that were raised about the relationship between art and society in the 1970s and the impact this had on approaches to exhibition--‐making and assemblage at the ICA and the British Museum. These interdisciplinary strands of debate are brought together to reconsider Eduardo Paolozzi’s exhibition at the Museum of Mankind in 1985 and the different ways that his assemblage--‐based practice was interpreted.
I use these contexts to address two main research questions: What was the impact of assemblage on the ways that artists engaged with ethnographic objects in postwar London? And, how useful is assemblage as a methodological approach in art history?

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Megan Ruddock
Date Deposited: 15 May 2018 12:10
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2021 12:22

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