A bubbling viscous liquid, a minute painting that was sent to the moon and a taxidermy goat ‘married’ to a tyre. Robert Rauschenberg’s exhibition at the Tate is characterised by a sense of rebellion as he smashes the boundaries between art forms.
Following a career spanning the twentieth century, the rooms begin in chronological order, trailing his dynamic oeuvre and infinite spontaneity. The retrospective shows his penchant for everyday objects and his anarchical attitude to sculpture – how he ruptures and changes its very nature. Taking a leaf out of Duchamp’s book, his ‘combines’ feature objects found on the streets of New York – buckets, ladders and parasols are all elevated to the status of ‘art’.
A particular favourite of mine was titled ‘First Time Painting’, it is a wonderful synergy of ‘performance’ and ‘sculpture’ which questions the values of the abstract expressionists. Rauschenberg created this piece on stage in front of a crowd of people and along with the oil paint, sheets of metal, string and bits of tape, he inserted an actual clock into the canvas. As he worked, the clock would tick until the alarm rang out, which then concluded his performance. Here Rauschenberg was controlled by ‘time on the clock’ – a capitalist, structural construct – contradicting the abstract expressionists who thought the production of art was synonymous with freedom.
In ‘First Time Painting’ the artist’s creative process is definitely no secret. As opposed to Jackson Pollock who believed that the artist’s movement around a canvas was sacred and should thus be elevated, Rauschenberg breaks this tradition by allowing the viewer to become part of the art.
Moving through to the later rooms, you see a kaleidoscope of colour as you arrive at his silk screens. Like pop art pioneer Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg questions the role of icons in contemporary culture. The Tate’s decision to place JFK next to Venus is an interesting one – this placement captures the changing role of icons from the Renaissance to the twentieth century – how we value a person of status and what constitutes an icon.
As the only retrospective since his death in 2008, it is an exclusive opportunity for you to see the major international loans all together in one room. The retrospective wholly captures the dynamic spirit of an artist who changed American art forever; it is an oeuvre that sent ripples through the contemporary art world – the impact of which we still feel today.