Robert Rauschenberg

Galleria Il Gabbiano

In this show Robert Rauschenberg presented ten medium- and large-scale pieces executed specifically for Rome. This can be considered a gesture of generosity and respect for the work ethic on the part of the artist; however, these paintings offer nothing new. Nevertheless, there is a positive aspect to this, not only in terms of the coherence of an almost forty-year-old esthetic, but particularly because Rauschenberg doesn’t make us witness a forced and embarrassing updating that artists with long careers so often feel compelled to produce.

In these works the background images depict advertising posters and scenes of urban life, portions of historical buildings, and classical statues. Above each of these fleeting, sometimes out-of-focus images, Rauschenberg has dropped a stain of paint, made with an unfettered, irregular brush stroke. This connection between the underlying image—bleeding to the surface—and the colored stain is strengthened by the fact that in some of the works a large portion of the surface is left white and free of any intervention. These images always reproduce details—and this is typical of Rauschenberg’s working process—as if the whole were no longer attainable. It is why Rauschenberg creates an urban art par excellence, for in our cities we live in a fragmented social reality, a world of details. We proceed with life by accumulating these details, adding fragment upon fragment, piece upon piece, apparently without any logic except the unfathomable one of chaos. In Rauschenberg’s work, one image can enter another, and even when one maintains its own recognizable identity, it seems to observe, to wink at whatever image is nearby, like two strangers transformed by fate into accomplices. The works here had no frames; they were perforated with small metal grommets and hung directly on the walls, which made them seem almost like sails for a ship ready to weigh anchor. This was not just a technical detail, for this method helped to emphasize the extreme lightness of the color. Coming from an almost Impressionist palette, the paint is placed on the surface and on the images as if it were dust, even if the tonality is dark and shadowy. All this imparts a unique lightness to these urban landscapes, which are able to carry the memory of their own past (the statues, the ancient palaces), not as a weight, but as a further creative possibility of the imagination.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.