Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Rauschenberg at Tate Modern

Taking advantage of its Friday Lates is one of the many good things about Tate Modern that Tate Britain should emulate. It's a good way to spend a Friday evening with some fascinating art and, although it's busy, it's less busy that a weekend afternoon. So last Friday we went to see the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, the first major retrospective of his work since his death. Now, beyond the name, I know nothing about Rauschenberg so this was a good opportunity to learn more.

It didn't take me long to realise he was an experimentalist, using a very wide range of media to create his works, using different papers and pigments, adding a sock here and bits of string there, even a pillow and a quilt. Any old thing seems to fit his 'palette' or, rather, not 'any old thing' but just the right thing for what he wanted to do.

We're given a retrospective covering six decades and that's a lot of work, a lot of styles to try to cram in. It's a big exhibition and it needs to be, starting off in the 1950s and moving into the 2000s.

Something I found particularly fascinating was looking at the signs beside each work, not to see the interpretation of what the work was meant to be, but to see what it was made of. Mixing oil and enamel paint in some of the early works moved on to using inkjet pigment in the 1990s, moving on as new technologies and new methods became available. I think that's good stuff and shows an artist always striving, always reaching out for the 'new'.

I particularly liked this large painting called 'Yoicks' from 1954, a mix of yellow and red on various papers and newsprint.

Another painting I particularly liked was 'Mirthday Man' that uses an x-ray of his body as the central motif. There's an awful lot going on in this work but it keeps coming back to central image of the x-ray painted on his birthday in 1977 (I think). *I* am the centre of this painting on my special day, he's saying. Once the flesh has gone this'll be me.

It's a strong image and fills a wall. It's hung next to an annoying work that's partially obscured by two umbrellas  - I, of course, made every effort to see what was underneath the umbrellas. Unfortunately, it also plays to my antipathy to large modern art paintings that fill up walls and wouldn't fit through my front door let alone on a wall. They're not painted for you or me, they're painted for rich people or galleries or public spaces. Impressive as they might be they're not for you or me, they're not 'democratic'. I couldn't have this painting in my living room so where is it meant to be placed and seen?

I didn't find this exhibition endearing or attractive. Some of the works are plain ugly, like mashed up metal oil signs, but others hold an imagination and a world view that might be worth exploring again. Sitting having a glass of wine after the exhibition I thought, 'Phew, seen that, Tick' but now I'm thinking I might go back again. I might see something different. Well done Tate, you're exposing me to more things that make me think.

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