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Study visit review: Rauschenberg

The level 2/3 study day to the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at the Tate was very well attended. There were several ‘Concepts in Practice’ students, which was great for me as I have only just begun tutoring on it. It was also useful to talk about various courses from the perspective of students who were considering their next move.
I thought I’d be dead clever and get up at 5.30am to travel down on the morning of the study day. Luckily Bryan was in London the night before and was fresh as a daisy. Hopefully our tag team approach meant that everyone who attended had ample time to ask questions and discuss whatever aspect of the exhibition or their own studies they felt would be useful. We were in the gallery for absolutely hours.
Robert Rauschenberg is one of life’s natural experimenters, like Einstein, who never lose the curiosity and joy of asking ‘what if?’ and somehow manage to eschew the self limiting voice in one’s head that says ‘I ought not to’. My favourite story on the curator’s little melamine information boards populating the show was one recounting an incident where Rauschenberg was mistakenly credited on a dance programme for having been involved in the choreography. On reading the typo, he promptly became a choreographer for a spell.
An artist like Rauschenberg who was always on the move is bound to be a struggle to curate and conserve. The show could not help but give some sense of the eclectic nature of the strands of his output and to show the influence of his relationships on his process (I had never before properly thought through how Rauschenberg’s paintings changed when he met Twombly). Where I felt it drifted more into the museological and perhaps lost some of the joy was when things that had been quite off the cuff were now reconstructed with care. For a start, bright sixties packaging no longer looks super trashy and garish; it feels quite period drama compared to the truly trashy levels of garish that we are now capable of. I actually felt quite sad when I saw the lovely cardboard box wall relief pieces. They were super efficient relief wall pieces made of opened up cardboard boxes. Now though, they hung like cardboard Miss Haversham’s. To be fair, the fairly recent Cage and Dada show at the Hayward had some ‘reworkings’ and rethinkings’ done by contemporary artists and the curator and I absolutely loathed them so perhaps there is no easy answer to how you give a viewer both the historical objects, and the intended art experience in a museum retrospective. I don’t expect to walk in to the Sainsbury Wing and feel the might of a medieval God bear down on my poor soul. My expectations are sited in the museum and I am happy to wander wadded in ignorance or to contrast my contemporary experience with what I read on the display boards. I suppose here I was confused as this is a museum of contemporary art and so close then to a gallery that I felt a quantum shudder and didn’t know quite what I wanted.
I hope many more students will find their way to the show over the next few months. It is a great show to experience as an undergraduate, or as an artist generally as it is a reminder to have a blast and go for it.
Image Credit: Creative Review

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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2 thoughts on “Study visit review: Rauschenberg

  • This is really useful. To see an ‘artist who uses photography’ so that students (and more seasoned practitioners) can consider the differences between the strait documentary recording which has come to define photography and a more ‘expressionist’ function of photography (Like Rauschenberg and many others who ‘disrupt’ the realistic representation of photography). I would recommend reading and revising Mirrors and Windows and by John Szarkowski for a reminder of this ‘classification’ in approach that has always been with use since the early days of Steichen v Weston. Remembering in contemporary art and photography not to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. In other words, both sides of the coins in photography (objective/expressionist) can be used as an approach in your work. As in the work of people like Jim Goldberg.
    Szarkowski, J. & Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) 1978, Mirrors and windows: American photography since 1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York;Boston:
    Jim Goldberg on his documentary practice:

  • Thanks for this post Emma. I couldn’t go on the study visit but did go to see the show a couple of weeks ago when I was in London for the weekend. As you say its a really important exhibition. Its remarkable just how many boundaries he pushed. There was a great documentary on BBC2 in December. Sadly its not on the iplayer now but worth looking out for if it pops up again.

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