Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective
Curated by Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson
Guggenheim Museum, NY

By the time one made it through this retrospective, split between the signature uptown building and the downtown Guggenheim SoHo (a venue from 1992-2001), and the separate gallery presentation of the constantly permutating The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981-97), it felt rather deliriously like having seen several retrospectives. The orphaning logic and destabilizing of medium convention so prevalent in the readymade eclecticism and print media looting of combines and combine paintings like Monogram (1955-59), Untitled (1954), Bed (1955), Odalisk (1955-58), and Canyon (1959), made the descent down through the Guggenheim architecture feel like some kind of cultural unburdening and overdue revelation. Departing into sustained asides, for instance Rauschenberg’s transfer masterpiece Drawings for Dante’s Inferno (1958-60), the exhibition also made room for excerpts from the oddly prescient if symptomatic quality of Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) (1984-1991), a massive undertaking of photographs, paintings, sculptures, and videos created and exhibited in eleven countries, endemic to the transnational platforms that were emerging in the 1980s and 1990s. Walter Hopps, in close collaboration with Rauschenberg and Susan Davidson, kept an embrace of such “counter” formats and venues present throughout the overall exhibition strategy. Letting the alarm of a piece like Soundings (1968), find unexpected dialog and response with the relaxed poise of the then overlooked ‘Cardboards’ series from the early ’70s (both were shown downtown), is a further example, and one of many in the exhibition, of how a retrospective can use pivotal works rather than be bound or constrained by them, animating the right imbalance within the work itself. The retrospective exceeded and thereby evaded a falsely progressive narrative without falling into chaos or mere cacophony, letting Rauschenberg’s intersection of art, media, and technology provoke and echo into the next century. With a Rauschenberg retrospective again on the horizon at MoMA, it will be interesting to see how this restive precedent is considered and taken into account.

––Fionn Meade

Published in The Exhibitionist, Issue 9 (March 2014)
Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated