Saturday, March 18, 2006

Robert Rauschenberg, Combines

Image from Met
The Rauschenberg show is awesome. The sheer number of pieces is impressive--67--as well as the range. It reminded me of the first time I saw a Van Gogh up close--suddenly aware of the brush strokes. Here of course, what you see up close is the tacked on bits of 1 x 2, or burlap, or the swipe of paint or spackle on a bit of material torn, it might seem, from a passerby; here you see the strange taxidermy of eagle, rooster, ram, mixed with found and personal objects. Rust, drips, gobs are the less subtle mechanics of these Combines, what Rauschenberg called his mixed-media work. This is a kind of multi-dimensional collage sometimes veering toward sculpture (the free-standing pieces in any case). An extension of the canvas outward. And one does get the sense that the art might at any second, descend from the canvas and enter into your little personal space. Changeable as you must realize that space is now, after seeing this show.

The idea of mixed-media painting is hardly shocking now, but of course this is the source, and as is the case with the source, it is often the "ugliest," others having the foresight to build on the newly formed tradition. There are those who now hide the seams, and there are those who make them even more apparent: Jessica Stockholder for instance, now at PS1, and to me she accentuates the seam even more than Rauschenberg.

The seam being that newly exposed hinge of art--newly exposed in the late 50s early 60s when this work was done, and like Allen Ginsberg, taken in context one can see how much this work pisses in the face of convention. How it reveals, glories in, exposing the flimsiness of what holds art together. I was moved by the rough shape of a 1x2 in one of Rauschenberg's earlier combnies. Not by the makeshift quality of it, but because I understood its presence there as pure love of the materiality, the witness of such a non-descript object passing through our daily life. Hard to throw out even the most haphazard bit of building material: it all has the potential to become something else.

Hurry. They're only up until April 2nd.

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