robert rauschenberg hausderkunst
Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70 – ’76
haus der kunst prinzregentenstrasse 1 d 80538 münchen tel + 49 89 21127-113 www.hausderkunst.de mon – sun 10 – 20 h / thu 10 – 22 h
Robert Rauschenberg is one of the most important innovators in 20th century art. Together with Jasper Johns, he is regarded as one of the groundbreaking precursors of American Pop-Art. In all of his works he employed and combined new media, materials and techniques with exceptional innovation, thereby plumbing the depths of the possibilities and limits of fine art. It is his early, monochromatic works, including his Black Paintings — some of which were on view in the exhibition of the same name in the Haus der Kunst at the end of 2006 — and, above all, his Combine Paintings that have had a decisive influence on the art of our time. Beginning in 1954 it was with these works that Rauschenberg was able to fuse painting and sculpture in a new way. Through the integration of everyday objects, such as brooms, pillows and umbrellas, he broke up the two-dimensionality of the picture plane into a three-dimensional, viewer-inclusive pictorial space. Rauschenberg’s proclaimed goal was to explore the transition between art and life: «A picture is more like the real world when it is made from the real world.» (1) The objects he utilized refer to the real world, rendering all of Rauschenberg’s work a mirror of it; not least through his use of images found in mass media that he then integrated into his work as collages or his use of print and transfer processes. Up to the present it has been predominately Rauschenberg’s works from the 1950’s and 1960’s that have attracted the most interest. The exhibition, Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70 –’76, however, draws attention to a widely ignored series of works: those produced in the early 1970’s. In this exhibition, devoted to that period, 40 works from the series Cardboards (1971 – 1972), Venetians (1972 – 1973), Early Egyptians (1973 – 1974), Made in Israel (1974), Hoarfrosts (1974 – 1975) and Jammers (1975 – 1976) have been brought together. These pieces were made either during or directly following trips to Italy, France, Israel and India. On these journeys Rauschenberg gathered impressions from the different cultures and discovered new materials and techniques that he then put to use in his work. His conceptions of mythical and foreign worlds, such as Egypt, are also reflected in these series. Made of
cardboard boxes, everyday found objects and fabric, the works from this period are characterized by simplicity, freshness and precision. With the exception of the Hoarfrosts, what is significant in the works from these series is Rauschenberg’s temporary departure from the integration of figurative and media imagery. The works embody, rather, the exploration of the expressiveness of discarded objects and materials, lending them an aesthetic dimension of rare poetic strength, whilst completely preserving their character. The works are references not only to the artist’s earlier studies of color and monochromatism, but also to his first small format assemblages from the 1950’s that were created during an extensive trip through Europe. Rauschenberg’s works thus become a vehicle for an imaginary journey — to the most varied locations. The exhibition, curated by Mirta d’Argenzio, does not adhere to a strict chronology. By juxtaposing works from different series, the exhibition thematicizes the close, almost narrative relationship between the pieces. Furthermore it makes the various developments in material usage apparent and simultaneously draws attention to the uniqueness of each series, which is briefly presented on the following pages.
Cardboards «A desire built up in me to work in a material of waste and softness. Something yielding with its only message a collection of lines imprinted like a friendly joke. A silent discussion of their history exposed by their new shapes. Labored commonly with happiness. Boxes.» Robert Rauschenberg (2) The series, Cardboards, executed in both New York and Florida in 1971 and 1972, forms the exhibition’s prelude. In 1970 Rauschenberg set up a second home and studio in Captiva, Florida, in which he was to spend more and more time in the following years. Inspired by this new environment, the artist looked for a new material to work with — a material that could be found everywhere — and came upon cardboard and cardboard boxes. Rauschenberg often left the cardboard boxes as he found them. He did not paint over the material or cover it up, but rather presented its clear structure and colors to the viewers. By tearing up the boxes and flattening them, Rauschenberg rid them of their once rectangular forms: «The cardboard was really stubborn and attempted to make me a cubist, and I wouldn’t let it happen.» (3) He arranged the altered boxes in unpretentious compositions to be hung on the wall. With their dirty marks, imprints from shoes and tires, printed letters and glued on labels, the Cardboards told their own individual, almost personal stories about the way they had been used. In them the language of formal abstraction was united with that of daily life. In the wink of an eye the artist elevated these ordinary cardboard boxes — as monochromatic studies — to the status of valuable panel paintings. The works testify to Rauschenberg’s unique ability to formally develop logical compositions out of the simplest objects, compositions that are reminiscent of his earlier White Paintings and Black Paintings in their formal reduction — open projection surfaces for traces and stories.
