Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Contemporary — ‘Irresistible’

Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Untitled (Spread)’ (1983) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

“I really really feel sorry for folks who consider issues like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly,” Robert Rauschenberg after stated, “because they’re surrounded by factors like that all day extended, and it have to make them miserable.” Ordinary things produced Rauschenberg content — objects such as the rubber tyre with which he ringed a stuffed goat, purchased for $ 15 from a utilised furnishings store and placed on a painted canvas stuck with magazine clippings. He explained that the goat and tyre, interleaved like letters in a monogram, “lived happily ever after” together: art and life awkwardly, optimistically, enchantingly combined.

“Monogram” visits the UK for the very first time in 50 years — can it even be that old? — to star in Tate Modern’s irresistible new retrospective of the American artist, who died in 2008. Alongside the shaggy, insouciant angora goat hangs the wooden frame enclosing a quilt, sheet and pillow slathered in oil, toothpaste and nail polish, “Bed” — which hints at blood and violence but was named by Rauschenberg as “one of the friendliest pictures I’ve ever painted. My worry has constantly been that a person would want to crawl into it” — and the painted trolley with metal chain, bucket, washer and door knobs known as “Gift for Apollo”.

All date from the 1950s, celebrate beauty in the each day, and sweep you up in a generous democratic vision that pulls art out of the studio and on to street level. Even if you have not the slightest sympathy with the conceptual art that reverberated down the decades from Rauschenberg’s innovations — and Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” and Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde zoo so clearly pick up threads from the celebrated pieces here — these seldom loaned “Combines” are a joy: fresh, bright, emotionally engaging, intellectually curious, quickly accessible because “a image is much more like the genuine planet when it is made out of the genuine world”.

“Oracle” (1962-65), a multi-component scrap-metal installation containing wireless microphone systems, turns sculpture into a sound piece. The industrial allusions recall David Smith but where Smith was an elegant abstractionist, this is a messy, screeching, garrulous sprawl evoking the factory floor. Brushwork is noisy, also: “First Time Painting”, which involves a plastic exhaust cap and curling metal springs, was developed as a efficiency on stage in Paris in 1961 with a microphone attached to the easel to amplify each and every brushstroke. Rauschenberg stopped painting when an alarm clock in the canvas went off.

Tate superbly chronicles how, with lightness of touch, an exuberant insistence on the arbitrary and youthful irreverence, Rauschenberg collapsed painting, printmaking, sculpture, performance, into hybrid collaborative types. Operating in a studio with windows thrown open and the television always on, Rauschenberg by means of the 1950s and 1960s, it appears, could do no incorrect. At monumental scale, painted silkscreens such as “Retroactive II” collaged images from Television stills including the not too long ago assassinated President Kennedy and space travel. Uniting disparate printed material with paint, Rauschenberg distilled the beginning of the all-over visual noise of late-20th-century life. The silkscreens won him the Golden Lion at the 1964 Venice Biennale — the first American to be so honoured, and signalled pictorial invention was shifting from Europe to the US.

‘Bed’ (1955) © New York Image: The Museum of Contemporary Art

This is a marvellous moment for American art in London. Though Rauschenberg’s use of located objects goes back to Duchamp, and his collages to Kurt Schwitters, his experiments develop right away out of a response to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whose gestural painting he adopts and adapts while radically rejecting individual expression. Tate shows the iconic “Erased de Kooning Drawing” in which Rauschenberg painstakingly rubbed out the marks of the father figure. The ghosts of Abstract Expressionism everywhere right here send a single back to the Royal Academy’s excellent exhibition (to January 2), and the contrast is fascinating. Even though the RA’s show ends with performs from the 1970s, the movement’s deep-felt imperatives of the person and spiritual feel remote from today, compared with Rauschenberg’s laconic tone and debt to mass-production.

On the other hand, the RA show illuminates Rauschenberg’s early function at Tate: the all-black and all-gold paintings with bubbled surfaces made from scraps of newspaper embedded in paint, homages as properly as pastiches of Abstract Expressionism, and the six-metre “Automobile Tire Print”, made by driving a vehicle over 20 sheets of paper, which parodies Newman’s zip paintings and anticipates the industrial imagery of “Monogram”. Despite quite a few efforts to attach it to canvas, the goat, he mentioned, “refused to be abstracted into art” till he transformed it by adding the tyre.

‘Monogram’ (1955-59) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Transformation and collaboration remained important to Rauschenberg’s vision, evident in later work here which includes the 1970s grids of cardboard packing boxes, alluding to globalisation, 1980s posters for the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange project, and 1990s ink-jet photographic prints. Produced after Rauschenberg left New York to reside on Captiva Island, Florida in 1971 and became a public rather than avant-garde figure, these lack excitement, the connection to urban expertise. They wilt in comparison to the earlier work.

