Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville (4 stars)

This article is from 2011

Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville

Sparkling post-industrial dance on gleaming surfaces

Inverleith House has long carved a niche for itself as a champion of late 20th century American icons, and for the gallery’s British Art Show contribution has gathered up a grab-bag of 37 works made between 1982 and 1998 by Abstract Expressionism’s original skip-diving grease monkey. This late-period collection is a fast-moving mixture of shine-buffed collages and rust-laden sculptural detritus, as if junkyard and garage had been stripped bare after some Ballardian multiple pile-up on the freeway, then the component parts put back together again on some customised Frankenstein’s dragstrip as ornamental signposts forever in motion.

Twisted road-signs are heaped together, connecting up neighbourhoods and no-go areas that one would normally be just passing through. A giant pig is draped in neckties. A windmill made of metal strips dominates one room as if oil was just a hidden drill away. On the walls, mirror images on bronze and brass dazzle like cut-up wall-hangings at a postmodern diner that should be soundtracked by some Link Wray twang on the big-fendered car stereo as its boy-racer occupants go cruising up the strip, so steeped in suggestions of blue-collar teen romance are they.

With the wall-pieces rounded up from the ‘Shiner’ and ‘Borealis’ series of works, and the more sculptural constructions from ‘Kabal American Zephyr’ and ‘Gluts’, it all adds up to some sharp-edged re-imagining of the American Dream with bent out of shape street signs on a mashed-up grid system where playing in traffic is suddenly as safe as houses. In the sunlit quietude of Inverleith House, this transforms into a Zenned-out road movie that surfs silently through the ether rather than cause any kind of congestion.

Rauschenberg’s death in 2008 may have robbed us of the world’s foremost architect of re-imagined urban arcana, but as Botanical Vaudeville proves, even a decade before, the road he travelled was as expansively of the moment as ever. The show’s couldn’t-be-better title piece sums it up. This is work as play, a post-industrial dance on gleaming surfaces that sparkles before zooming into the ether.

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, 248 2971, until 2 Oct, free.

Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville

  • 4 stars

The first large-scale UK solo show of Rauschenberg's work consists mostly of art dating from the 1980s and 1990s.

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