"Gloria: Robert Rauschenberg & Rachel Harrison": Cleveland Museum of Art

By Hatton, Brynn | Artforum International, December 2015 | Go to article overview

"Gloria: Robert Rauschenberg & Rachel Harrison": Cleveland Museum of Art


Hatton, Brynn, Artforum International


"Gloria: Robert Rauschenberg & Rachel Harrison"

CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART

The choice to exhibit Rachel Harrison's sculpture/painting hybrids and drawings of the past decade or so alongside Robert Rauschenberg's Combines of the 1950s and '60s has elicited resistance from more than a few critics. That resistance, in the opinion of curator Beau Rutland, is knee-jerk, stemming primarily from the notion that the pairing is "almost too good to be true." And it would be too good to be true, were one to read the works of these artists in only the most basic of formalist and historicist terms. Both Harrison and Rauschenberg harvest the expendable, everyday materials of American consumerism, popular media, and celebrity culture, and incorporate them into the genres of traditionally "high" art: oil painting, statuary, and the like. And while it is also true that the 1956 Rauschenberg piece that gave the exhibition its title could have been made yesterday--with a Kardashian swapped in for the eponymous Vanderbilt, perhaps--the interaction of the works of these artists within the intimate Focus Gallery of the Cleveland Museum of Art suggested a conversation rather than a call for a formal comparison. One got the sense that Harrison and Rauschenberg might have gotten along as people. Both artists' sensibilities--their ways of being in the world, the ways they observed both it and themselves--combine an acute self-awareness with a lack of self-seriousness. An energy reverberated back and forth between Rauschenberg's midcentury riffs on an America high on the fumes of Fordism and Hollywood (the squarish, medium-size paintings Rhyme, 1956, and Painting with Red Letter S, 1957, both of which joined Gloria) and Harrison's three twenty-first-century humanoid forms standing at or just above human scale, the enfants terribles of advanced capitalism run amok (two of which, Stella 1,2006, and Hans Haacke with Sculpture, 2005, were precariously balanced and on the verge of apparent collapse).

Both artists also execute careful and exacting techniques within compositions that deliberately self-sabotage, often to humorous effect. To construct Gloria, Rauschenberg cut three sides of a small, pristine square out of the center of a stretched canvas, then incautiously ripped the fourth side, shellacking the ragged edge ever so imperfectly into place. …

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