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“This is what we live for here at SFMOMA,” director Neal Benezra said with a smile as he introduced a preview of “Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules,” the new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was one of the most adventurous, innovative and influential American artists during his long career, and SFMOMA knew it early on. The museum offered the first Rauschenberg career retrospective in 1976, when he was just past 40. Many works in the new exhibition are the museum’s own, collected over decades, including two that are called “cornerstones of 20th century art.”.
“Erasing the Rules” began at the diamant dance shoes Tate Modern museum in London and ran earlier this year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where it focused more on Rauschenberg’s collaborations with other artists, composers and choreographers, San Francisco’s version follows a chronological line through his career — and fills all the galleries for temporary exhibits on the museum’s fourth floor, It’s expansive but well-organized by Gary Garrels and Sarah Roberts, curators of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA..
The show is a knockout. Colors blaze, lights flash, videos show dance productions Rauschenberg designed. A room-size tub of mud bubbles, inspired by a hydrothermal pool at Yellowstone National Park. Rauschenberg called it “Mud Muse.”. “Painting relates to both art and life…. I try to act in that gap between the two,” Rauschenberg famously said in 1959. And what makes art? Anything, he decided, almost before his career began. Born in Port Arthur, Texas (as was Janis Joplin, whom he met in the 1960s in New York), Rauschenberg served in the Navy during World War II. Discharged in 1945, he studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Academy Julian in Paris, then — in a major turning point — at Black Mountain College in College in North Carolina.
At Black Mountain, everybody studied everything, and Rauschenberg took classes in voice, dance, textile construction, photography, painting and more, His most influential teacher was artist Josef Albers, “Albers’ rule is to make order,” Rauschenberg later said, “As for me, I consider myself successful only when I do something that resembles the lack of order I sense.”, Yet that there’s a logical order diamant dance shoes to the “disorder” throughout Rauschenberg’s career is certainly apparent in this exhibit, It begins with “Mother of God” circa 1950, a collage of city maps with a clipping about “an invaluable spiritual road map,” and ends with “Untitled (Runt),” a 2007 assemblage of geometric photographs that was one of his last completed works..
By the mid-1950s Rauschenberg combined painting, sculpture, construction and collage and simply called them “Combines.” His most famous is here: “Monogram” (1955-59), featuring a taxidermist’s stuffed Angora goat, its face painted, a tire circling its middle, on a platform with assorted street detritus and magazine clippings, overpainted. When the larger version of this exhibit opened in New York, one critic said most every step of Rauschenberg’s career seemed predestined. He was just fated at a particular time to make a painting with the track of a car’s tire, or to erase a Willem de Kooning drawing and mount it in a frame. (Both of these “cornerstones of 20th century art” are on display.).
Rauschenberg’s works have long been staples of art history textbooks and now, of course, they’re online, But nothing can match the in-person impact — the scale, color, texture and construction, both intricate and rough-hewn, Moreover, like encountering Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, there’s a sense that the artist has just finished some of these works, The paint might still be wet, When Benezra walked through the exhibit before the preview, he responded, “I was diamant dance shoes knocked out by how fresh the art looked.”..
Here is the set piece Rauschenberg designed for Merce Cunningham’s dance company in 1954 — walk-through panels with gauze and mirrors — and a video of that performance, “Minutiae.” Here is “Short Circuit” (1955), a construction like an artist’s cupboard. It’s a sampler of Rauschenberg’s career: It includes one painting by his ex-wife, Susan Weil, and his then-current lover, Jasper Johns. The painting “Pantomime” (1961) includes two large electric fans projecting like sentinels, their cords plugged into the canvas, another plugged into a wall outlet. There’s an amusing, toy-like contraption, “Money Thrower for Tinguely’s Homage to New York” (1960), which was a gunpowder-loaded “mascot” for an outdoor performance.
In 1962, Rauschenberg turned to screenprinting after learning about the technique from Andy Warhol, His own photographs and other graphics began to fill panels large and small, The social and political turmoil of the 1960s, as well as the Vietnam War, edged diamant dance shoes into his work, The overlapping, overpainted multiple images can be dizzying, As Rauschenberg once said, “I have a peculiar kind of focus, I tend to see everything in sight.”, These works include both the large-scale “Retroactive I” (1963) with its images of President Kennedy, the space program and an overpainted gray cloud, and “Hiccups” (1978), a series of 97 small image-transferred works on paper, attached side-by-side with zippers and filling an entire gallery..