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Rauschenberg dissenters

Post #1178 • May 15, 2008, 7:04 AM • 24 Comments

Because Tyler hasn't included them, here's Jed Perl, Roger Kimball, and Jack Shafer; I too will update as needed.

Rauschenberg's combines have a junky charm, and like many things done in the third quarter of the 20th Century, one can detect a background radiation of radicalism in them, however faintly it registers now and however quaint it looks in retrospect. I have never seen a two-dimensional work of his that didn't give the impression that one could lazily re-arrange the elements and produce something equally effective.

I saw him once as his assistant wheeled him through the opening for his show at the Miami Art Museum (for which I wrote a blurb). Despite his physical state, he beamed his famous winning smile and took himself not at all seriously. That grin made an impression on me. On the occasion of his passing I wish I could say the same about his work.




May 15, 2008, 7:17 AM

Oops, I guess the link I left on the last post was a minute too late...



May 15, 2008, 7:19 AM

Man, that Kimball piece is riddled with typos...



May 15, 2008, 9:40 AM

I have a hard time with both sides.

I first met Rauschenberg in 1966 when I was on a panel with him. He was instantly likeable and things happened on the panel which only enhanced this. Every contact I had with him was entirely pleasant if not outright enjoyable.

He was a way better artist than either Johns or Warhol. He thought like an artist much more fundamentally than most artists I know and he really did have an excellent sense of design and an inventive mentality. Even the things he said were laced with ingenious and amusing twists on the subject.

The problem is less with Rauschenbertg that with the art world. He was not a great artist, but the art world has made him one, and they blather unmercifully about him like those dreadful talking-head PBS-type "tributes" to famous actors.
They go on about the "art and life" BS and neglect the thngs he did well, which were basically the old-fashioned stuff.

I think he was a good guy and a fairly good artist. I suspect history will take care of the rest.



May 15, 2008, 9:45 AM

I would also take his work over Johns's and Warhol's, especially the former.



May 15, 2008, 10:12 AM

I dug up the review. See also.



May 15, 2008, 10:45 AM

You might also like Laurie Fendrich's take...


Chris Rywalt

May 15, 2008, 11:48 AM

Rauschenberg always struck me as a goof, and I mean that in a good way. Not his work, which always seemed kind of worthless to me, but his persona. He seemed to be having fun. I saw him in a documentary from the 1960s, I think it was. I forget the name of it, but it was pretty lousy, filled with Johns and de Kooning and Newman and so on being all serious, and in the middle of it there was Rauschenberg, who seemed to be laughing. I mean, to take a drawing from the ultra-important de Kooning and erase it just to annoy him -- gotta love it. I especially remember a very young Frank Stella in the film and he was so damned portentous and overweening I wanted to throw something at him, and that was basically what Rauschenberg seemed to be doing.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Andy Warhol, possibly because I read James Warhola's Uncle Andy's, which was so charming and presented Andy as an eccentric goofball who was just having fun -- I mean, he lets the kids play with his wig -- that I decided I liked him just for that.

It does seem to me, sometimes, that the art world -- the media world in general -- takes what it wants from people and shapes the stuff into whatever it feels like, leaving the actual humans behind. Usually I find the original humans much more interesting and arresting.



May 15, 2008, 1:37 PM

A quote from "Painter's Painting"

"My paintings are an invitation to look somewhere else...and they have been for a long time..."

You gotta love it. Never met him or anything close. Have seen a handful of videos pertaining to varied topics. Opie's comments seem to back what I saw in his character in the vids. Seemed pretty freed up as far as taking himself too seriously goes.

Far and away he was better than the other two mentioned. In school I had a crush on his 'hoarfrost' series and some other flattened box pieces that helped along an early enthusiasm i had for shaped paintings...


Chris Rywalt

May 15, 2008, 2:11 PM

I think Painters Painting may be the movie I was thinking of.



