Auto-destructive art.

Term applied to works of art in a variety of media, with the capacity to destroy themselves after a finite existence, ranging from a few moments to 20 years. This self-destruction may result from natural processes such as collisions, decomposition and dematerialization, or from mechanisms requiring collaboration between artists, scientists and engineers, and may be either random and unpredictable or strictly controlled. The term, which is also sometimes used more loosely to describe any works with the capacity to transform themselves, was first used by Gustav Metzger in a manifesto (November 1959). Metzger elaborated on what he saw as an inherently political art theory and practice in five manifestos, in public lectures and demonstrations and in his own innovative techniques, including ‘painting’ in acid on nylon (1960–62).


Art form in which natural and manufactured, traditionally non-artistic, materials and objets trouvés are assembled into three-dimensional structures. As such it is closely related to COLLAGE, and like collage it is associated with Cubism, although its origins can be traced back beyond this. As much as by the materials used, it can be characterized by the way in which they are treated. In an assemblage the banal, often tawdry materials retain their individual physical and functional identity, despite artistic manipulation. The term was coined by Jean Dubuffet in 1953 to refer to his series of butterfly-wing collages and series of lithographs based on paper collages, which date from that year. Although these were in fact collages, he felt that that term ought to be reserved for the collage works of Braque, Picasso and the Dadaists of the period between 1910 and 1920. By 1954 Dubuffet had extended the term to cover a series of three-dimensional works made from primarily natural materials and objects. The concept of assemblage was given wide public currency by the exhibition The Art of Assemblage at MOMA, New York, in 1961. This included works by nearly 140 international artists, including Braque, Joseph Cornell, Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray and Kurt Schwitters. Several of the works shown were in fact collages, but the breadth of styles and artists included reflects the wide application of the term and the sometimes fine distinction between assemblage and collage. The ‘combine paintings’ of Rauschenberg, for example, fall awkwardly between the two, being essentially planar but with often extensive protrusions of objects. The inclusion of real objects and materials both expanded the range of artistic possibilities and attempted to bridge the gap between art and life.

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Automatistes, Les.

Canadian group of artists active during the 1940s and the early 1950s, led by PAUL-EMILE BORDUAS. They were named by Tancrède Marcil jr in a review of their second Montreal exhibition, published in February 1947 in Le Quartier latin, the student journal for the University of Montreal, Quebec. The earliest characteristic example of the group’s work was Borduas’s Green Abstraction (1941; Montreal, Mus. F.A.), a small oil painting intended as an equivalent to the automatic writing of the Surrealist poet André Breton; it was succeeded by a series of 45 gouaches exhibited by Borduas in the foyer of the Théâtre Ermitage in Montreal from 25 April to 2 May 1942 and by other works painted before he moved to New York in 1953 (see MONTREAL, fig. 2).

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Art à la Rue.

Term used to refer to a movement or set of concerns espoused by a small number of left-wing artists and architects in the 1890s and early 1900s, mainly in Brussels and Paris. A significant number of leading Art Nouveau artists and architects, including Victor Horta, Héctor Guimard and Frantz Jourdain (the main spokesman for the movement) were involved. Art à la Rue, which focused specifically on bringing art to the working classes, was part of a broader movement aimed at social reform, whose roots were in the French socialist movement, the political theories of the Russian anarchist Prince Kropotkin and William Morris’s later essays. In challenging the élitist status of art, it urged those in the arts to forget the world of museums and collectors and to concentrate instead on relating art to everyday life, so that it assumed a more socially responsive role in society. The main arena for this was the street, where ordinary people spent most of their leisure time. Proponents of Art à la Rue, therefore, urged that the streets should be enlivened with bright colours by means of lithographic posters (e.g. those of Jules Chéret and Theóphile-Alexandre Steinlen) and by artistically designed signs, lights and drinking fountains, in order to make the city a more pleasing place to live; the process would help to shape aesthetic sensibility. Such art was to be deliberately popular in appeal, accessible and intelligible to people of all ages and educational backgrounds. Decorated building façades and shop fronts, too, were singled out as an especially good means of transforming sombre streets into free outdoor museums. With its aim of social reform and its focus on the street as a means of bringing art to the people, to lift morale and to elevate popular taste, the Art à la Rue movement suggests that Art Nouveau was not just a new aesthetic ideal: it also had a strong urbanistic, moral component, which helped to set the stage for the modernists’ social utopianism of the 1920s.

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  • Art à la Rue
    • Horta, Victor, §1: Before 1903
      Allegory of art.

      Type of allegorical representation of the artist’s conception of himself and his work. Many allegories of art owe their origin to attempts, in the 16th and 17th centuries, to classify the fine arts, especially painting, as artes liberales. An improvement in the status of art was to bring with it an improvement in the social standing of the artist. The allegory of art took many forms, which often appeared in combination with one another, including: personifications of Pictura or Disegno, sometimes in the role of inspirer in portraits of the artist; the conquest of Ignorantia and Invidia; and pictures of private galleries. The decoration of the artist’s own house—such as Vasari’s at Arezzo and Florence and Federico Zuccaro’s in Rome—provided an obvious opportunity to develop the theme (see ARTIST’S HOUSE and figs 1 and 2).

