Robert Rauschenberg

Feigen Incorporated

Robert Rauschenberg began his series of “Gluts” sculptures following a 1985 visit to his native Texas, where the economy had recently been ravaged by a sharp downturn in the oil market. Expansive boom years ended suddenly as a result of the international oil glut that undermined the price of Texas’ most stable cash crop. Everywhere Rauschenberg traveled he witnessed the visual echoes of prosperity cast asunder, most particularly in the curiously poetic remnants of abandoned industrial equipment that bears mute but poignant witness to the collapse of a multilevel and interdependent system. For him, crushed signs, junked cars, forgotten implements, and unendingly various bits of exhausted metal, all registered this desolation and tragedy.

In these sculptures, Rauschenberg exhibits an extraordinary sensitivity to weight, shape, volume, function, and silhouette as well as to the resonance of industrial detritus. Rauschenberg’s source material—culled from various areas and most recently Florida—reflects a sense of backwater destitution more than urban desolation; the objects he brings together come from places where technology temporarily imposed itself upon nature and then failed, leaving only ghosts behind.

Due to a shift of emphasis in Rauschenberg’s working practice, these bent and twisted pieces of metal retain much of the aura of their earlier status. Where at other moments in his career his interventions might include the direct application of paint, here he restricts his interaction to that of the discoverer. These “Gluts” are true collages, assemblages of found, and occasionally manipulated, objects that in their current conjunction generate new (as well as old) meanings. In most instances Rauschenberg presents these sculptures as reliefs, with the elements he employs exhibiting their scars and altered status with calm equanimity. At other moments—in Gooey Duck Late Summer Glut, 1987, for example—gravity seems to enhance the exhausted quality of his materials as they collapse toward the floor or momentarily prop themselves up. Here, in a way, Rauschenberg shifts from functioning as a composer to acting as a conductor; his source material is so redolent with meanings that it becomes sufficient for him to discover and reveal them.

There is an aspect of benign acceptance all through these pieces—a zenlike complicity with the ways of the world—that has long been characteristic of Rauschenberg’s work. Whether his “Gluts” use a battered railroad sign to mimic his own initials as in Untitled, 1989, or string bits of metal and trashed autos across a wall as in Easter Deutschland Glut, 1987, these pieces know no irony or bitterness. Instead, they seem to embrace our technological condition, revealing the charged perfume of the instant fossil.

James Yood