Robert Rauschen­berg, the sly print­maker

The artist’s work in print­mak­ing is not as well known as his paint­ing, but it’s just as in­for­ma­tive.

Los Angeles Times - - Art - Sharon Mi­zota

The art of Robert Rauschen­berg is a bridge be­tween Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism and Pop Art, mix­ing the en­er­getic brush strokes of the for­mer with the quo­tid­ian, mass-pro­duced im­ages of the lat­ter.

The artist, who died in 2008 at age 82, is best known for his “Com­bines” of the 1950s and ’60s, painted as­sem­blages of everyday ob­jects and im­ages that chal­lenged the tra­di­tional dis­tinc­tions be­tween paint­ing and sculp­ture, fine art and real life.

His work in print­mak­ing is less well known, al­though it is ar­guably just as po­tent an ex­pres­sion of Rauschen­berg’s cross-dis­ci­plinary in­ter­ests. The medium’s abil­ity to com­bine hand-drawn and pho­to­graphic im­agery in a re­pro­ducible form was a per­fect fit with the artist’s eclec­tic aes­thetic.

“Rauschen­berg at Gemini,” at the Ar­mory Cen­ter for the Arts through March 21, fea­tures 51 works pro­duced be­tween 1967 and 2001 at the famed Los An­ge­les print­mak­ing stu­dio Gemini Graphic Edi­tions Lim­ited (G.E.L.). Organized by Ar­mory cu­ra­tor Jay Bel­loli, this lively, eye-open­ing sur­vey demon­strates how print­mak­ing was in­te­gral to Rauschen­berg’s prac­tice and presents a more in­ti­mate side of the iconic artist.

To be sure, some of the works are what you might ex­pect — flat­ter, less rau­cous com­pan­ions to Rauschen­berg’s paint­ings and col­lages. More ex­cit­ing are pieces that re­flect his se­ri­ous en­gage­ment with the medium and his ex­plo­ration of its lim­its.

Rauschen­berg’s first print at Gemini chal­lenged the medium’s tra­di­tion­ally mod­est scale. “Booster” from 1967 com­bines lithog­ra­phy and silkscreen in a life-size self-por­trait. X-rays of Rauschen­berg’s en­tire body are over­laid with a star chart, as­sorted me­dia im­agery and brushy scratches and scrawls. The ef­fect is both mon­u­men­tal and per­sonal — lit­er­ally a view “in­side” the artist.

Other works — in­clud­ing two small, oddly shaped white boxes that open up like al­tar­pieces — are not re­ally prints at all. Part of a se­ries called “PUBLICONS” from 1978, they con­tain sim­ple but in­scrutable ob­jects — a brick sus­pended on a chain, a golden oar with a blue light bulb af­fixed to its pad­dle. Lit from within, the boxes are lined with dif­fer­ent-col­ored and pat­terned fabrics that cre­ate a sub­tle, nu­mi­nous glow rem­i­nis­cent of color-field paint­ing. Rauschen­berg had wanted to be­come a min­is­ter when he was young, and th­ese works seem to be mys­te­ri­ous, sec­u­lar al­tars to mod­ern art.

The ver­sa­tile artist also played with print­mak­ing’s ca- pac­ity for re­pro­duc­tion and verisimil­i­tude. Most strik­ing in this re­gard are works in the 1971 “Card­bird” se­ries, as­sem­blages of card­board printed to look like, well, card­board. In a move rem­i­nis­cent of the “Com­bines” — only more util­i­tar­ian and funny — Rauschen­berg cov­ered a stan­dard in­te­rior door with pieces of card­board col­laged with pa­per that had been metic­u­lously printed to re­sem­ble the color, tex­ture and la­bel­ing of card­board boxes. The piece, which could ac­tu­ally func­tion as a door, looks like a ran­dom ac­cu­mu­la­tion of dis­carded boxes, com­plete with mail­ing la­bels and “this end up” ar­rows.

The re­dun­dancy of dis­guis­ing card­board as card­board evokes the ab­sur­dist sen­si­bil­ity of the early 20th cen­tury Dada move­ment (Rauschen­berg was la­beled “neo-Dada” early in his ca­reer) but also re­calls Pi­casso’s col­lages, with their mar­velous play on trompe l’oeil ef­fects and the de­flated, use­less house­hold fur­nish­ings of Claes Olden­burg. The piece also tin­kers with our ex­pecta- tions of the mul­ti­ple be­cause de­spite its ad hoc ap­pear­ance, it is one of sev­eral iden­ti­cal “prints.”

Works like th­ese — where we see Rauschen­berg ex­per­i­ment­ing and hav­ing fun — are the high­lights of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Al­though his rough col­lage aes­thetic no longer looks as fresh as it once did, his in­de­fati­ga­ble will­ing­ness to ex­per­i­ment and push the bound­aries of per­cep­tion and tech­ni­cal achieve­ment are still im­pres­sive.

cal­en­[email protected]­times.com

Ar­mory Cen­ter for the Arts

ON DIS­PLAY: From 1974, an off­set litho­graph and screen­print trans­ferred to a col­lage of pa­per bags, silk chif­fon and silk taf­feta that Rauschen­berg cre­ated at Gemini G.E.L.

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