This series was inspired by Rauschenberg’s numerous visits to Venice. Filled with fresh impressions from his most recent trip there in the summer of 1972, he started working on these pieces in his studio in Captiva — and continued to do so into the new year. The Venetians are made of simple, mass produced objects, generally worn out everyday things, such as fabric, rope, wood, leather, tire treads, cables, vases, pillows, glass containers and even an old bathtub, all of which Rauschenberg arranged in a sculptural manner. He emphasized the form of these found objects and refrained from embellishing them. As the title suggests, the Venetians are characterized by the imagery of the lagoon, the apparent standstill of time and of the city’s unfailing attraction, despite its gradual decay. The works refer to decipherable objects or structures without losing their autonomy and identity as works of art. It is not without irony that a piece of wood brings to mind a gondolier’s oar or the poles in the canal to which the boats are moored. Loosely draped fabric resembles the curtains visitor admire in the cafes along the Piazza San Marco. A cut-up tire tread held in unstable balance by two pieces of old wood brings to mind the image of a swaying gondola. With this series Rauschenberg returned to his earlier assemblages and to the juxtaposition of material and found objects that also characterized his Combines. At times free standing and thus more sculptural than the Cardboards created earlier, the Venetians are also less abstract. In this series, the examination of classic questions regarding sculpture, such as weight, balance and the placement of an object in space, play a central role.
In summer 1973 Robert Rauschenberg began work on the Early Egyptians — created partly in Captiva, partly in Paris — and worked on this series until 1974. Inspired by his vision of Ancient Egypt, Rauschenberg continued working in cardboard as he had been doing for the previous two years. For the Early Egyptians, however, the cardboard boxes were not cut and flattened as in his Cardboards, but were rather the basis of the works’ three-dimensional construction. The artist coated the boxes with glue and then rolled them over the sand in Captiva. In one instance they were first wrapped in gauze, like a mummy. These traces of sand are what lend the works their typically irregular and grainy surface. The backs of the Early Egyptians were then painted with Day-Glo paint. Placed close to the walls, the works radiate a soft aura reminiscent of sunrise and sunset. Early Egyptians is one of the artist’s most architectural projects. Unlike the Venetians, which are characterized by a great lightness and an almost chorographic interplay between the individual elements, the Early Egyptians convey an impression of mass and weight that is feigned by the shape of the boxes. Robert Rauschenberg was fascinated by the Early Egyptians’ ambiguity — by the perception of them oscillating between stones and boxes. (4) Although the series suggests a direct connection to Egypt, the works only pick up the forms of Egyptian structures indirectly. Rauschenberg had never visited Egypt and therefore it was not specific buildings or objects that he chose as his point of departure. Rather, the series’ title and the ideas connected with this evoke an image in front of the inner eye of the viewer — his own personal myth of Ancient Egypt. (5)
Made in Israel Rauschenberg created this series in May 1974 in Jerusalem while preparing for his solo show at the Israel Museum. The artist arrived in the country almost empty handed — only a few materials had been shipped from the United States. Accompanied by four assistants, he created all his works for the exhibition on location: the result was the series Made in Israel as well a series of large format works on paper entitled Scriptures. Rauschenberg collected the material for these works from various places throughout the country, whose cultural and religious history greatly influenced the trip. Such places included Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea. As with the precursor series, here, too, he worked mainly with cardboard boxes and discarded objects, as well as with different colored sand he had gathered from the Dead Sea, the road to Jericho and the beaches in Tel Aviv and Caesarea. A number of the Made in Israel works are a formal-aesthetic continuation of the Early Egyptians: cardboard constructions coated in sand and partially painted. Although Rauschenberg donated the exhibition to the museum, the whereabouts of many of the works is not known. Only one piece from the series is on view in Travelling ’70 –’76 a modified, bulky and dented wheelbarrow that the artist had found on a construction site. Shortly before and during his visit to Israel, the country experienced a series of dreadful terrorist attacks. As a consequence, a shift in the interpretation of the works occurred: The materials he used could no longer be regarded independent from these events and thus also became a reflection of the social conditions in this host country. The application of «refuse» offended the Israeli public, to which Rauschenberg proclaimed that it had always been his intention, «to confront people with something that might remind them of their own lives. In some way, they might look at it differently.» (6) As usual, in Israel, too, the artist took advantage of his stay for an intense exchange: he visited the Academy of Fine Arts in Bezalel, working there on his Scriptures, he spoke with students, printmakers and exhibition visitors. In the artist book, «Rauschenberg in Israel», which was published on the occasion of the exhibition and which documented how the works had been created, as well as the show in the Israel Museum, he inserted actual 8
newspaper reports on the violent events — a return to media images, which were also to find their expression in the Hoarfrosts.