May 15, 2008, 2:48 PM

Yeah that movie's great. RR is just a lil' tipsy, me thinks. Pretty well everyone's sipping drinks for that matter. There is a really indicting interview with Johns, and Castelli comes across pretty dodgy too. Warhol gives his interview with his back turned. But there are some great interviews with old moderns too - Greenberg, Noland, Newman, de Kooning, Stella, Frankenthaler, to name a few.



May 15, 2008, 3:15 PM

He was stoned out of his mind. Wasn't that the one where he is sitting on a ladder? I kept waiting for him to fall off.

It's actually a terrible film but it is fun to watch.



May 15, 2008, 8:31 PM

Ya, he's sitting on the ladder with that mad golden child grin the whole time...

...and a deadly serious Barnett Newman talks about some of Cezanne's apples..."these were cannonballs!"

It's no great film but it rocked me good as a BFA...seeing this little Stella fella with a stogie jazzed and running on about what comes next was pretty inspiring.



May 15, 2008, 8:38 PM

oh my god...and John Belushi, I mean Larry Poons has this maniac multifloor set-up and he's in the middle of cropping out some big stuff and it's madness...can't figure out how to get the stuck canvas off his studio floor and has to roll it on a monster

and de Kooning is totally fried.



May 16, 2008, 6:43 AM

And Newman is sipping his glass of "water".

And Olitski has a death grip on some small, unidentifiable animal the whole time.

Wasn't the camera focused on the back of Johns's head? And the studio noise drowned out the talk, which probably needed to be drowned out? And some cat or dog walking past all the time?

I will have to look at it again. When I used to show it in my AE class I gave the students the following multiple choice test question:

The video we watched - "Painters Painting" - should be retitled (circle one):
1. Painters not really painting much at all
2. The soundtrack from Hell
3. How the American flag saved me from the looney bin
4. How to stay on a ladder when you are too stoned to talk straight
5. Even Andy would have done better than this
6. Frank Stella talks for a half hour without taking a breath
7. Learning from Larry: How to crop out the good stuff & keep the rest
8. Listen while Willem whistles while he works (say this fast 10 times)
9. Film clinic 101: how not to make a documentary
10. Artists are not very bright
11. Don't like modern art? This won't help!
12. Barnett Newman pretends it's water he's drinking
13. Abstract Expressionism: Is it caused by smoking?
14. Radical techniques: Olitski paints with a small dog
15. You are a bad girl, Helen. Go sit in the corner




May 16, 2008, 6:54 AM

Thanks opie. Woke to your last comment this morning...almost had coffee shoot out my nose reading it. Wish I'd been in your class for that one.


Chris Rywalt

May 16, 2008, 8:42 AM

For those of you with the time and technical know-how, Painters Painting is available for download via BitTorrent.

I'll re-watch it as soon as I can. Probably before I've finished George Romero's Dead series, but maybe after I've caught up with the latest episodes of Dr. Who. Although I don't like the new companion.



May 16, 2008, 8:54 AM

Romero's Dead series is utter genius. The last one, Land of the Dead, was a big disappointment though. At least I felt that way.


Chris Rywalt

May 16, 2008, 9:32 AM

I remember being on the younger side -- maybe high school -- when my dad brought me home a lousy VHS colorized version of Night of the Living Dead. All I really remember is it scared the bejeezus out of me, but now I can't remember why, except that the box art was creepy. I'm not even sure I watched it all the way through, honestly.

I started watching the movie earlier this week in its nice DVD-quality (probably restored and remastered) version and, um, I can't figure out what scared me so badly. Maybe it gets worse -- I haven't been able to watch the whole thing yet. All I can think is that maybe the film is scarier when it's a poor copy, because then you can't see how normal-looking the zombies are and all. I mean, the first zombie who menaces Barbara, I can't even figure out how we're supposed to tell he's a zombie. He just looks pale and like his suit is a little dirty. I look more like a zombie when I dress up for a wedding!

