Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschengerg

American pop artist Robert Rauschenberg has died in Florida at the age of 82.

He was known for his use of odd and everyday articles, which earned him a reputation as a pioneer in pop art.

Rauschenberg first gained fame in the 1950s with his "combines", which brought together three-dimensional objects and paint.

He was also a sculptor and choreographer, and won a Grammy for "best album package" in 1984 for Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues.

Among his most famous works was 1955's Bed, created after he woke up in the mood to paint but had no money for a canvas.

His solution was to take the quilt off his bed and use paint, toothpaste and fingernail polish instead.

Robert Hughes famously announced the hidden-in-plain-sight gay content of "Monogram."

"If one asks why it became so famous," Hughes wrote, "the answer can only lie in its power ... as a sexual fetish. The lust of the goat, as William Blake remarked, is the glory of God; and this one, halfway through the tire, is an image of anal sex, the satyr in the sphincter."

But Hughes' reading would appear to explain the comic effect of "Monogram," including its power to bait over-interpretation, more than it accounts for the fascination of the object. Even today, "Monogram" reads more persuasively as an icon of artistic daring and liberty than of anything libertine.

In interviews, he tried to unmake the critical cliché that said he worked in rejection of the so-called abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. "I've never accepted the aesthetic limitation of doing something to the exclusion of something else," Rauschenberg said in 1997. "I just backed off from abstract expressionism because they had their space and I didn't feel at home in it, even though I didn't have a home."

He may have felt that way then, he certainly knew the sting of real poverty. But the May 2006 exhibit "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines" presented an artist who made the street-level material world of '50s Manhattan his home. He could not see why his art should be impermeable to anything he found, bought, remembered, thought or felt.

Yet no one can look carefully at "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines" and fail to notice recurrent images and objects, from taxidermy to road signs, pockets, ties, shirt sleeves and even parachutes.

Rauschenberg acknowledges a fictive self-portrait in the photograph of a man in a white suit at the bottom of MOCA's own untitled freestanding 1954 combine. But might it also make reference to Alec Guinness' sinister 1951 movie comedy "The Man in the White Suit"?

Artworks as inclusive as these inevitably make us wonder about the depth of the artist's own knowledge of what he has made. Should we value Rauschenberg's work for bringing to light a tissue of unconscious linkages beneath the surface of everyday life and memory? Can we even agree that he did such a thing or that an artist

Rauschenberg's combines continue to burn brightly for us because they keep questions such as these alive in us, despite all the fog effects of cultural celebrity and the art economy.

Early on some critics denigrated Rauschenberg's work as "Neo-Dada" because it found license for its extreme openness in the example of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and his admirer, John Cage (1912-1992). But Dada sprung from revulsion for the culture that devolved into World War I. And although Rauschenberg worked all sorts of topical details into his work, some momentous, some not, his work continues to radiate a love of the real, in all its perishability, utterly different from the Dada spirit.

“I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,” he said in an interview in the giant studio on Captiva in 2000. “At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

He added: “Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics. I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations.”

Quotes from Robert Hughes and Kenneth Baker
Obit from the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/arts/design/14rauschenberg.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin
Jed Pearl - not in favor of : http://www.tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=66843dca-95e0-45de-aba9-4da3ae73ffc2


Zoomie said...

Despite my five years working at SFAI, I'm still left puzzled by works such as Rauschenberg's... is he kidding? Are we gullible? Does it really have meaning or is the meaning just what we ascribe to it? He surely gets us talking/thinging/reacting, doesn't he?

namastenancy said...

I think that he was partially a trickster and partially an artist who was fascinated with "Stuff" that we never think of making art with. If you know about the Indian legends of Coyote, that's where I think Rauschenberg fits. I also think that his prankster personality and art is a great balance to the self-important aspects of the art world. I remember looking at one of his silk screen, assemblage pieces and understanding it at a gut level. I know that his art never became as boring as Jasper John's and that he was always approachable. There was a small exhibit of his work at the GLT Center some years ago. Rauschenberg came to the opening and was funny and gracious to all us awestruck artists.

Zoomie said...

One of my students at SFAI knew and loved Rauschenberg in Florida and he said much the same about his personality.yt