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//Photograph: Used and Found Emily Briselden-Waters


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in context Febuary- may 2012

This exhibition helps place Robert Rauschenberg’s art in the context of its time. It asks: “Where does the artist fit in the history of twentieth-century American art?” Rauschenberg came of age as an artist during the late 1940s and 1950s when painters placed a high premium on the personal and spontaneous gesture of the brush. The resulting art as it developed in New York City was known as Abstract Expressionism, the international triumph of which marked the ascendancy of American art to the forefront of modern art. The personal gesture of brushed marks and free line defines an important aspect of Rauschenberg’s image making, most especially as it is combined with photographic imagery. Spontaneous gesture also carries with it a sense of chance and accident that was crucial to Rauschenberg. In his dance performances in collaboration with Merce Cunningham and John Cage and in his improvised Happenings, chance elements help generate the work of art. Chance and accident as an artistic strategy have their origins in Dada and Surrealism at the beginning of the twentieth century. The objet trouvé or found object, especially as utilized by Marcel Duchamp, was also important to Rauschenberg’s art. The artist often combined actual everyday objects with other media–photography, painting, etc. In his use of personal gesture, chance, accident, and the found object, Rauschenberg expands upon precedents set by other artists. In Rauschenberg’s incorporation and celebration of the commonplace and popular culture, he parallels the early art of Jasper Johns and anticipates in the late 1950s and early 1960s the advent of Pop art.


Rauschenberg at Gemini, on loan from the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena California, surveys the work that the artist produced at Gemini G.E.L. the world-famous publishing workshop of prints and multiples in Los Angeles, California. Rauschenberg’s contributions to the history of the modern print is one of his great achievements. No other artist has ever pushed the boundaries of what “printmaking” could be as much as Rauschenberg. During his printmaking career, which began in earnest in early 1960s and continued into the early twenty-first century, Rauschenberg made prints continuously at a number of workshops, of which Gemini G.E.L. was one of the most important. Over a period of thirty-years, Rauschenberg, in active collaborations with Gemini’s printers, produced more than 250 editioned works of art, transforming what a “print” was, not only in scale, but also in how it could take shape in small-editioned sculptures known as “multiples;” how it could incorporate unconventional materials such as textiles and light; and how the viewer could interact with the resulting work of art. Many of Rauschenberg’s most famous prints, print series, and multiples are included in this exhibition, for example, the monumental lithographs from the Stoned Moon Series that document the American space program leading to the Apollo 11 mission and which reveal the artist’s deep fascination with technology and the promise of human ingenuity. Several of Rauschenberg’s series were inspired by his travels in connection with the celebrated Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (ROCI) that the artist initiated in the mid-1980s. These works, including the Tibetan Keys and Locks, Samarkand Stitches, and Marrakech series, demonstrate the artist’s commitment to multiculturalism and international cooperation. In addition to themes of technology and cultural diversity, Rauschenberg addressed ecological issues, expressing his environmental concerns, for example, in the limited edition lithograph and poster that announced the first Earth Day in 1970.

Consisting of 52 large-scale panels, Synapsis Shuffle is a monumental participatory work that that incorporates chance and performance, hallmarks of Rauschenberg’s art. Rauschenberg’s activities in dance, performance, prints, and in painting and sculpture were often characterized by a high degree of collaboration–with dancers, printers, fabricators, and with viewer of his works who were often physically drawn into them. Each of the 52 panels in Synapsis Shuffle is a collage of images taken from photographs the artist took during his global travels—snapshots of street life, images taken from media and advertising, and lyrical scenes of nature. The title of the work and the number of paintings refer to a deck of cards, a clever signal of the work’s installation method: each time the panels of Synapsis Shuffle are presented, they are meant to be “shuffled” by a different person or group from the community–in displays of no more than seven and no fewer than three paintings. Members from Grand Rapids’ own community will be asked to step forward to “deal out a hand” of paintings of their own choosing.


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Today more than ever, our identity is fluid. There is a popular voluntary schizophrenia we have all subconsciously signed up to. We have our work persona, our relationship persona, our online persona. Our identity is malleable. Whether its through ‘ work laughs’ used carefully to win points with the boss, or meticulously managed Face book profiles tailored to annoy ex partners with snippets of our funfilled lives, we craft our own characters. When it comes to assuming new identities we are all as talented as Mr Ripply.

Yet the new of Normality remains narrow, never cast to wide. Those who seem to embody an alternative identity too enthusiastically are shunned. They are seen as conartists, fakes and freaks. Whilst it is acceptable to alter our appearance or personality at work, online of in the presence of our parents or partners, those that go beyond these recognised spheres become outcasts. We remain rigid social norms. These norms dictate what’s people should and should not be, gay or straights, male or female, young or old. Transsexualism, Gender Identity disorder, bisexuality and transvestism remain topics of tension and even, in the more salacious publications, moral outrage. Popular opinion dictates that we must have one ‘true’ self; we are all born with innate characteristics that we may exaggerate and mould but never fully reject.


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This rigidity inspires the work of Israeli artist Rona Yefman. Now based in New York, Having studied at Columbia University School of Arts. Yefmans work toys with the notions of the self, and the interplay between identity, fantasy and reality. The champion of escapism, she uses film and photography to explore self-transformation, dress up and alter egos The starting point for Yefmans work is her brother Gil. Between 2001 and 2011 she documented his transformation from male to female, and then back to biological male. The desire to challenge establish conceptions of gender and identity became central to many of her projects. In 2002 she began work on the Marther book, based on her long-term collaboration with an eighty- year-old male holocaust survivor who has assumed an alternative feminine identity; with the help of props like a non- expressive female mask, a blonde wig and tight provocative outfits, he creates a youthful, vivacious persona. In the Pippi Longstocking Project , Yefman reworks a traditional child’s favourite to blur the line between fact and fiction. Using Pippi’s infamous claim to be the strongest girl in the world’. Yefman engineers her own version of the character, which us performed by a friend. She records Pippis futile attempts to move the huge concrete wall that separates Israel from the west bank. Part political statement, part theatrical display, the piece like all of Yefmans work pushes the audience to challenge accepted concepts of authenticity. In Yefmans mind Pipi is just as credible

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alive as Tanya Schander, who plays the role. Why, she ask us, aren’t our own alter egos and fantastical imagined personalities considered legitimate? Yefmans work is of its age. It comes at a time of transition, when more and more of our existence is conducted in a virtual world, from email communication to social networking and webbased learning. While Yefman condemns aspects of modern living, she is also inspired by it, and selfproclaimed freaks and geeks who escape the living world for the virtual life. In her world Van Cleave’s world of war craft avatar is no less real, and no less valid, than his regular persona. Like Martha and Gil he should be free to show off his true selfwhich version of himself he fancies being- each new day.


//Hang //Hang on on in in there there for for next next

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