New York

Robert Rauschenberg

Sonnabend Gallery

Robert Rauschenberg, that naughty truant from the New York School, in his exhibition of silks collaged on to rag paper (with photo images superimposed by solvent transfer), reminds me of the uroboros worm, who lives by devouring its own tail, constantly feeding on itself. I don’t expect that every show by an artist be a hit (.300 is a pretty good average in baseball, and it would be a fabulous average in artball) but this miss is so prominent as to be astonishing—in quite the negative sense of the word.

These are a regurgitation of the Combines and photomontages of earlier Rauschenberg, but he used to be tough-minded: and this stuff is dainty. Daintiness is terrific; Rauschenberg’s “Hoarfrost” series was full of awe for the veiled mysteries of gauzy fabric, but almost any bolt of cloth in the schmatta district has more allusiveness than these fabric pieces. He has flattened and taken the allure out of the material. The transferred images of the new work are neither graphic enough in form nor meaty enough in content to carry the freight demanded by Rauschenberg’s composition. They remind me of nothing so much as a creative bulletin board assembled by a Home Ec teacher, and the nicest thing that can be said about them is that they are pallid homages to Miriam Schapiro’s recent work where she uses diaphanous fabric.

Why are these so far afield? Every element is denatured. Fabric isn’t draped (Schapiro doesn’t drape hers, either, but she layers fabric on top of fabric so there’s a sense of density), the photo-images have no resolution, and the compositions have no dynamic. It’s a painful show to look at because all the individual elements cloud over and have no staying power.

Carrie Rickey