A richer coda is on provide in Mayfair at Offer Waterman, which brings collectively an exceptional choice of transfer drawings from 1958-69, made by dissolving newspaper photographs and text with a solvent, then rubbing them on to paper with pencil or pen, sometimes adding gouache and watercolour. Mass-developed imagery is seamlessly combined with the handmade intimacy of drawing, and political themes evoked.

‘Triathlon (Scenario)’ (2005) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

With pictures from Listerine mouthwash to a radar station, “Orange Body” characteristics examples of 1960s Americana at microscopic and cosmic scales, arranged to surround the caption “Deadlines Scrapped over Desegregation” amid rushing helmeted heroes: baseball players, astronauts. “Headline”, first owned by Andy Warhol, is a blur of politicians’ faces, the pro-slavery Confederate flag and auto licence plates from Mississippi all revolving round a nevertheless square of calm with a reproduction of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

These careful, thoughtful collages of protest extend our understanding of the most private group of performs on show at Tate, the 34 illustrations to Dante’s “Inferno” designed by the exact same transfer technique. Right here, on surfaces luscious, smoky, scratchy, flickering, Dante is a shorts-clad athlete from Sports Illustrated among wrestlers and weightlifters, his celestial messengers are astronauts, demons are the riot police, and handless clocks symbolise eternity. All these unfold via fragile, fugitive veils — “Inferno” is Rauschenberg’s most homoerotic perform — musing on discomfort, conflict and suffering in an ancient narrative with which Rauschenberg nevertheless achieves his life-long aim: “to ennoble the ordinary”.

‘Robert Rauschenberg’, Tate Modern day, London, to April two, tate.org.uk

‘Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings’, Offer Waterman, to January 13, waterman.co.uk

Photographs: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation New York Image: The Museum of Modern day Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Section: Arts


Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Contemporary

America’s challenge to Europe, painting’s answer to photography, female identity asserted against the male gaze: numerous key strands of 20th-century art converge uniquely in the perform and life of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Tate Modern’s excellent new retrospective, the biggest ever devoted to O’Keeffe outside America, is a when-in-a-generation likelihood to discover a figure entirely absent from British collections. With outstanding loans from 23 US states — the monumental blow-up of a widespread plant “Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1”, the most high-priced perform sold at auction by a woman artist a uncommon uniting of the “Black Place” quartet transforming Navajo County hills “like a mile of elephants” into brilliant-hued undulations and lightening zigzags — it presents O’Keeffe as a pioneer of American abstraction.

That is precisely what this challenging, lofty, reclusive artist would have wished. But yet another story — private, erotic, fraught — keeps breaking by means of, and eventually determines the knowledge of O’Keeffe’s perform as an emotionally exhilarating more than a formally revealing one particular.

In the earliest paintings, from 1918-19, swirling rose arcs enclose a womblike azure void, and emerald ripples pulsate in rhythm to flames soaring in a black-rimmed cone. O’Keeffe explained these synaesthetically, as representing musical chords, and titled them “Music — Pink and Blue No 1” and “Blue and Green Music”. However to deny their sexual associations, and that of the iconic types abstracted from nature right here — deep cavities encased by purple folds in “Dark Iris”, thrusting stalks and softly opening petals in “Calla Lilies on Red”, the inward-moving eddies of “Pool in the Woods, Lake George” — is actually not to see them at all.

O’Keeffe was a 29-year-old art school teacher in South Carolina when a pal sent some of her charcoal abstractions — dizzying compositions evoking vortexes, waterfalls, slow-moving clouds — to photographer and modernist impresario Alfred Stieglitz. Tate has borrowed these delicate, vibrant pieces from MoMA, Philadelphia and Houston, and you can see why, on getting them, Stieglitz exclaimed “at final, a woman on paper!”

He instantly place them on the walls of his New York gallery, and gave O’Keeffe a solo show the following year. In 1918 the couple moved in collectively and Stieglitz began the series of much more than one hundred photographs in which O’Keeffe evolves from protégée to model to muse, from collaborator to combatant to free of charge spirit. They are a highlight right here, and dictate a compelling biographical slant.

Stieglitz grouped them together as “A Lady [One Portrait]”: the camera’s bid to rival painting in fixing an image of the archetypal woman. Stieglitz’s prototypes integrated Rubens’ “Helene Fourment” when he posed O’Keeffe in a kimono by a window, and Matisse’s languid figures for the full-frontal nudes with pronounced breasts and pubic hair such as “Georgia O’Keeffe — Torso”.

Georgia O’Keeffe with Alfred Stieglitz, in 1936 © CSU Archives/Everett Collection

But Stieglitz was also after a portrait of the instinctual all-American artist: framing O’Keeffe’s strong profile, long neck, tapering flexible hands in front of her paintings, he implied that her art sprang directly from her physique.

