Friday, 10 March 2017

Robert Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern


I love a good exhibition at the Tate Modern on London's South Bank, however I hadn't been since the amazing The World Goes Pop all the way back in January 2016. Clearly I was long overdue a return and so the Robert Rauschenberg exhibit came at the perfect time. With a mixture of installations, paintings, screen prints and film, Rauschenberg's eclectic back catalogue of work has something for everyone to enjoy.

The innovative work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) spans many decades and was created during a time where art movements were changing rapidly and frequently. The diversity of his work is an understandable reflection of this and it was fascinating to explore art history through the creations of a single person who has left an impressive mark on the way we view art today.

The exhibition at the Tate Modern is set up in a clear and near chronological way, so each new room shows a different style of work and Rauschenberg's growth throughout the years. The first room, Experimentation, does what is says on the tin. It's Rauschenberg's early work and you can see that he was very much trying things out; both styles and materials. Interesting for sure, but here weren't any pieces that particularly drew me in.

The second room, Colour, however, was already more up my street. Some of the abstract expressionism we've come to associate Rauschenbeg with today was already evident, and I particularly loved Yoicks (Red Painting, 1945). The vivid shades of yellow, red and orange created a fiery canvas that popped off the wall. This was also the room where I become incredibly impressed by the mixture of techniques and mediums Rauschenberg used in his work.

Next up was Combines, pre-faced by the beautiful quote "A picture is more like the real world if it is made out of the real world". This sentiment became very telling in Rauschenberg's art from this moment onwards as he would combine every day items from real life with paintings, creating canvasses that ranged from looking like American junkyards through to more classic abstract works.

In Transfer Drawings, I was instantly pulled to Thirty Four Illustrations of Dante's Inferno (1958-60), which used surprisingly soft and gentle colours throughout and yet the damnation of the story still came through the work; very haunting.

By far my favourite room, however, was Silk Screens. This was the pop-art inspired phase in Rauschenberg's life and it showed. Although inspired is probably not the best word to use here as he started using silk screens at the same time as Andy Warhol in 1963 and it provided his breakthrough. Estate (1963) depicting New York and Retroactive II (1964) which has John F. Kennedy and the moon landing on it (made just a few weeks before JFK's assassination) were the most powerful examples of the movement in the room and breathtaking to see.

Retroactive II (1964)
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Partial gift of Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson 
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York. Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

In this room I also loved the quote: "I want my paintings to look like what's going on outside my window, rather than what's inside my studio", I feel like this is something we could all live by regardless of what we do in life.

Silk Screens was followed by Live and Technology. Very eye-catching in the latter was the installation Mud Muse (1968-71). It's comprised of betonite mixed with water in aluminum and a glass vat with a sound activated compressed air system and a control console. It reminded me of the bubbling mud pools in Rotorura in New Zealand and it was fun coming across this in an art gallery.

Other pieces I loved in this room were a drawing he was asked to create to go onto a microchip and be the first art to travel to the moon as well as Signs (1970). Signs was a commission from Time for the cover but was rejected. It shows important parts of the end of the 1960s, such as Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, Janis Joplin, Buzz Aldrin (the second person to walk on the moon), and more. This was probably my second favourite piece of the entire exhibit after Retroactive II.

After this, Rauschenberg's work changed considerably again going from Material Abstraction to Travel. Yellow Ranch (Ranchi Amarillo, 1988) was an eye-catching yellow piece reminiscent of his earlier pop-art work (and as you know, I do love a good piece of pop-art).

From there he moved onto Metal (this room wasn't quite for me) until finally I ventured into a space titled Later Works, which weren't held together by a single art movement or style but rather a time in Rauschenberg's life. Here, I was really inspired by Mirthday Man (Anagram (A Pun), 1997), a collage which featured a can of soup (sound like any other artist we know?).

Throughout the entire exhibition I was incredibly expressed to see the experimental style of Rauschenberg develop from one movement to the next. He became an expert at using a ton of different techniques to shape his art and it's incredibly impressive that one man managed to leave such a diverse legacy of work behind. Though as you can see from my review I was mostly drawn to the pop-art work by Rauschenberg this is of course very much a personal preference and everyone will find different things in his art that they will especially admire – making this exhibition well worth a visit, regardless of your own personal taste in art.

The Robert Rauschenberg exhibition is on at the Tate Modern until 2 April 2017 and you can book tickets here.

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