Friday, August 8, 2008

Review Catchup 1: Rauschenberg Not at the Huntington

Above: Leroy Grannis, Hermosa Beach Strand (1967)

"I’ve been thinking a lot about Rauschenberg lately. But I’ve always thought a lot about Rauschenberg. For my money (I wish!), he was and remains the unsurpassed master of visual language in the modern era; his seemingly effortless improvisational command of semiotics was exceeded only by the richness, intricacy and originality of his formalist skills. Treating information as material, he translated Dadaist collage into the idiom of painting; painting into sculpture; then flattened the whole menagerie into a dense and simultaneous info-pancake of silk-screened magazine clippings that stripped pictorialism and narrative linearity down to their bare wires.

If that weren’t enough, he was a dyslexic homosexual drunkard —all top-shelf people in my chest of drawers. Rauschenberg was Ernie to Jasper Johns’ Bert — expansive, self-indulgent, mischievous and visionary. And while Johns’ academy-friendly visual vocabulary is more finely tuned, Rauschenberg was in a state of continuous eruption, spewing forth a torrent of picto-glossolalia that offered a new way to look at the world. Looking at the world was, in fact, Rauschenberg’s specialty. The first artworks he sold to a public collection were a pair of photographs Edward Steichen bought for MOMA in 1952 — years before Rauschenberg’s paintings were taken seriously. He always took brilliant photographs, and his own self-appropriated snapshots came to dominate his image morgue.

Rauschenberg’s photography was central to his practice though not particularly lauded within the field. Nevertheless, lately, it’s seemed to me that his pop-alchemical formalist legacy is more evident in the work of contemporary documentary photographers than among painters (or performance artists, for that matter — printmakers and designers more so). Maybe it’s just my personal fixation on Rauschenberg’s epiphany, but he seems to me to be the absent hub at the center of the Huntington’s This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in Los Angeles Photographs — a surprising outburst of world-class curatorial practice from an institution whose arcane tweediness has always been one of its main attractions."

Read the rest of 'Polterzeitgeist: Bob Rauschenberg Haunts The Huntington' here.

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