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      Agitprop [Rus. agitatsionnaya propaganda: ‘agitational propaganda’].

      Russian acronym in use shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 for art applied to political and agitational ends. The prefix agit- was also applied to objects decorated or designed for this purpose, hence agitpoyezd (‘agit-train’) and agitparokhod (‘agit-boat’), decorated transport carrying propaganda to the war-front. Agitprop was not a stylistic term; it applied to various forms as many poets, painters and theatre designers became interested in agitational art. They derived new styles and techniques for it from Futurism, Suprematism and Constructivism.

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      Consulate style.

      Term used to describe the continuation in the decorative arts of the Neo-classical style (see NEO-CLASSICISM) in France between 1800 and 1805 under Napoleon Bonaparte (First Consul; 1799–1804). His Consulate was an era of renewal in the furniture, porcelain and metalwork industries in France (see FRANCE, §§VI, 4; VII, 2; IX, 1(iv); XI, 1(v), 2, 4 and 6), greatly encouraged by the patronage of Napoleon, who sought a model for his position in the magnificence of ancient Rome. While little actual building took place, the period was important for such changes in interior decoration as the lavish use of draperies—begun during the 1790s—that established the Consulate and the Empire styles (for illustration see EMPIRE STYLE); although these terms were invented by later art historians to denote the change in political systems, in fact the styles to which they refer are virtually indistinguishable. Furniture was similar to that of the preceding DIRECTOIRE STYLE, but forms took on a heavier appearance, materials were used more lavishly, and there was a fresh emphasis on ornamentation. An influential figure was the archaeologist Vivant Denon, Napoleon’s camp follower in Egypt and Syria (1798–9), who helped inspire the Egyptomania that swept France and England with his book Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte, published in Paris in 1802 (see EGYPTIAN REVIVAL).

      Coulisse [Fr.: ‘wing’].

      Element at the side of an image, especially in panoramic landscapes, which directs the spectator’s eye towards the central view in the distance. The term derives from those pieces of stage scenery that mask the wings of the theatre and create an illusion of recession (see also REPOUSSOIR).

Conversation piece.

Group portrait, often full-length but small in scale, set in a domestic interior or garden setting. It was an especially popular genre in 18th-century England though it can also be found later than this and in other countries.

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Château style.

Term used to describe an architectural style adopted for public buildings in Canada in the late 19th century and early 20th; also, more generally, a style practised in North America during that period (the latter is also called Châteauesque). Buildings in the Château style are usually asymmetrical and are characterized by picturesque silhouettes created by steep hipped roofs, dormer windows, towers, turrets and tall chimneys. The Canadian prototype was the wood-framed Banff Springs Hotel in the Rocky Mountains at Banff, Alberta (1886–8; destr. 1925), designed for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) by Bruce Price. It was inspired by Scottish Baronial architecture of the 16th and 17th centuries and French châteaux of the Renaissance. It also showed an awareness of recent European sources such as George Gilbert Scott’s Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, London (1866–76). The CPR subsequently used the style for brick hotels on picturesque sites, such as the Château Frontenac, Quebec City (1892–3; subsequent additions to 1924), the sources for which were Loire Valley architecture as well as the work of H. H. Richardson in the USA. Another major example is the Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia (1904–8; many additions), by Francis Mawson Rattenbury, a building with façades of flat relief that culminate in the style’s characteristic steep roofs and dormer windows. The CPR also built stations in the style, such as the second Vancouver Station (1897–8), designed by Edward Maxwell. The rival Grand Trunk Railway quickly adopted the style for such hotels as the Château Laurier, Ottawa, Ontario (1908–12), by Ross & MacFarlane, and the Fort Garry Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba (1911–13), by the same architects.


Term used from the late 18th century to denote the most exuberantly ornamental phase of Spanish architectural decoration, lasting from c. 1675 to c. 1750. The term derives from the CHURRIGUERA family, the principal exponents of the style, who worked mostly in Salamanca. The origins of the style, however, can be traced back to the painter and sculptor ALONSO CANO, who was a pioneering exponent of a highly ornamental style that began to characterize much Spanish art at the end of the 17th century. Most important in the propagation of the style were a number of sculptors, wood-carvers, cabinetmakers and carpenters who began to be highly influential in the field of architecture at this time, much to the chagrin of the more classically-minded specialist architects, such as Juan de Herrera. These sculptors and other craftsmen were chiefly responsible for the design and construction of the ephemeral structures built for coronations and other celebrations around this time. These were generally made of wood or cloth, allowing all manner of capricious and bizarre experiments with ornamentation. Some of these Baroque experiments were later taken up and applied in stucco or brick to such architectural elements as façades, walls, vaults, doors and cupolas and in sculptural ensembles such as retables, for example at the church of S Esteban, Salamanca (see RETABLE, fig. 2).