Back when the remake of Dawn of the Dead was coming out, I watched a preview of the first fifteen minutes on TV. Now that scared the bejeezus out of me! Still does, actually, when I think about it. I understand the remake went downhill from there, but, wow, those fifteen minutes were intense.

I've got the Night and Dawn remakes here to get through as well, so maybe I will after I've been through the originals. If I find time.



May 16, 2008, 2:31 PM

Dawn is the best of the original Dead trilogy. Day is pretty good. The scenes that bothered me the most from the original Night is when the newly turned daughter stabs her mother to death with a garden tool in the basement. That was his student film made with no money so cut him some slack. It is a very origonal film that seems cliche ridden because of the influence it has had. The remake of Dawn was pretty good. The opening sequence which takes place in suburbia, and involved another little girl that turns on mom and dad was great. There is also an excellent montage during the opening credits. But the rest is pretty bad. I am glad that they didn't cop out and place a happy ending on it.


Chris Rywalt

May 16, 2008, 3:58 PM

I would not for an instant claim that Night of the Living Dead is anything less than a classic, even if I don't remember most of it (hey, the last time I saw it I was a virgin), if only because so many of my movie heroes (like Roger Ebert and Glenn Erickson) say it's a classic. I know it was made very cheaply, and a long time ago, and in Pittsburgh, so I'm not criticizing it when I say the zombies don't look all that zombie-riffic. I'm just not sure why I was so frightened back when I first saw it. I mean, I remember that Alien scared my PJs off when it first came out -- and all I saw was the TV commercial! By the time I saw the movie, wow, it freaked me out. Last time I saw it, I wasn't as scared by it, but I could see how I was.

And The Shining: Still scary as all hell.

But I'm just not sure why Night scared me. I can see how it might have been something else way back in the seventeenth century (wasn't it out right after Hamlet was written?) when it was made, but I'm not sure why I'd crap my pants in 1986.

Anyway. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's really good for its budget and time, but it's limited by same.

Then again, I remember seeing just a few minutes of the original Nosferatu on a tiny tiny B&W TV when I was really young, and thinking about it still frightens me. And another movie that scared me badly was Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things which, it turns out, is one of the stupidest, crappiest, lamest Night of the Living Dead rip-offs ever made.

But Zombie Strippers looks awesome. I mean, how could anyone be disappointed by a movie with that title? If the movie's got strippers, and zombies, and strippers who become zombies, well, hell, you got your money's worth! And then, if the zombie strippers strip, even better!

I think, though, that the scariest thing about that movie is most likely that there's some director out there who made a truly great movie from the very depths of their heart, an absolute masterpiece, which will never, ever be released because Sony's too busy putting out Zombie Strippers.



May 16, 2008, 5:15 PM

Chris there is no way you can travel back in time and re-enter the frame of mind you were in back then. Can I re-experience the utter sense of terror I felt when I saw this creepy old lady from The House on Haunted Hill glide in and out of the frame, when I was a kid? No way. But this image and the strange movements the filmmaker achieved gave me freaking nightmares for years.


Chris Rywalt

May 16, 2008, 7:28 PM

Yeah, I know. I get down when I think of all the things my memory has lost over the years. Some things stick -- like being sick with the flu, up late, lying in my great-aunt Daisy's bed watching Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things on a fuzzy old TV at the foot of the bed and being scared witless by the zombies climbing into the rowboat to head for the mainland. And other things don't -- like watching Night of the Living Dead (which I'm not sure I did).

I mean, I remember and forget many more important things, too. I think. I'm not sure right now. I think I need to talk to my doctor about my medication.



May 17, 2008, 3:57 AM

Also, remembering won't be the same as when you were actually gettting the shit scared out of you back then. The naivete and imagination needed for that are things of the past. Our imaginations tend to focus on other things at this point in life, if you know what I mean.


Bob ragland

May 19, 2008, 10:47 AM

Rauschenberg was a cool guy and artist in my opinion. Reading the negative comments about his work ,reminds me that no matter what you do , somebody wont like it. That's life.



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