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Fruitful Talent Who Made Art World Multiply

November 28, 2010

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

“Robert Rauschenberg,” a survey at Gagosian Gallery, includes “Palladian Xmas” (1980), with acrylic, fabric and collage on wood. More Photos »


Robert Rauschenberg, the subject of a chock-a-block time capsule of a show at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, was an optimist and a doer. He not only did what artists normally do: make paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs. He also did the work of performers, musicians, philanthropists and career politicians.

He danced, composed, gave away money and initiated diplomatic missions, always on behalf of art. He believed that if he, or we, or anyone could just produce enough art, then art and life would be the same thing, and the world would change for the better. So, committed universal citizen that he was, he kept trying to make enough.

He made a lot. He was blessed with sunny energy, immense talent and an unstoppable creative flow, the equivalent of stream of consciousness in literature. For years on end, that stream rushed forward, turning whatever it swept up — childhood memories, art history, street junk, nature, the daily news — into gold. Then for stretches, and quite lengthy ones, it meandered and pooled. Even then, the flow never stopped. In a six-decade career, Rauschenberg turned out more than 6,000 works of art, some of preposterous size and ambition.

Gagosian Gallery thinks big too, and bigger than usual in its series of museum-style exhibitions in Chelsea over the last few years. In early 2009 there was a Piero Manzoni survey. No one knew it was coming, and there it was, a knockout, invaluable, a reminder of all the artists we should be looking at and aren’t. A year later, in what felt like another miracle of spontaneous generation, we got late Monet, an artist we look at very often, but rarely, as here, in sunset light. “Robert Rauschenberg,” with 49 works dating from 1950 to 2007, the year before the artist’s death, is on the same scale as those shows, but different. For one thing, it doesn’t come out of nowhere: it follows hard on the news that Gagosian, in a commercial coup, would be handling the Rauschenberg estate. For another, most of what’s in the exhibition is for sale, which wasn’t the case with Manzoni or Monet.

Read more at: Art Review: Fruitful Talent Who Made Art World Multiply

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