Term derived from chinois (Fr.: ‘Chinese’) denoting a type of European art dominated by Chinese or pseudo-Chinese ornamental motifs. The term is most often applied to decorative arts produced from the second half of the 17th century to the early 19th, when trading contacts between Europe and East Asia were at their height.

Cloisonnism [Fr. cloisonnisme].

Style of painting practised in the late 1880s by such French artists as LOUIS ANQUETIN, EMILE BERNARD, Paul Gauguin and PAUL SÉRUSIER. Essentially it involves the use of strongly outlined planes of minimally modelled, bright colour with simplified drawing. These features undermine the three-dimensionality both of individual objects and of the pictorial space. Cloisonnism represented the rejection of trompe l’oeil painting in favour of an attempt to express the inner character of the subject-matter. Its stylistic elements were soon incorporated into the broader style of SYNTHETISM, which, in turn, formed a current within SYMBOLISM. The term is derived from the cloisonné enamelling technique (see ENAMEL, §2(i)), in which thin bands of metal are used to outline flat areas filled with coloured enamels. Stained glass, another influence, uses the same principle, with lead creating the distinct outlines around pieces of coloured glass. The French critic Edouard Dujardin was the first to publish the word ‘Cloisonnism’ as descriptive of a new style in art in his essay on Anquetin in La Revue indépendante (1 March 1888, p. 490): ‘The painter traces his design with enclosing lines, within which he places his various tones juxtaposed in order to reproduce the desired sensation of general colouration. Drawing predicates colour and colour predicates drawing. And the work of the painter will be something like painting by compartments, analogous to cloisonné, and his technique consists in a sort of cloisonnisme.’


International group of artists founded in the Café Notre-Dame, Paris, on 8 November 1948 and active until 1951. The name was a conflation of the initial letters of the names of the capital cities of the countries of origin of the first members of the group: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The initiators and spokesmen of the group were Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont and Constant. All were searching, by way of experimental methods, for new paths of creative expression, and all shared similar expectations of the years following World War II: a new society and a new art. Inspired by Marxism, they saw themselves as a ‘red Internationale of artists’ that would lead to a new people’s art. They rejected Western culture and its aesthetics. They also emphatically repudiated Surrealism, as defined by André Breton, although they had found useful points of departure within the movement. Their working method was based on spontaneity and experiment, and they drew their inspiration in particular from children’s drawings, from primitive art forms and from the work of Paul Klee and Joan Miró.


Drinking vessel made of treated and stitched leather, in common use in England from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. Surviving examples, which date mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, are sometimes mounted and, more rarely, lined with silver or pewter. They were made in various sizes and were usually bottle- or cylinder-shaped with a characteristic bulge around the centre of the body and stamped decoration. In 1635 it was reported that after the French first saw blackjacks in use, they returned home claiming that the English drank from their boots.


Term derived from the Classical concept of forms created by the power of natural life, applied to the use of organic shapes in 20th-century art, particularly within SURREALISM. It was first used in this sense by Alfred H. Barr jr in 1936. The tendency to favour ambiguous and organic shapes in apparent movement, with hints of the shapeless and vaguely spherical forms of germs, amoebas and embryos, can be traced to the plant morphology of Art Nouveau at the end of the 19th century; the works of Henry Van de Velde, Victor Horta and Hector Guimard are particularly important in this respect.

Directoire style.

Style fashionable in France, especially in Paris, named after the short-lived Directoire period (Oct 1795–Nov 1799). It was marked at first by the collapse of the French economy and then by the rapidly growing wealth of financial speculators, although Ride Felice wrote: ‘Many styles are misnamed, none more so than this one; even if it exists ...was ever a style established in such a short time?’ (Felice, n.d.). The style itself displayed elements of the classicism that had prevailed in the later part of the 18th century and had been known in the ARABESQUE STYLE, GROTESQUE and ETRUSCAN STYLE. A new austerity was introduced after the Revolution, and reflecting the taste of the new class of military officials, politicans and financial speculators, it became rapidly more opulent. Under the influence of Charles Percier and Pierre François Leonard Fontaine it was developed into the flourishing EMPIRE STYLE.

General Idea.

Canadian partnership of conceptual artists working as performance artists, video artists, photographers and sculptors. It was formed in 1968 by A. A. Bronson [pseud. of Michael Tims] (b Vancouver, 1946), Felix Partz [pseud. of Ron Gabe] (b Winnipeg, 1945) and Jorge Zontal [pseud. of Jorge Saia] (b Parma, Italy, 1944; d Feb 1994). Influenced by semiotics and working in various media, they sought to examine and subvert social structures, taking particular interest in the products of mass culture. Their existence as a group, each with an assumed name, itself undermined the traditional notion of the solitary artist of genius. In 1972 they began publishing a quarterly journal, File, to publicize their current interests and work. In the 1970s they concentrated on beauty parades, starting in 1970 with the 1970 Miss General Idea Pageant, a performance at the Festival of Underground Theatre in Toronto that mocked the clichés surrounding the beauty parade, resulting in the nomination of Miss General Idea 1970. This was followed by the 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant, which involved the submission by 13 artists of photographic entries that were exhibited and judged at The Space in Toronto.