Reflections and Ruminations at the Museum of Outdoor Arts presents one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of artwork by Robert Rauschenberg since his death in 2008.
Commonly associated with the Pop Art movement, Rauschenberg gained recognition in New York City collaborating with the likes of Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Rauschenberg helped to change the direction of contemporary art since the 1950s with his “combine” style of painting and sculpture, transgressing established conventions of abstraction. By incorporating three-dimensional objects like furniture with two-dimensional mediums like painting, these “combine” sculptures bring the viewer closer to the art. Most of the works in this exhibition date from the period after his move to Captiva Island on the west coast of Florida in 1970.
Reflections and Ruminations brings together a variety of his printmaking techniques, including lithography, intaglio, solvent transfer, and screen-printing. Several of the pieces integrate massive mirrored panels, on which he painted or mounted objects on. While the reflectivity makes them challenging to photograph, they each make it nearly impossible for the viewer not to see themselves in the artwork. According to the exhibition plaques, Rauschenberg used these materials to reflect back on his own life, along with images from his earlier days and his time in Florida. Some of the same images appear again in different works, building a certain pictorial language.
While only a few of his signature “combines” are on display, many of the works cross over into sculpture. Rauschenberg incorporated found objects into much of his art, including one work in the exhibition with a silver-painted chair mounted on the wall. Another sculptural work, titled “Barney Google Glut,” displays how Rauschenberg collected debris from the streets and made art with it. With folded sheets of metal and a vehicle license plate, this work juxtaposes industrial and urban aesthetics with more natural forms in the integrated cast metal roses and magnolias.
Employing transparency and layers of Lexan, a type of clear plastic, other works appear two-dimensional from afar despite several inches of space between different layers of images. Even the shadows cast on the back layers adds to the effect of dimensionality and enlivens the otherwise static images.
Over the course of the exhibition, the museum staff will rearrange Plexiglass panels in one of the works titled “Opal Gospel.” Resting out of reach from visitors inside a clear plastic cube, this work represents a so-called “tabletop interactive” in which the artwork never stays the same as more and more people manipulate it.
Venturing deeper into the museum, more works hide beyond the Cabinet of Curiosities & Impossibilities permanent installation, a tight hallway filled with innumerable surreal and gaudy objects. The Sound Room features a video projection with large-scale prints for an exhibition at Da Feng Gallery in Beijing, China. The Lotus series represents some of the last work made by Rauschenberg, inspired by the symbology of the lotus flower in Asian cultures.
Reflections and Ruminations remains on display until June 13, 2020. The Museum of Outdoor Arts is located on the second floor of the Englewood Civic Center, adjacent to Englewood Station. Tickets can be purchased in advance from the museum’s website.