“a lot of time is used in fear and apprehension that could be used in action”
I can’t recall a time when I have seen as many people smiling as they walked around a Tate Modern exhibition. Expressions of delighted intrigue and fascination were perched on many faces.
The Robert Rauschenberg exhibition is the most joyous display I have seen all year.
Both Michael Legge and I were de-curmudgeoned by it, at least for an hour or two.
What exuded from every display cabinet, screen and wall was a sense of “let’s play”. This was not an artist to be hemmed in by definitions. And the jokes are good jokes.
Erased De Kooning drawing is just that. Rauschenberg asked William DeKooning if he would donate a pencil drawing that Rauschenberg would then rub out. Rauschenberg had attempted this on his drawings, but felt it was more effective if it was someone else’s. He was making art by removing art. He catalogued the stages of erasure, then, when left with a vaguely smudged but mainly blank piece of work, the art removed art was complete.
He also worked with the choreographer Merce Cunningham on Minutiae, a dance piece around a folding screen of paintings in which the dancers perform as if they are escaped pigment (well, to me anyway). The piece is actually inspired by gestures seen on the street. By room two, it is hard to imagine you will not remain delighted throughout (there is no twist, you will remain delighted).
Charlene is the final work of his colour period. I am not always an admirer on a wall with glued on umbrellas and other trash can finds. Today I was.
“It looked like art with a goat.”
There is a goat with a tyre on it in the middle of Room 3. Part of the charm of this redecorated found object of taxidermy is reading about the process Rauschenberg underwent to satisfy himself that he had put the goat in the art not just surround the goat with art.
His combines are exuberant large canvases of discarded domestic living, richly painted and fused with alarm clocks and fans. At no point can you look at these hangings and think, “well, anyone can splash a load of paint over the some glued on old radios”, there is nothing casual or shiftless about these.
Every room tells another story of the artist thinking, “well, that’s that experiment done, what shall I try now”.
Dante’s Inferno illustrated using a process of transferring magazine ink drawings onto paper via the administration of lighter fluid.
Silk screen prints that led to an award in Venice, so he immediately rung his assistant and told him to destroy all remaining silk screens in the studio so he would avoid repetition.
Scrap statues with constantly retuning valve radios creating a tableau of noisy, ghostly pop metal. “Untitled with sock and parachute”
And Mud Muse, a burst bubbling vat of water and clay which is hard to tear yourself away from.
The clay reacts to its own noises, a cycle of burps and blaps and splashes.
Sadly, this was the one room where Michael lost some heart, but only a little piece.
A man was taking photos. The attendant politely asked him not to. He couldn’t just accept that.
“What difference does it make?”
Just shut up and look at the mud. What is your shitty photo going to capture of the experience?
I was relieved not hear a mighty blap as Michael hurled the man into the mud. Michael is good at making events from anger.
At the start of the exhibition was a note that Rauschenberg did not imagine a life of art ahead of him when growing up in Port Arthur, Texas. It was thanks to the GI bill, a way of former soldiers having their post war education funded, that he explored enough of the world to think art may be a thing inside of him. It reminded me again if the importance if Arts Emergency, a UK based organisation that aims to encourage and support people from backgrounds which offer less immediate opportunity to get into the arts due to lacking the support that would allow them to take those menial first arts jobs.
I think I will return to the Rauschenberg exhibition on a weekly basis. It will enthuse you. It will remind you that art can be found everywhere. It will needle you into scrutinising the world around you with greater intensity. You’ll see more colours and shapes all around you as you make your way home. It is also about collaboration, about drawing minds together to create for something more than your own solipsism or self-aggrandisement as demonstrated in the penultimate room showing the works and intentions of the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange.
I am going to look at mud now.
Latest Book Shambles is with Janne Teller, activist and author, and don’t forget you can still hear Alan Moore, Noel Fielding, Lisa Dwan, Nick Offerman… all HERE