«The Hoarfrost series is done on silk, cotton, or cheesecloth presenting the imagery in the ambiguity of freezing into focus or melting from view.» Robert Rauschenberg (7)
This series contains the most recent works included in the exhibition. The works, created in 1975 and 1976, were greatly inspired by Rauschenberg’s trip to Ahmedabad, India. Ahmedabad is a center of textile production. By invitation of a wealthy Indian family, the Sarabhais, Rauschenberg spent a month in 1975 working in an ashram, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, that was originally intended to provide Untouchables, the members of India’s lowest caste, with special training in the production of paper and other crafts. Together with printers from Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles — with whom Rauschenberg continues to work closely today — the artist produced his series, Bones and Unions. The Jammers, soft and colorful works made of fabric, bamboo poles, tin cans and other found objects, were created after his return from India. Unusual for Rauschenberg is the brilliance and intensity of this series: «For the first time, I wasn't embarrassed by the look of beauty, of elegance [...] because when you see someone who has only one rag as their property, but it happens to be beautiful and pink and silk, beauty doesn't have to be separated.» (8) The silk fabric used in the series originated in Italy and India, and is rectangular, square or triangular in shape and of clear, bright colors. Often layered on top of one another, the sheets of fabric appear as veils in an ethereal balance: «I was interested in the way the wind would rip through the silk and mix the colors by themselves.» (9) Although the Jammers hang loosely from the wall or are fixed to bamboo poles and jut out from the walls, Rauschenberg regards them, like the Hoarfrosts, as paintings. In their abstraction they take up the question of composition, color and texture. The series’ name is based on a type of sail boat, the Windjammer, which is a large, magnificent, cargo carrier. The titles of individual works, such as Pilot (Jammer) and Sextant (Jammer), emphasize this maritime connection and thereby directly seize on the idea of travel. The Jammers are reminiscent of sails on boats, windbreakers on beaches, of laundry drying on clotheslines in Southern Europe or Asia, medieval Italian banners or the flags of Tibetan monasteries. The exotic is united with the familiar,
Rauschenberg executed this series from 1974 to1975 using a flatbed press on Captiva Island. As with the Early Egyptians, the works are not based on a specific journey. «Hoarfrost» means white frost. The series’ name was inspired by a birthday present to Rauschenberg from James Rosenquist: a bale of shimmering, transparent silk that reminded the artist of the beauty of hoarfrost. This word also appears in Dante’s Inferno, which Rauschenberg had already illustrated in the late 1950s with a series of transfer drawings. In the book, Dante, accompanied by the poet Virgil, descends into hell, enveloped in fog and hoarfrost. At the beginning of Canto 24 it states, «What time the hoarfrost copies on the ground / The outward semblance of her sister white.» The Hoarfrosts were executed on both opaque and gossamer fabric, such as silk, chiffon, taffeta and cotton, which was printed on by using a solvent transfer. Rauschenberg owed this technique to an accidental observation he had made when he noticed that a piece of turpentinesaturated cheese cloth, with which litho stones are cleaned, retained traces of the newspaper print. He then went on to use this technique to transfer images from newspapers and magazines onto fabric. In contrast to the other series presented in Travelling ’70 –’76 , Rauschenberg returned to using illustrations for this series. The art works give the impression of gazing into a softly drawn, intangible space. Several layers of fabric with different images overlap, creating delicate palimpsests with a great sense of depth and elegance. With every movement of the air, the appearance and perceptibility of these works change, like painterly shadows, whose forms are continuously altered. Through the interplay of the documentary character of the press images and the sublime beauty of the artistic form, the Hoarfrosts oscillate between veiling and transparency. 10
the holy with the secular. With their openness to the most varied associations, the Jammers bring the outside world into the museum and, like the Venetians, are both referential and abstract.
