Robert Rauschenberg - Observer Review

Laura Cummings reviewed Tate Modern's Rauschenberg retrospective for the Observer this Sunday. Our exhibition also received a mention:


'The idea that art could be made out of anything is not exclusively his; Joseph Cornell and Kurt Schwitters linger like ghosts in this show. But around 1958, Rauschenberg enormously enlarged the quantities of stuff that got into his art when he began to use printed pictures and photos. First, he produced the transfer drawings - soaking images in solvent, then transferring them to the page with pen or pencil, so that they appear in reverse, and surrounded by hatchings, as floating vignettes.

He put this technique to sensational use in the 34 illustrations to Dante's Inferno, here shown for the first time in Britain. Smoky, spacey, miasmic, drifting: each page perfectly conjures Dante's circles of hell, figures seeming to loom quite suddenly out of the transfer mist. And skimmed from the press, these figures are superbly apt, from bureaucrats to politicians to US spooks. There are even two wigged British judges.

Rauschenberg made hundreds of transfer drawings (there are more on show at Offer Waterman Gallery, including one not coincidentally owned by Warhol) before he applied the technique to canvas. These huge painted collages are rightly positioned at the centre of this show. Moon landings, night lorries, water towers, sinister in the gloaming; JFK in mid-speech, tomorrow's weather, Liberty raising her torch, street signs pointing far into the distance; the American dream, the American flag, Vietnam, Titian. They feel like history paintings now, and yet they live in our time too. Swiping and flashing, jump-cutting through images and half-thought associations, they channel-hop and net-surf decades in advance.

And that goes to the core of Rauschenberg's art. It isn't just made out of anything; it doesn't just last a minute or for ever, fusing the stuff of life and art; it runs in parallel with life - everything is happening all at once. Which is why this first posthumous retrospective is so valuable, because it gives you Rauschenberg whole in just the same way. Other shows have focused on perhaps one or two of his inventions. Here, you can walk from his collages to his ballets to his own wild performances; from his seething soup of mud, burbling and bubbling at the whim of a time machine in fabulously gloopy music, to his beautifully disciplined vision of Venice in elegantly looped ropes fraying below as if underwater.'

Read the full article online here: Observer

December 4, 2016