Over the course of his career, Robert Rauschenberg occupied an almost innumerable series of critical and theoretical positions in the practice and production of art objects, often bounding from material to material and technique to technique in bounds that often moved beyond the scope of any single artists entire oeuvre. His relentless interest in particular with the picture plane itself, and its capacity for interruption or disruption through the inclusion of ready-made objects, collaged pieces and even the scraps of other paintings, Rauschenberg produced what could best be considered as a career in a constant state of flux caused by its own movements.
Robert Rauschenberg, Rodeo Palace (Spread) (1976), via Rauschenberg Foundation
This winter, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London is presenting the artist’s iconic Spreads series, reflecting on the artist’s work pioneering new ways of painterly construction while remaining focused on his own painterly language. The large-scale Spreads encapsulate many of Robert Rauschenberg’s best-known motifs and materials, and the twelve works from the series―the largest of which stretches to over six metres wide are presented alongside a series of paper collages from the same era. In the Spreads the artist’s familiar motifs from his object-laden Combines is reprised, incorporating car tires, doors, bedding and other materials in conjunction with fabric materials and canvas, all conspiring to create a dense, multilayered series of materials that challenges and reframes the canvas as a collecting pool for both materials and ideas, reference systems and the objects that contain them, all negotiating within the canvas as one potential conclusion of the project of the 20th Century avant-garde.
Robert Rauschenberg, Rumor (Spread) (1980), via Ropac
Rauschenberg himself was well aware of these conversations of object and image, referring to the “Spreads” as both a negotiation of history and “something you put on toast.” The language of his materials laid across the canvas negotiate with their mode of presentation, ultimately creating even more dense linguistic networks alongside the concepts explored within the works themselves. Rather than a purely retrospective exercise, the development of his Spreads is also suggestive of a more complex relationship between past and present, integrating not only elements from his earlier work but also reflecting changes in his life, his practice and in contemporary art at the time. Rauschenberg’s use of fabric color blocks in his Spreads not only represented a shift in his color palette from the urban experience of New York to the bright oranges, pinks and yellows of life in Florida, but also engaged with recent artistic developments such as Color Field painting and Minimalism, incorporating references to a new generation of artists.
This series of works, a vast trove of historical touchstones and concepts united by Rauschenberg’s hand, makes for a striking investigation of the artists’s work, and his vantage point from the vanguard of 20th Century art.
The show closes Janaury 26th.
— D. Creahan
Thaddaeus Ropac [Exhibition Site]