Robert Rauschenberg at Gagosian Gallery

 

Robert Rauschenberg, Dylaby (Combine Painting) (1962), Oil, metal objects, metal spring, metal Coca-Cola sign, ironing board and twine on unstretched canvas on wooden support, 109-1/2″ x 87″ x 15″; courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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Anything Gagosian Gallery graces with its icy stamp of approval is guaranteed a crowd, and so it is with the venue’s current hodgepodge overview of Robert Rauschenberg’s oeuvre.

Rauschenberg (1925-2008) had blue chip status well before the estate was taken on by Gagosian, but somehow, now, the distinction matters.  Writing in The New York Times, Holland Cotter wrung his hands over the “psychological dynamic” caused by this particular “market event”–as if Larry Gagosian has floated an international franchise of galleries for years on end because of a deep and enduring love for art.  Where have you been, Holland?

More worrisome was the blasé attitude about the merits of Rauschenberg’s wide-ranging achievement.  “Maybe ‘good’ and ‘bad'”, Cotter mulls, “doesn’t apply to such a figure”. What’s with the scare quotes?  The art critic’s job, apparently, is to wiggle out from under judgments rather than having to make them.

The Gagosian show is relatively modest in scale:  Anyone who survived the Rauschenberg glut of 1997 will be relieved by the economical take on the man who married happy-go-lucky Dada with a ready and steady sense of design.

Rauschenberg’s anything-goes esprit remains intact, particularly in the early pieces wherein the fun of slapping together incompatible things is still palpable. But what’s striking about the exhibition overall is its mildness.  Time irons out the kinks of outrage and innovation, but neither late Picasso or late Monet, subjects of museum-style exhibitions at Gagosian, looked quite as domesticated.

Pablo and Claude came off, in fact, as wild men.  Bob comes off as an adman for anti-art, an amiable pasticheur with an expansive knack for push-button free association.  And could he pump out the stuff.  Too bad:  Rauschenberg was, at his core, an artist with a small, precious gift. The brand name won out over the aesthete some fifty years ago. That’s what Gagosian is celebrating and what Cotter should be ruing.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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