“I enjoy myself!” was O’Keeffe’s initial response. “It tends to make me laugh that I like myself so significantly — like myself as you make me.”

Stieglitz’s portraits stay the greatest love letter of one artist to an additional in photographic history, and a wonderfully optimistic record of a young woman discovering and delighting in her own sexuality. They also shaped O’Keeffe’s painting: the cropping, foreshortening, close-up formats of her pictures of flowers, leaves, shells, the way light moulds the fruit in “Apple Family” and “Alligator Pear”.

‘Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait’ (1918) by Alfred Stieglitz © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

A language of American modernism was forged in the push-pull amongst O’Keeffe and Stieglitz in the 1920s. Typically they took the exact same subjects: his “Equivalent” cloud series and her bulbous cloud shapes in “A Celebration”, painted at their marriage in 1924 her visions of New York’s buildings against gleaming patches of sky — “New York Street with Moon”, “Ritz Tower, Night” — versus his austere geometric cityscapes such as “New York from An American Place”.

Defining an American place — what O’Keeffe named “that fantastic American thing” — was the heart of the project. Stieglitz, a cosmopolitan intellectual educated in Germany, was entranced by the freedom, sparseness and luminosity with which O’Keeffe characterised nature about his nation house in upstate New York. “Lake George” and “From the Lake” are near-abstractions of flattened bands or darting shafts of blue and turquoise. Detail in “Oak Leaves” is so focused that the imagery practically dissolves into pools of autumn pinks and greys.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘New York Street with Moon’ (1925) © Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

“Each colour regains the fun it need to have felt on forming the very first rainbow,” wrote O’Keeffe’s contemporary Charles Demuth. That was the note of purity and freshness that O’Keeffe struck for so a lot of East Coast modernists chasing American cultural identity. Right here was a lady who had never been to Europe and had no interest in going. Rather, O’Keeffe looked south-west, and in 1929 arrived in New Mexico.

There she felt, she told Stieglitz, “like flying — like turning the planet more than again — like I utilised to feel”. She had fallen “into anything from which there is no return”. Stieglitz who howled that for years he had been “canonising” her “day and night as no lady living or in the past was ever canonised”, was redundant. O’Keeffe now complained that when depicting her Stieglitz, essentially, “was often photographing himself. You had to sit there and do what you have been told”. They proceeded to live apart for much of every year.

© Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum

New Mexico liberated O’Keeffe: “As quickly as I saw it, that was my country … It fitted me precisely.” Right here was “the feeling of a lot space” that could not be tamed into European landscape mode, but lay open to the self-expression O’Keeffe sought: “I seem to be hunting for something of myself out there, one thing in myself that will give me a symbol for all this.” Far more than ever, the rounded summits, hidden recesses, fleshy surfaces in “Purple Hills”, “Black Hills with Cedar” and “The Mountain, New Mexico” read like externalisations of the body.

Tate is proper, too, that the bleached animal skulls that O’Keeffe collected there are allegories of nationhood and identity. To O’Keeffe the bones have been “shapes I appreciate, as gorgeous as anything I know and strangely more living than the animals walking around … I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and the wonder of the globe.”

The elongated “Horse’s Skull on Blue”, the idiosyncratic “Mule’s Skull with Pink Poinsettia”, the giant antlers brooding more than tiny mountain peaks in “From the Faraway, Nearby”, painted in the 1930s, share surrealism’s incongruities and games of scale, but have no anxiousness: they are, like every thing in this upbeat show, songs of America.

‘From the Faraway, Nearby’ (1937) by Georgia O’Keeffe © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Tate Modern, to October 30, tate.org.uk. Then Bank Austria Kunstforum Vienna, December 7-March 26 Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, April 22-July 30

Photographs: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum CSU Archives/Everett Collection Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Section: Arts


Picasso Sculpture, Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

'Baboon and Young' (1951) and 'Head of a Warrior' (1933). Photo: 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York©2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights

‘Baboon and Young’ (1951) and ‘Head of a Warrior’ (1933). Photo: 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/ARS, New York

Picasso, that perpetual wizard, enchants New York when again with a show of his exuberantly creative, category-busting, mind-expanding sculpture. Just when items at the Museum of Modern Art were beginning to get actually depressing, curators Ann Temkin and Anne Umland have mounted a heady expedition across what seemed like nicely-scouted terrain. “Not another Picasso blowout!” I muttered when it was initial announced, but I was incorrect to grumble. This show burbles with the joy of an artist cavorting in his personal imagination. I wended my way via each gallery with a smile affixed to my face, savouring the jokes, the sensuous physicality of his labours, and the obvious pleasure he took in his talents.

