Robert Rauschenberg at the Haggerty

Dec. 30, 2008
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Robert Rauschenberg, widely regarded as a revolutionary who helped pave the way between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, died in May. An
exhibit at the Haggerty Museum pays tribute to the late artist by displaying
around 20 of his prints - a medium of which he was particularly enamored and
in which he helped revive newfound interest during his lifetime.
Almost any discussion of Rauschenberg’s work hinges around his famous quote:
"Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act
in the gap between the two)." This places the act of creation and the
significance of the creator at the center of any debate about his work . After all, this implies art, like life (and shit) just happens. And if art just transpires where does that leave the artist? Is he even necessary, or is he like an amputated limb that throbs with the memory of his former utility?

For me the most notable element of Rauschenberg’s prints is the contradictory responses they make to this very question. Phantasmal images taken from newspapers, maps and other matter float beneath broad, haphazard washes of color. On the one hand they’re deeply irreverent; an assemblage of appropriated parts gelled together as an informal and imperfect whole and labeled “art” because the artist says it’s so. At the same time they’re terribly earnest – the product of a frenetic and totally absorbing process as messy as the life they imitate. They suggest that art is the creative process itself and by extension the artist is less an author than the instigator of kind of a cosmic disturbance from which art inevitably and spontaneously materializes.

This combination of introspection and detachment, self-awareness and spontaneity is the most resounding quality of this exhibit. It offers a dual-edged portrayal of the artist as someone who is both actor and audience – both an instigator and an instrument of his craft. (Runs through October)


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