Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern (1 December 2016-2 April 2017) is an acute and timely reminder of America as it was in the later half of the last century and how it is now witness to change without a precedent.
Tate Modern’s major new exhibition is the first posthumous retrospective and the most comprehensive survey in 20 years of the work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), born Milton Ernest in Port Arthur, Texas.
Organised in collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the exhibition invites the viewer to revisit a period in which Rauschenberg played a significant and as yet undiminished part, experimenting endlessly and invariably going away from most of what he was taught by influential instructors, including Bauhaus artist and co-founder Josef Albers, abstract painter Vaclav Vytlacil and Belarus-born painter Morris Kantor. In the process of seemingly endless exposure to myriad influences and experimentation, Rauschenberg blazed a new trail for art through the diversity and range of his work, moving between painting, sculpture, photography, print-making, technology, stage design and performance.
Rauschenberg confronted, defied or ignored conventional boundaries in art and in life, his quest for innovation fired by his openness to the world, his eagerness for collaborative creation and his passion for travel. How starkly different all of that is from the direction his country appears to be taking on the cusp of a new political period in the United States. For a start, how would Rauschenberg fare in the newly evolving ‘great again’ America, its swirls of conflicting narratives, with his mixed Anglo-Saxon-Cherokee-German ancestry set beside the devout religious fundamentalism of his parentage?
The retrospective is ambitious and nothing if not thorough. Each chapter of Rauschenberg’s exceptional six-decade career is represented by major international loans that, according to Tate, have rarely travelled in the past. ©Sajid Rizvi