Sunday, May 21, 2017

Robert Rauschenberg. Among Friends. The Museum Of Modern Art

         Last Thursday during that swift but brutal heat wave I went to a Member’s preview at the Moma to see the glorious Robert Rauschenberg retrospective now holding court and elegantly sprawling in the 4th floor galleries. This is of course the show of the Spring and Summer and I know it will be drawing crowds as well it should, so I’m glad I got to see it before the hoards descend.
               I met him briefly one night at a big art world party and when I was young and having trouble paying my electric bills his foundation came forward and said yes to my desperate application. But that’s not the reason why I love his work, have always loved his work and seeing this beautiful but somewhat Momafied display of his brilliant paintings and combines and sculptures thrilled me as they originally did so many years ago.
            He gave me (this is almost a cliché I know) if not permission then certainly a wink and a nod to make my art the way I wanted to. Oldenburg also did this for me. The show is titled Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends and we are not only presented with his work but also the work scattered here and there of his now famous artist friends. Oh look a Jasper Johns, a Cy Twombly an Andy Warhol that I could have easily done without. 
              But do not be alarmed there are so many of his great pieces on view that I can easily jump up and down with joy and awe and think you will also. The earliest works are small constructions, assemblages and paintings made from things he picked up here and there, on his travels and back in the then gritty and affordable New York City that he will sooner than later turn into massive complicated mixed media works.
              I’m of course talking about his works that he called his red paintings and later these morphed into his classic combines. All these works include bits and pieces of found objects including both 2-D and 3-D things that he attached to the surfaces of the canvases or odd large pieces of wood including doors. This way of working was in the air but he was the one who reached up and grabbed it down to earth. These works are also painterly and expressionistic with their globs of abstract shapes and floating colors but wait is that a goat I see, an eagle, a chair a bed? Unexpected and no doubt shocking to mid fifties and early sixties audiences.
             These are still jolting and yes joyous works but they have been made tamer by their blue chip prices and the frames, ropes and Plexiglas cases and casings that keep them at safe distances from the viewers. Much space is given over to his collaborations with dancers with projected videos on the floors and floating screens and to his performance pieces and experiments with technology.
              The most famous being his work and collaborations with Billy Kluver an almost mythical figure himself who in the Fall of 1966 put together with Rauschenberg “9 Evenings Theatre and Engineering” that mixed theatre and  dance and the latest in optics and technology that is still talked about to this day. In the exhibition it’s presented as a lavish environmental installation taking over one large gallery near a staircase leading up to the 5th floor, which adds a nice visual touch even though it might bring confusion to some.  Theatrics and theatre played an important role in his career and some of his large pieces were used for sets in dance pieces some of which are presented here and reside in modern art history as strong works in themselves. There are no drawings or sketches to speak of, he was not an artist who made drawings, instead he did works that were mostly done via silk-screens and other modes of transferring images to paper, the earliest examples are his delicate large portfolio of 34 prints (drawings) based on Dante’s Inferno in which he used a solvent transfer process that he worked on and off beginning in 1959 until 1961. There are some works that do not work for me, his fabric and cardboard works lack, and I really dislike the huge and ugly “Mud Muse” spewing and gurgling sludge like mud ugh, but the free standing large gray industrial looking sculptures that form the work “Oracle” from 1962 to 1965 is exciting and thrilling to this sculptor. In the final gallery there are many small terrific prints that line the walls and are attached with zippers that recall the old Rauschenberg for me.  Is this the best exhibition of the year? So far it is.


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