Monday, March 21, 2005
Rauschenberg - too nice to be good?
By some considered an absolute genius, a "postmodern phenomenon", by others, nothing more than a skilled technician, Rauschenberg is one of the world's 10 most expensive living artists in the world. He first became famous in the 50's for his "combines", or works combining (3D) installation with (2(3?)D) painting. Then, as a good, short biography describes,
As Pop Art emerged in the '60s, Rauschenberg turned away from three-dimensional combines and began to work in two dimensions, using magazine photographs of current events to create silk-screen prints. Rauschenberg transferred prints of familiar images, such as JFK or baseball games, to canvases and overlapped them with painted brushstrokes. They looked like abstractions from a distance, but up close the images related to each other, as if in conversation. These collages were a way of bringing together the inventiveness of his combines with his love for painting.
Rauschenberg still creates "collages" today, though any art critic would probably be offended by this way of calling them. Why? Because for an artist to be considered good, he needs to be seen as evolving. And as ground-breaking:
Rauschenberg is an amazingly prolific and formally venturesome artist who, over the past 50 years, has nearly always risked aesthetic trespass, producing work deliberately just one degree or two from being merely ugly, banal, kitschy, gimmicky, showy, facile or, of course, excessive. (from this old review)
On artblog.net, a highly-specialized blog about fine arts (yes, they do forget that art exists beyond fine arts), there was an interesting discussion of art critics about Rauschenberg and modernism. (Do they really write 'modernism' with a capital letter? Heheh. Nothing like the good old idea of godliness in art. Sorry, that was meant to be 'Art'.)
Among much blabla (notice how they can't keep to the topic, and stray off into abstract talk), I found some insightful remarks about Rauschemberg and modernism:
They are cleverly and humorously organized, the color is good, and there are all sorts of visual puns and contradictions going on.
I find this quite delightful. Lightweight it may be, but in this case, so what. It is a relief from the academic tedium and horriblisme and pretentious foolishness we see every day around here. it is "fun art", if you will, with enough skill and wit to sustain it as such.
As far as i am concerned what has emerged since 1970, usually called "postmodernism", is just a degenerated stage of Modernism. Modernism itself, according to how you define it, is no more dead than good painterly painting was in 1850. it is just taking a rest.
I can see the work as pleasurable, if not outright pleasant. But the kind of work I really like is work that scares me, and Rauschenberg's does not.
Even when he uses "heavy" imagery, like JFK, it remains the work of a very talented graphic designer, with undeniable surface appeal but not that much depth or substance.
Art opinion is what it is, which is, historically, usually wrong. It is an interesting subject for a sociological study but it has little to do with art or making art, unless you let it. You seem to think in terms of "movements", and I feel that this frame of mind is a kind of blinder. And there may be an art movement right under your nose which you don't see precisely because of the myopia of that opinion. Put yourself back in Paris inb 1865, knowing nothing. Think about it.
These images are interesting. If they are large scale I am sure they could be quite fun to look at. It is his earlier work, the combines, that I think are quite wonderful. In other words, I see them as much better "Dada" and much better art, than any of Duchamps work. They seem to embody a lot of art history rolled into one,
Discarding a convention simply because it is one, or just for the sake of discarding, or to achieve some concept of "purity" or "open-mindedness" which may, in fact, be more like sterility or impoverishment or absurdity, is neither logical nor sensible--certainly no more so than hanging on to a convention because "it's always been that way" without objectively evaluating its value or utility.
As for the discussion about the difference between modernism and postmodernism, I think the question is way too young to be answered, but artblog.net helps answering it by being so bloody conservative - they seem somewhat blasé, old, afraid of anything with ambitions other than in the exact area (school) they specialize in. And, paradoxically, that old, worn-out attitude is what I would call modernism. For lack of a better word. Does this "looking back at modernism" make one postmodern? I find the idea of calling a movement modernism silly enough.
But if you need a label, you can call it Postboredism. I don't like to be bored, young and naive as I am. Thus, I ask from art to pull me in, to provoke me, and not only exist in an esoteric shell (though I admit the shell can be fascinating, too...). Fortunately, many artists today think it is not too much to ask. Are they postmodern? Or modernist? Or Great, or Small? How would I know. They make me feel richer. Is that not enough?