I thought I knew Picasso, but I had no concept of the riches his sculptures include. They have been not much seen in his lifetime, and they make up a reasonably tiny proportion of his enormous output: “only” 700 works, compared with 4,500 paintings. Nevertheless, even if he had by no means place brush to canvas — if he had in no way made “Guernica” or invented cubism or had a Blue Period — I would revere him on the strength of this show alone.

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Picasso spat out sculptures in brief bursts, then abandoned the medium for years at a time. Each phase in his paintings finds a parallel in wood, paper, plaster, ceramic, and bronze but the sculpture exudes an expansive spirit, a free of charge-flowing experimentation that he kept consolidating in paint. In the very first room, we see the influence of African sculpture on his early wood carvings, whose ravaged surfaces make Gauguin’s appear polished. A female “Head” from 1907 resembles a figure from “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, painted that same year, but she appears more crazed and jagged, her eyes gouged with passion, her mouth scooped into a hideous leer. Picasso tapped into the sacred and magical aspects of African sculpture even as he thrilled to its purely formal qualities. Later on, lengthy after he had left “primitive” art behind, he cherished his sculptures’ totemic presence, maintaining them about the property as domestic spirits until his death.

Untrained as a sculptor, he felt none of the academy’s constraints. From the scarred wood statuettes he progressed instantly to the classic types of “Apple”, a deconstructed plaster fruit that might have sprung from Cézanne’s boldest futuristic dreams. In “Guitar” (1912), Picasso broke new ground with disarming nonchalance. A few scissor-clips were all he necessary to totally free the line from the page, yanking it into 3 dimensions and springing it from the constraints of illusionism. The sound hole juts forward — not a void but a thing projected into the viewer’s domain — although the instrument’s physique dissolves, plane by plane, into space. Early viewers had been mystified by this cardboard construction and a sheet-metal sequel of 1914: “What is that?” they asked, according to the poet André Salmon: “Does that rest on a pedestal? Does that hang on the wall? Is it a painting or sculpture?”

Picasso blasted open the gate amongst painting and sculpture. “We were . . . liberated from the imbecilic tyranny of genres,” Salmon wrote. “The Orator”, a plaster-and-stone building from 1933, confronts us with the sweep of an urgent arm. But stroll about him and you’ll see that he is all façade his flattened rear remains as unadorned as the back of a canvas. Other pieces are thoroughly conceived in the round. The museum has gathered all six versions of the painted bronze absinthe bottles, which corkscrew spasmodically, demanding to be circled.

Picasso swings dizzyingly from commanding volumes to feathery wisps. The heavy bronze “Woman with Vase” (1933), is an assembly of blobbish body parts shooting off in all directions. Later, he tore a crumpled napkin, poked it with a burning cigarette to generate haunted eyes and a twitching nose, and dubbed it “Head of a Dog”. But even such a small and perishable scrap can loom. Brassaï photographed the paper pooch, turning it into some thing huge, ancient and menacing, like the golden mask of Agamemnon. He performed the very same trick on “Relief”, transforming a small corrugated wedge of plaster into a wonderful ruined temple. (The curators have broken out 25 Brassaï photos of Picasso’s sculptures into a separate little show that, unbelievably, manages to enhance the prodigious originals.)

However he flirted with abstraction, Picasso constantly cherished his subjects: people, beasts, bottles and guitars emerge out of lines and planes. He comes across here as a godlike imp, blowing life into inanimate components, developing a planet out of detritus. During one specifically mischievous period in the 1940s, he gathered pebbles and carved cartoon eyes and attributes into their polished surfaces, turning them into prehistoric talismans or Cycladic figurines.

I was taught to think of Picasso as the Ur-modernist, the initial and greatest of the 20th-century avant-garde. But his sculpture teaches an totally different lesson. The radical cubist phase, when he dissected space and time, was just one particular short episode in a quicksilver career that spilled into every conceivable style. Baroque, classical, rococo, “primitive”, outsider — all run by means of a body of function united by his unmistakable hand and uncommon sense of humour. I can think of only a handful of other artists — Leonardo, Daumier, Klee, Dalí, Koons — whose work twinkles with the exact same good cheer, and none with such an in depth comic arsenal. He was a virtuoso at caricature, visual puns, and the wild assemblage of unlikely parts into a flawless whole. The giant neoclassical “Head of a Warrior” (1933) charms us with its bulbous nose, hint of a grin, and protuberant tennis ball eye.

One particular of my favourites is “Baboon and Young” (1951), in which the simian mama’s smiling muzzle is composed of two model cars. Her ears come from broken cup handles, and her tail is an automotive suspension spring. MoMA’s bronze iteration smooths more than the rough meeting of components, but the spirit of sublime silliness persists. Possibly that’s the secret of his genius: Picasso’s gifts were cosmic, but he treated them like toys.

To February 7, moma.org

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Section: Arts