Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Surely Robert Rauschenberg needs no introduction. His legacy has been firmly in place from his peak of prominence in the mid to late 1950’s up until today. At a time when the expressionistic formality of abstract expressionism was reaching it’s peak of popularity, Rauschenberg chose to reject the non-narrative discipline within modern American painting that had in its absolute dedication to non-representation and patriotic

counter-formalism, in itself become somewhat formulaic. As ‘the image’ was breaking back into the forefront of arts focus and the art world was balanced tentatively on the cusp of an artistic revolution that was ‘Pop’, Rauschenberg was creating beautifully exquisite, reflective works of art that one might say in themselves acted as the most influential catalyst to the ensuing events of the 1960’s.

In his scrupulous use of found imagery and objects, within his combines Rauschenberg aspired to alter the conception of a collected materials original context in its placement into a new and unfamiliar situation. It could be said that Rauchenberg’s combines, in their use of such a vast detritus of objects accumulated directly from the streets of New York and imagery torn from American newspapers, were a comprehensive, collective representation of the times. The professed conjoining of ‘art and life’ that Rauschenberg prided his work upon it must be said was certainly achieved. This being said, what can be taken from the experience of seeing these works today? Has the gravitas of the subjects of Rauschenberg’s works begun to dissipate? Have his combines become more like artefacts than significant works of art?

The recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, is the first concise, retrospective survey of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines. On display were some 67 of Rauchenberg’s paintings from as early as 1953 up until 1964. The question that I wish to pose in regards to the curatorial merit or subsequent negation of merit given to the show is, has the context of Rauschenberg’s work been undermined through such an overwhelmingly comprehensive retrospective? Has the presentation of such a vast body of his work acted as a pre-deterministic attribute that is detrimental to each individual pieces wonderfully introspective quality? After all in my mind Rauchenberg’s work is in no way about predetermination, it’s looseness and it’s accidental or incidental virtues deem it to be something quite the contrary, something revelatory.

This revelatory aspect is one that was in essence true of the time in which the work was being made. The fifties in New York were times of revolt, of communist uprisings and politically fuelled music and poetry, these fractious yet creatively rife times and the pinnacle figures within them are often referred to as The Beat Generation. To me to try to perceive Rauchenberg’s work of this period out of the context of this beat era would be illogical. Perhaps the Beats stand of non-conformity rubbed off on Rauschenberg and spurred his ever subversive use of unconventional materials and his transgression of the boundaries of the pre-ordained, rigid artistic plain affiliated with preceding contemporary painters. Rauschenberg’s paintings are in themselves much like reading a beat poem or listening to free-form jazz music.

So what can be taken from Rauschenberg’s work today? If we regard his painting to be comparable to the poetic prose of the Beat poets, then to view his work in a collective sense would surely prove an unrewarding and undermining experience. To site one of the poetic greats of the era in question, Allen Ginsberg, to read Howl as it was intended, isolated from his other works to me holds much more ground than to read it amongst a collection of Ginsberg’s poetry. This in my mind is the perfect metaphor for the way Rauschenberg’s work is to be best appreciated.

I love art