Robert Rauschenberg: Night Shades and Phantoms

Installation views of Phantoms (all 1991) in the Chapel, the artist’s former studio. Robert Rauschenberg, Night Shades and Phantoms, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, NY, March 14 – July 19, 2019. Photos: Chris Murtha.

Over the past year, I had the opportunity to research, plan, and develop an exhibition at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation with my Hunter College colleagues, Daniela Mayer, Lucy Riley, Joseph Shaikewitz, and Melissa Waldvogel, under the guidance of our distinguished professor, art historian and curator Emily Braun.

The exhibition, which opened on March 14 and will close on July 19, is the first to exclusively focus on Rauschenberg’s Night Shades and Phantoms, two distinct but related series of “metal paintings” from 1991. Produced on brushed and mirrored aluminum panels, these silkscreens are composed exclusively of the artist’s own photographs, which were captured on travels at home and abroad from 1979-1991. Rauschenberg’s photographs replaced those he previously appropriated from mass media print sources, shifting the frame of reference in his paintings from the public realm of current events and popular culture to one more defined by the artist’s personal experiences.

The Night Shades are distinguished by Rauschenberg’s application of Aluma Black, an oxidizing agent that immediately tarnished the aluminum surface, revealing and concealing the artist’s matter-of-fact images. In the spectral Phantoms, the faint screens compete with the transient reflections that enter the frame, which inherently include the viewer. Produced on the heels of three separate retrospective exhibitions, these ethereal works allude to Rauschenberg’s artistic past and, by conjuring the foggy realm of memory, address the difficulties of looking back.

“Photosensitive Rauschenberg,” my essay on the centrality of photography to these works and much of the artist’s creative output, will be included in the forthcoming exhibition catalogue.

Installation view with Vanities (Night Shade), 1991. Robert Rauschenberg, Night Shades and Phantoms, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, NY, March 14 – July 19, 2019. Photo: Chris Murtha.

Shared Vibrations: Matthew Ronay

Matthew Ronay, Sagged Silver Cybernation with Sentry (2018). Installation view from Betrayals of and by the Body, Casey Kaplan, NY, April 30 - June 15, 2019. Photo: Chris Murtha.

My article on Matthew Ronay was published in the Summer 2019 issue of Mousse Magazine on the occasion of Betrayals of and by the Body, his recent exhibition of technicolor basswood sculptures at Casey Kaplan in New York. Below is a brief excerpt but the full article can be read here.

Ronay’s sculptures conjure bodies that are not only human but hybridized entities, evoking molecular biology, physiological mechanisms, underwater landscapes, cybernetic networks, and fantastical architecture. The artist turns these bodies inside out, revealing processes of reproduction, communication, and circulation. […] As one moves around them, the works unfold their mysterious processes, develop, and even seem to pulse with life.

Installation view of Matthew Ronay, Betrayals of and by the Body, Casey Kaplan, NY, April 30 - June 15, 2019. Photo: Chris Murtha.

Morsel: Robert Breer's Floating Gumdrop

Robert Breer's Osaka I (1970) in MoMA's Sculpture Garden, July 2018. Photo: Chris Murtha

The subtlety of Robert Breer’s whimsical Osaka I, which is currently on view in the Museum of Modern Art’s Sculpture Garden, stands in contrast to most kinetic art. Powered by car batteries—a nice nod to the artist’s father who was an engineer for Chrysler—the sculpture moves at a rate of 2 ½ feet per minute. Slow enough to go unnoticed. That is until you walk away and return to find it several feet from where you swear it was just standing.

Having noticed that, you stop to look at the sculpture—one of what the artist called “floats” or “motorized mollusks.” Staring at it, your eyes start to blur and your head gets a little funny because it’s subtle enough to make you question your vision and memory. It’s like trying to see the moon move.

A woman sitting in a nearby chair starts to get uncomfortable when she realizes she is sitting way too close to the art. “Wait,” she thinks, “is this art? And did I approach it or did it approach me?” To be safe, she moves to another seat. Several eons later, the giant white gumdrop nudges the woman’s former chair and politely reverses course—looking for other visitors to unseat or unsettle, silently menacing the garden.

Robert Breer's "floats" amid Nakaya Fujiko's fog sculpture, Pepsi Pavilion, Expo '70, Osaka, Japan.

After establishing himself as a filmmaker specializing in experimental abstract animations, Robert Breer (1926-2011) started producing motorized sculptures in 1964. Osaka I was initially exhibited at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, as one of seven "floats" installed outside the Pepsi Pavilion, which was organized by E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology). Later that year, it was exhibited in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden (from August 20, 1970 to April 11, 1971) and was acquired by the museum in 1971. It currently finds itself roaming the garden again as part of the Peter Fischli-curated “If Everything Is Sculpture Why Make Sculpture?

Robert Breer's Osaka I installed in MoMA's Sculpture Garden in 1970. Photo from MoMA's online archives.

Morsels are a series of brief texts—ruminations—on a single work of art.

On Lutz Bacher for Artforum

I reviewed Lutz Bacher's The Long March—an exhibition that examines cult of personality via Mao Zedong—at New York University's 80 Washington Square East Gallery. The following is a selection of my digitally “scribbled” notes from Open the Kimono, a slide show of Bacher's hand-written jottings, “lessons” culled from mass media presented in a nearby lecture hall. Read my review for Artforum at the link below.

Weaponizing the media

Your focus needs more focus

One cannot speak truth to power if power has no use for truth

Perhaps she’s tired of being Queen

Results may vary

Nobody needs to die tonight

How far is this from normal?

Human resource exploitation manual

I feel motivated

You’ll find you have the power to move the very earth itself

We have a human problem in addition
to a technology problem

Tornado of impulses

This was still America

Lutz Bacher
The Long March
80 Washington Square East Gallery
On view through September 8

All images: Lutz Bacher, The Long March, 2017, series of framed cards, paint on walls; installed at 80 Washington Square East Gallery, NY, June 21 – September 8, 2018. Photos: Chris Murtha.

For those interested in seeing more of Bacher's work, her FIRE (2016) is currently on view through August 19 in Readymades Belong to Everyone, the inaugural exhibition in Swiss Institute's new location. Additionally, the basement gallery is painted in a similar manner as the walls at 80WSE: various shades of gray in one light coat—an untitled work credited to Dusty Baker, likely another alias for an artist who already operates under a nom de plum.

Morsel: Duchamp's Marzipan Arcimboldo

Like the insects drawn to the marzipan fruits and veggies in Marcel Duchamp’s late work Sculpture-morte, we too are endlessly attracted to such saccharine artifice, the all-too-real.

But are the flies in this trompe-l'œil attracted to the image of the fruit (as a viewer is to a painting) or the sweet aroma of the marzipan? And are the flies plastic or rubber—the kind used in a practical joke—or made of marzipan as well?

It seems unlikely—or worse, unsettling—that both predator and prey would be made from the same sugary substance. What form of cannibalism would that be, in which the mirage consumes itself?

Both images: Marcel Duchamp, Sculpture-morte, 1959, insects with marzipan fruit, vegetables, and bread on board-mounted paper, in glass box, 13 1/4 x 9 x 2 1/4 inches; Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Morsels are a series of brief texts—ruminations—on a single work of art. This one is un morceau pour Marcel.