Thursday, August 11, 2011

Robert Rauschenberg Exhibition At Inverleith House, Edinburgh -- July 27 to October 2, 2011

Inverleith House, Robert Rauschenberg Botanical Vaudeville, Installation view. Photos by Michael Wolchover. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.


      "The American artist Jasper Johns (B.1935) once said of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) that he had invented more than any artist since Picasso. Rauschenberg has altered the cultural landscape and continues to exert a profound influence on contemporary artists. Robert Rauschenbeg: Botanical Vaudeville is the first museum exhibition devoted to the artist to take place in the UK in thirty years – and it features thirty seven works made between 1982 and 1998.

Freeze Glut, 1989

           During this time, Rauschenberg was exploring the reflective, textural, sculptural and thematic effects of metal, glass and other reflective surfaces in several series of works. All are represented here, and the paintings and sculptures on display vary from the highly-polished glamorous metallic works from the Shiner and Borealis series that celebrate energy and motion, to the Kabal American Zephyr and Gluts series which represent Rauschenberg’s fascination with the discarded object. He once stated: I think painting is more like the real world when it is made out of the real world. These works in particular benefit from being shown in natural light which is such a feature of exhibitions at Inverleith House, revealing their true colour – enhanced by multiple reflections of the viewer and the Garden which became part of the work.

Le Coon Glut, 1986

          Rauschenberg has his first one-man show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York exactly sixty years ago (in 1951) and he was the first American artist to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Bienniale, in 1964 (one year after his first retrospective exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York, at the age of 38). Whilst Rauschenberg is justifiably known for his ground-breaking work of the 1950s and the ‘60s’: in particular his Combines and collaborations with the composer John Cage and the dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham, his work from the period represented here is relatively little known and never before been shown in the UK.

Crossings (Borealis), 1990

          The exhibition title Botanical Vaudeville is that given to one of the works (from 1991) displayed in the last room. The documentary film Robert Rauschenberg – creative Genius (American Masters), directed by Karen Thomas (2004, 60mins) is being screened continuously throughout the exhibition in the lower-ground floor gallery (acess via the lift). Botanical Vaudeville follows previous exhibitions at Inverleith House by Rauschenberg’s close friends and collaborators; Cy Twombly (2002), John Cage and Merce Cunningham (2007).

Dylaby, 1962 (Detail of work preceding exhibition)

     The exhibition has been curated by David White and Ealan Wingate, with project co-ordination by Thomas Buehler. We are indebted to the Rauschenberg Stuido, New York and Gagosian Gallery for their generous assistance in making the exhibition possible."

NOTEAs if one needed an excuse for wishing to visit Edinburgh, this exhibition (Inverleith House press release reprinted above) of later period Robert Rauschenberg certainly provides one.  What I have always liked about Rauschenberg is a sort of complete contrariness in the work -- especially in the art following the "classic" paintings and sculptures of the 1950s and 1960s  --  which dares viewers to dislike it for reasons varying from (apparent) ugliness to obviousness to obscurity.  Rauschenberg never failed to get under my skin, however, and always provoked delayed strong reactions that kept me thinking about the work. Avoiding a great risk confronting famous and successful artists, Rauschenberg  never degenerated into turning out "product".  Seeing  the Inverleith House works reproduced here, I wonder how I would have reacted if I had seen each of them when they were originally exhibited two decades ago?  Quite differently, I imagine, and I find that to be a positive and uplifting quality characteristic of Rauschenberg.  Interpreting art, including Rauschenberg's work, which is always a busy field of signals, is a perpetual challenge and pleasure.  Yesterday morning I read some extremely confident, but to me peculiar, interpretations of some of the most famous Rauschenberg pieces that seemed to re-render them simply as proto-gay rights roadmaps.  These evaluations seemed forced to me, and to rob the works of poetry and depth, but at least the critics took clear positions and set up points of  argument along with their advocacy. 

              The extremely beautiful photograph below shows Royal Terns on Captiva Island, Florida, where Robert Rauschenberg made his home.  We've wanted to visit Captiva for years (after we were kidnapped in Mexico and removed exotic travel from our travel slate, we seriously considered moving there) and I hope we will someday soon.  Doesn't it look splendid?  (Click to enlarge.)

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