Co-curated with the Rauschenberg Foundation, Gladstone Gallery’s exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg: Venetians and Early Egyptians, 1972-1974” caused an unexpected buzz during Frieze New York, featuring rarely shown minimalist sculptures by the artist more known for his mixed media paintings. But should we be surprised?
The show coincided with the sale of Thaddeus Ropac to Frieze of Wall basin/ROCI MEXICO (1985), a large-scale wall hanging made of found fabrics on which Rauschenberg screen-printed photographs he took while on a research trip to Mexico, for $3.5 million. Clearly, collectors are beginning to look beyond the obvious in the work of this beloved artist.
While the art world seems to have focused solely on his paintings and serigraphs over the past few decades, Rauschenberg has always been something of a researcher, pushing boundaries and searching for the next phase of his art.
“He intentionally walked offstage because I think he couldn’t do his job, basically, and he was an artist who worked every day, seven days a week, always,” Julia Blaut said, senior director of conservation. affairs of the Rauschenberg Foundation, told Artnet News. “I would say he was really looking for the things that were going to keep providing challenges, and if he knew he could do something well, he wasn’t going to keep doing it.”
The show, held in conjunction with exhibitions at Mnuchin Gallery in New York and Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg, caught the attention of many key observers in the city for Frieze new York.
“We were really upset at the foundation,” Blaut said. “We know the job well, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it properly set up and given this kind of space. He really has room to breathe. I feel like the Gladstone exhibition gives the work that opportunity to be appreciated.
Rauschenberg created these works on Captiva Island off the southwest coast of Florida in the 1970s after a fire caused extensive damage to his New York home. While the sculptures share many familiar materials and motifs found in his paintings, they lean towards minimalism in a way that Rauschenberg’s other works do not.
“He was always looking for the next challenge, and I think the work his peers were doing at the time gave him permission to explore what art could be,” Blaut said. “The whole post-minimalist aspect of these works is an announcement of his commitment to this movement.”
Rauschenberg’s influence on contemporary sculpture is obvious, but it is perhaps even more evident when looking at this period of his work.
“We are thrilled with the attention the show has received from the press,” added Blaut. “But it’s the attention of artists that seems to be the best indicator. Its continued importance to working artists is truly the most encouraging thing for us to remember.
See images from the exhibit below.
“Robert Rauschenberg: Venetians and Early Egyptians, 1972-1974” is visible through June 18, at the Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street and 530 West 21st Street, New York.
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