The real genius of Robert Rauschenberg is his art made us part of the picture.

Rauschenberg said: “…I am bombarded with TV sets and magazines, by the refuse, by the excess of the world…If I could paint or make an honest work, it should incorporate all of these elements, which were and are a reality.”

Robert Rauschenberg – Retrospective at the Gagosian Gallery in NY

The image nearby is part of Rauschenberg’s “Cardboard” series (1971-72). There are a lot of these at the current mega exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg” at the Gagosian Gallery, 522 W 21 Street, NYC (extended through Jan. 15). And there are a lot of Combines, paintings and sculpture. It’s a huge retrospective.

In the “Cardboards,” Rauschenberg reduced his palette to near monochrome (the boxes are the paint and the canvas). He stated “he liked to work in a material of waste and softness.” I think these works are a direct comment on the disposability of modern life.

Rauschenberg’s trash is art and expands what contemporary art can be.

“Gift for Apollo” (1959), seen nearby, is a Rauschenberg COMBINE, part of the Panza Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, CA (Photo: COMBINES exhibition catalog, 2005).

“Gift for Apollo” includes oil paint, wood, fabric, newspaper, print reproductions, metal bucket, metal chain, dooknob and rubber wheels (size 43×29 inches, depth variable).

Did you notice the green tie? It probably belonged to Rauschenberg, who included his own wardrobe in his works. Some of his paintings include cuffs from his shirts!

I love things with wheels – it looks like a child’s toy that you play with – but this baby’s toy is anchored to an oil bucket.

Rauschenberg’s “Combines” are all about improvisation and a sense of joyous discovery.

Holland Cotter’s NY Times exhibition review said: You’ll see Invention, Adventure and a lot of Muchness (his words).

The gallery produced a lovely exhibition catalog if you want it.

Rauschenberg died in 2008 (not so long ago). He was – and still is – an immense presence in contemporary art. Like everyone in the gallery, I was mingling with art history.

Anselm Kiefer – “Next Year in Jerusalem”

On the same day I saw the Rauschenberg retrospective, I walked 3 blocks north to another location of the Gagosian Gallery (West 24th Street, NYC) to see  the mega exhibition “Anselm Kiefer: Next Year in Jerusalem.”

The show closed Dec. 18, but if you are a Kiefer fan (I think he is one of the most important visual artist alive today), you must purchase the exhibition catalog – it’s a work of art in itself, fully illustrated and includes Kiefer’s own words plus an essay by Marina Warner. I will definitely order the book. The images and layout are superb and I want to read the artist’s comments.

The image above, titled “Occupations,” is a huge steel container you cannot enter but can look into – and contains 76 enormous photographs mounted on lead (within) and a photograph of Kiefer from 1969 doing the Nazi HitlergruB (outside) at the rear end of the container.

Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany the last year of WWII and gained international fame in his 20s – he took photos of himself doing the Sieg Heil salute in front of places occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. Kiefer currently lives and works in Paris, France.

Jerry Saltz reviewed “Next Year in Jerusalem” in NY Magazine. Jerry gives the show a Thumbs-up with an asterisk, and wrote: (the exhibition) is insanely over the top – a sort of walk-in mausoleum of enormous vitrines, containing objects like airplane engines, mummified wedding gowns, miniature submarines and real sunflowers. He did add: “As figurative and narrative as Kiefer’s work is, however, it’s quiote abstract and  poetic, seeming to bypass language and rationality while creating patterns of meanig via form, weight, color, texture and compression.”

Everything is somber, low-lit and ashen

The image nearby is an installation view of glass and steel vitrines, some as tall as 20 feet, that contain relic-like sculptures within. Walking through the exhibition space, you see through one glass and metal vitrine to another, to paintings beyond, and observe all the other  people as they move about. For me, the exhibition was a powerful commentary on war (seen through a glass darkly).

The image nearby shows two vitrines and a painting and wall installation beyond.

Kiefer’s huge, wall hung landscape paintings are thickly layered with ash, include lead, distressed materials and even a snakeskin, and depict iconic, barren landscapes of mountains, forests or the sea.

Roberta Smith, in a NY Times review of the Kiefer exhibition said: The power (of the show) is hard to deny…You will not see an art gallery look quite like this anytime soon. All the Kiefer installation photos (Gagosian Gallery) by Rob McKeever.


  1. Good post, Nancy.

    I also saw both these shows together. I was disappointed in the Rauschenberg show. It all looked kind of tired and overdone. Those cardboard pieces were sort of like the emperor’s new clothes. We were wondering who would have kept them if they hadn’t paid a lot of money for them. But I know that art historically, Rauschenberg was very important in pushing the boundaries.

    Thanks for posting and for your comment on my blog.

    1. Thanks, Nancy.
      Your comments on the Rauschenberg Cardboards are right on – the works did look a little tired. It’s possible the problem was the installation. I didn’t have that reaction to the Rauschenberg Combine show at the Metropolitan Museum.

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