Robert Rauschenberg: Gluts

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Robert Rauschenberg, Mercury Zero Glut, 1987

Robert Rauschenberg, Mercury Zero Glut, 1987. Assembled metal, 27 x 44.5 x 21.6 cm. Private collection

Robert Rauschenberg: Gluts

May 30–September 20, 2009

Rauschenberg: Gluts features a selected group of approximately forty sculptures drawn from the holdings of institutions and private collections in the United States and abroad. While Rauschenberg has been comprehensively investigated in recent international shows, a focused exhibition examining his sculpture has not been organized since 1995. Rauschenberg’s art was always one of thoughtful inclusion. After breaking boundaries with his celebrated Combines, which fused two dimensional painting with sculpture in the late 1950s, his explorations of technology-based art that made viewers active participants in the 1960s, and his focus on natural-fiber materials of paper, cardboard, and fabric throughout the 1970s, Rauschenberg’s artistic attention in the 1980s turned toward an exploration of the visual properties of metal. Whether assembling found metal objects or experimenting with his own photographic images screen printed onto aluminum, bronze, brass, or copper, Rauschenberg sought to capture the reflective, textural, sculptural, and thematic possibilities of the material.

Rauschenberg’s first body of work in this new material was the Gluts, sculptural works the artist began in 1986 and continued to work on intermittently until 1995. The series was inspired by a visit to Houston on the occasion of Robert Rauschenberg: Work from Four Series, an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum in honor of the 150th anniversary of Texas’s independence from Mexico; Rauschenberg himself is a native of the Texas coastal town of Port Arthur. In the mid-1980s, the Texas economy was in the throes of a recession due to a glut (or surplus of supply) in the oil market that Rauschenberg took note of. Upon his return to his Captiva, Florida, studio, he began to collect gas-station signs and deteriorated automotive and industrial parts that transformed the scrap-metal detritus into wall reliefs and freestanding sculptures that recalled his earlier Combines.

Asked to comment on the meaning of the Gluts, Rauschenberg offered: “It’s a time of glut. Greed is rampant. I’m just exposing it, trying to wake people up. I simply want to present people with their ruins. . . . I think of the Gluts as souvenirs without nostalgia. What they are really meant to do is give people an experience of looking at everything in terms of what its many possibilities might be.”

In many of the Gluts, it is difficult to discern what the original object or objects might have been. In others, however, the metamorphosis from junkyard relic to poetic art object resulted in a work that is less abstract; the decrepit objects retain something of their original identity, though the significance of the assemblage as a whole is not made explicit.