Bibliography 1 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors, New York 1965, pp. 193 – 4. 2 Robert Rauschenberg, «Note Cardbirds», in: Rauschenberg: Cardbirds, promotional brochure, Gemini G.E.L, Los Angeles 1971, n.p. 3 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Julia Brown Turrell «Talking to Robert Rauschenberg», Rauschenberg Sculpture (exhib. cat. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth), Fort Worth 1995, p. 78. 4 cp.: Irmeline Lebeer, «Entretien avec Robert Rauschenberg», in: Chroniques de l’Art Vivant, 43 (Oct. 1973), pp. 15 –18, reproduced in: Irmeline Lebeer, L’art? C’est une meilleure idée! Entretiens 1972–1984, Paris 1997, p. 123. 5 cp.: Irmeline Lebeer, op. cit., 1997, p. 123. 6 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Mary Lynn Kotz, Rauschenberg: Art and Life, New York 1990, p. 195. 7 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Robert Rauschenberg (exhib. cat. National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution), Washington, D.C. 1977, p. 22. 8 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Mary Lynn Kotz, Rauschenberg: Art and Life, New York 1990, p. 206. 9 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in: Julia Brown Turrell «Talking to Robert Rauschenberg», Rauschenberg Sculpture (exhib. cat. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth), Fort Worth 1995, p. 78.
Biography Born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas in October 1925, he briefly studies pharmacology at the University of Texas. In 1946, Rauschenberg enrolls at the Kansas City Art Institute changing his first name to Robert. After studies at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he meets future wife, Sue Weil, they attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1948. There he joins Josef Albers’ painting classes and makes friends with Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Having spent nearly two years in New York, during which time his son Christopher is born, Rauschenberg returns to Black Mountain in 1951 and begins to paint his series of Black Paintings and White Paintings. After travelling extensively in Italy and Northern Africa together with Cy Twombly, in 1953 Rauschenberg settles in New York and begins to make work that by 1954 would evolve into his iconic Combine Paintings. In 1962 he begins to create paintings that incorporate silkscreen. His first major retrospective takes place in 1963 at the Jewish Museum, New York. The following year Rauschenberg is awarded the International Grand Prize in Painting for his participation in the US pavilion exhibition at the XXXII Venice Biennial. As well as exhibiting internationally, experimenting with printing techniques and co-founding E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) in 1966, Rauschenberg continues his involvement with the performing arts during the 1960s and beyond. In 1970 he establishes a second studio and home on Captiva Island, Florida. During the early 1970s he travels to Italy, France, Israel and India. In 1976 Walter Hopps dedicates the Bicentennial exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, to Rauschenberg. In 1984 he establishes ROCI (The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange), which aims to increase communication and understanding between different cultures through artistic collaboration — the project travels to Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Japan, Cuba, Russia, East Germany, and Malaysia. In 1997 the Guggenheim Museum, New York, mounts a major retrospective exhibition. Rauschenberg’s works are in the most important collections around the world. He lives and works on Captiva Island, Florida. 14
Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70 –’76 hausderkunst 09/05/08 > 14/09/08 Ausstellung Kuratorin: Mirta d’Argenzio Rauschenberg Studio: Thomas Buehler, David White Die internationale Ausstellungstournee wurde von der Fundação de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto organisiert, in Koproduktion mit dem Haus der Kunst und dem Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina (Madre), Neapel. Haus der Kunst Direktor: Chris Dercon Kaufmännischer Leiter: Marco Graf von Matuschka Hauptkurator: Ulrich Wilmes Assistenz: Patrizia Dander Praktikum: Valerie Masyuta Presse: Elena Heitsch mit Sonja Zschunke PR: Anna Schüller mit Martina Schmid Marketing: Petra Ronzani Organisation: Tina Köhler mit Clara Meister Technik: Anton Köttl mit Glenn Rossiter Beleuchtung: Rudi Ortner mit Peter Kreibich und Harald Magiera Begleitheft Texte: Patrizia Dander & Valerie Masyuta Übersetzung: Marie Frohling Lektorat: Gina Guy (Rauschenberg Studio) © 2008 Haus der Kunst
© 2008 Haus der Kunst Booklet Texts: Patrizia Dander & Valerie Masyuta Translation: Marie Frohling Copyediting: Gina Guy (Rauschenberg Studio) Haus der Kunst Director: Chris Dercon Finance Director: Marco Graf von Matuschka Chief Curator: Ulrich Wilmes Assistant Curator: Patrizia Dander Intern: Valerie Masyuta Press: Elena Heitsch with Sonja Zschunke PR: Anna Schüller with Martina Schmid Marketing: Petra Ronzani Organisation: Tina Köhler with Clara Meister Technical Office: Anton Köttl with Glenn Rossiter Lighting: Rudi Ortner with Peter Kreibich and Harald Magiera Exhibition Curator: Mirta d’Argenzio Rauschenberg Studio: Thomas Buehler, David White This international travelling exhibition is organised by Fundação de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto, co-produced with Haus der Kunst and Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina (Madre), Naples. Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70 –’76 hausderkunst 09/05/08 > 14/09/08