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The Revolution’s in the Details: Rauschenberg at the MIA

13 Jan

A couple things to get out right away: 1) I work at the MIA, but this column is in no way sanctioned or advocated by the Institute and all opinions represented herein are my own. 2) I am acquainted with Gregory Scott and have always found him to be a funny and intelligent person, regardless of what some of the comments on the Star Tribune website may imply. I just happen to fundamentally disagree with his review.

Robert Rauschenberg

"Accident"- Robert Rauschenberg

Gregory Scott recently published a dismissive review of the Robert Rauschenberg print show in the Print Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. If you get all dressed up to go to the planetarium expecting a Pink Floyd laser light show, and show up to an interactive discussion on the orbit of the planets, you are going to be disappointed. It’s a print gallery. Prints are what you get. Scott writes that he was disappointed that there was not more inclusion of the “combines”, Rauschenberg’s grand performative gestures that included theatre, art and music. These events are quite rightly described by Scott in their Dadaist lineage, but what Scott misses in his desire for the big show is the fundamental underpinning of that avant-garde, the attention to detail and process that made Rauschenberg such and enduring and important American artist.

Consider “Plot”, from the Reality and Paradoxes portfolio, one of the prints that opens the exhibit. A simple amalgamation of  a postcard, a paper bag and magazine collage, the work appears to be some tossed together everyday items. It would be easy to dismiss as a lazy follow-up to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, a dull collection. But the postcard is not a postcard, this is not a pipe. The postcard is a meticulously re-created, screen-printed and embossed representation of a postcard depicted in conjunction with these actual objects and culled images. This juxtaposition and techincal act takes the postcard and turns it into something that it is not without even perceptibly altering the object itself. This is a feat of concept and perspective that re-invents the readymade as representation and re-establishes the place of the artists as both revealer and creator of mystery in everyday life; a self-contained explosion on the artists’ continuum.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1070

"Signs"- Robert Rauschenberg

On the opposing gallery wall, “Signs” is a delirious collection of pop images of dead politicians, musicians, accomplishment and violence, laid out in swirling Technicolor glory through Rauschenberg’s revolutionary solvent transfer process that allowed newspaper images to be copied and reproduced exactly. Like Kurt Schwitters’ collages of the quotidian papers and texts of Weimar Germany, this process allowed Rauschenberg to synthesize the expansive glut of information and images that characterized the tremulous uncertainty of America circa 1970. The “process freaks” Scott describes them here are not just those people interested in the working of lithography and printmaking, but in how ideas are developed and recorded. Rauschenberg’s work here is the antecedent for efforts such as Heartland/Hardland’s “Millions of Innocent Accidents” show in the adjacent MAEP Gallery last fall. HL/HL’s exquisite collection of works on paper, video and objects that so well capture the fractured, terror-inflected perma-threat state of America in the contemporary age would not have happened.

The basis for the combines is there in the process. The 17 foot high “Autobiography” triptych is a record of artistic breakthrough, and of Rauschenberg’s own thought process. It is heavily coded in star charts, whorls and body prints, a theatricality and assumption of information shared by such meticulous contemporary artists as Matthew Barney and Julie Mehretu. The “Traces suspectes en surface” artist book  is a wonderful record of collaboration between writer Alain Robbe- Grillet and Rauschenberg, whose themes of a crumbling modernism complement eachother perfectly.

This is foundational work. The lament that went up for one of the last giants of that age was not that it was just the passing of an era of American art, but that it was the passing of an era where artists were so fundamentally grounded so as to give their grander ideas the strongest possible base from which to launch. If you get caught up in the dazzle of sound and light, you forget the genius that went into inventing the instruments.

ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG: PRINTS/EDITIONS 1962-78

When: Through March 15.

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Av. S.

Admission: Free.

Info: 612-870-3131 or Artsmia.org.

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    […] The Revolution’s in the Details: Rauschenberg at the MIA “This is a feat of concept and perspective that re-invents the readymade as representation and re-establishes the place of the artists as both revealer and creator of mystery in everyday life; a self-contained explosion on the artists’ continuum.” […]

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