This show is like a starting point. Art movements in the second half of the 20th Century, seem to have sprung from ideas explored here, and each room posts it’s own ‘what if we…?’ question. This retrospective show, currently at Tate Modern and moving to MOMA in May, is filled with works that radiate imagination and energy. Pop and Conceptual Art, such as Automobile Tire Print (1953) and Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), both appear here in embryonic experiments by Rauschenberg, long before these ideas took hold of the public and art-world’s imagination. But unlike many artists, the key to the art on show here is the artist’s constant quest to push himself – to explore, collaborate and experiment, opening doors for the artists who followed.
Collaborations with the likes of the choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage started at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studied under the Bauhaus pioneer Josef Albers. Encouraging the collaborative process and cross-pollination of the artistic disciplines, this way of working was to inform Rauschenberg’s work throughout his life, and fed into his nonconformist character.
One key characteristic of this way of working was that when Rauschenberg felt that he had mastered one type or way of working, or gained critic acclaim, he would abandon it and take a left-turn into something completely different. When he was awarded the Grand Prize for painting at the 1964 Venice Biennale, he phoned his studio back in New York and ordered his assistant to destroy all the silk screens he had used – that was the end of that! Moving from conceptual works to painting and sculpture mash-up ‘combines’ to silk screening, performance and theatrical works, the unpredictability of Rauschenberg’s work keeps things fresh, with none of the ideas becoming stale or overstaying their welcome.
If you can get to Tate Modern before the show closes on the 2nd of April 2017, you won’t be disappointed. Before visiting, a great introduction would be seeking out and watching Alistair Sooke‘s excellent BBC documentary ‘Robert Rauschenberg: Pop Art Pioneer‘, available in the UK on iPlayer. Ahead of his time, Robert Rauschenberg’s body of work show’s us what an artist can achieve, if he doesn’t restrict himself to labels or working within one movement, style or medium. His is the art of possibilities.