Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern

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One of the current exhibitions at the Tate Modern is a large retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg’s 6o year career as an artist. Through 11 gallery spaces you are shown the journey of his work from his early experimentation to his late work with all the seemingly random and continuously experimental work in-between.

We went to visit it and so wanted to let you know what we thought. This is written with two people opinions. Beth’s (B) who is the designer and artist behind Bethvictoria.com and Paul (P) a lover of art and design but with a business background. We thought it would be interesting to see the two opinions formed from the pieces.

The first two pieces are found in the first, ‘Experimentation’ room of the exhibition. This room shows the work he created within Black Mountain College where he took classes in the fine arts and the initial works he created during his marriage to Susan Weil. ‘Experimentation’ shows various materials he worked with from light sensitive paper to a car, paint and paper.

Automobile Tire Print, 1953
Automobile Tire Print, 1953

About: Created with the help of composer John Cage and his Model A Ford. The piece challenges the idea of art and authorship.

What we thought

B: A simplistic idea and kind of print. For me it shows the trace that we leave. Even the simple day to day things that we do, like driving a car, change the world around us and leave a print. A comment on society.

P: I like this for its simplicity, but technically this probably isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Keeping all the sheets of paper accurately juxtaposed achieving a smooth substrate to minimise counter-imprints from under the paper, and ensuring the tire was loaded with sufficient paint to get the consistency of impression over what looks like to revolutions of the car wheel, would have been challenges to overcome.

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Untitled, 1951

About: Part of a body of work named Black Paintings created to test the boundaries of abstraction in the 50s. Untitled, 1951, created whilst he was studying, uses layers of newspaper and dense black paint to create a textured and glossy painting.

What we thought

B: The texture of the newspaper isn’t obvious until you get closer to this piece. That’s what I find interesting about this piece. From far away it just looks like black canvas but when you get closer you see that there’s texture and movement with how the light plays on the glossy paint. If you don’t look at it properly you don’t see the detail and it doesn’t make sense.

P: This is moody. The exhibition lighting could, to my mind, have created more atmosphere. Rauschenberg probably approached this from an experimental angle and discovered an abstraction of form and colour that worked. The proportions are comfortable to the eye and I like the emphasis that is given to the abutment of the varying width canvases that make up the whole.

In room three of the exhibition you find the ‘Combines’. Combining materials, objects and processes to create works that he said became ‘awkward physically’. Using mostly found objects which he put on canvas and then enhanced with abstract paint marks. The combines were made in his studio, live on stage and also some grew with their time in exhibition via viewer participation.

Bed, 1955
Bed, 1955

About: Not being able to afford canvas Rauschenberg decided to use his quilt, sheet and pillow for this piece. When it was first viewed it was considered a threatening piece, Rauschenberg said that he did not mean for it it be harsh.

What we thought

B: I wouldn’t say it looks cozy. But I do relate to it. To me its the boundary between being awake and dreaming. The cover at the bottom and pillow at the top are practically untouched – the real uniform world we are in when we are awake. And the part where you would slip under the cover is messy and colourful – the explosion of your ideas and imagination that comes when you are asleep and dreaming.

P: Not a lot to say about this other than I think it is great. I particularly like the almost ‘impressionist’ colour spectrum that is created around the fold of the quilt.

Black Market, 1961
Black Market, 1961

About: Originally this was a piece that the audience could participate in. The four clipboards on the canvas were for viewers to put their own pieces of art/notes or doodles into the work. The box contained objects and people were encouraged to take one in exchange for an object of their own. (This was stopped when in one exhibition the objects were taken and not replaced)

What we thought

B: The idea of being able to add to and interact with this piece is really great. I love the idea that Rauschenberg took his recognition and allowed other people to get involved with it. Collaborating with everyone and getting everyone involved in making art.

P: I would love to know if Rauschenberg took an interest in how the contents of the box changed over time. Keeping snapshots of the ever-changing range of items, with the common theme of having been ‘swapped in’ might have been the basis for more follow-on work perhaps.

Silkscreens (Room 5) were a key part in Rauschenberg’s recognition as an artist, being the key to his breakthrough in 1963. Rauschenberg was working on these at the same time as Warhol. He started using his own imagery then he developed to using colour and more recognisable found imagery, touching on the subjects of politics, science and sport. Once his silkscreens had been recognised and shown within galleries he immediately destroyed the tools needed to make any more, removing any possibility of the ease to just repeat himself.

Almanac, 1962
Almanac, 1962

About: Almanac was one of his first screen prints and doesn’t hold any real meaning. It is just an exploration of the combination of imagery, strokes and textures.

What we thought

B: Unlike Warhol, Rauschenberg’s screen prints aren’t concerned with the celebrity. They are, as with his other work, experimental and show working. It doesn’t tell you what it is or how you should think about it – you decide for yourself.

P: At first, this piece creates an internal struggle in the observer as it appears chaotic (Tate calls it ‘poetic’ – I’m not so sure). But as one deciphers the images that have been screen printed and the brush work that is added for emphasis, one is taken on a journey of one’s own making. The piece becomes something different to each observer.

Room 11 shows Rauschenberg’s late works. He had a keen interest in using the latest technology in photography to produce large scale works. He continued to make work until his death in 2008. They continued to be collaborative and experimental. Questioning the idea of art and ownership and the development in technology, media and culture.

Mirthday Man, 1997
Mirthday Man, 1997

About: Mirthday Man was made on Rauschenberg’s 72nd birthday. It includes an x-ray of himself, clippings from art history and imagery from his travels.

What we thought

B: From the exhibition it seemed that Rauschenberg after time creating less colourful box, B&W photographs and installations went back to this type of work that is similar to his screen prints but with modern techniques. I just love that even on his 72nd birthday and for ten more years he was creating such interesting works.

P: It seems a random combination of images, but it isn’t. I imagine the artist anguishing over the arrangement of colour, shape and topic, either to give some order to it all, or to intentionally create disharmony. This is a piece one can look at for hours and see different things and think different things.

So, that’s what we thought about it. The exhibition is open till 2 April 2017 so get down to Tate to see it for yourself!

Bethvictoria.com

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