Monday, November 15, 2010

Robert Rauschenberg at Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College: experiment in art, ed. Vincent Katz, 2002,
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

When I read that Gagosian Gallery now represents the estate of Robert Rauschenberg and is showing a museum quality retrospective exhibition of his work at their 21st Street Chelsea space, I came to think of the documentary film about Black Mountain College I did research for as an intern at David Royle Productions in New York in the early 1990s. I was only at the production company for a semester, and I never got to see the film finished, but I was fascinated by what I learned:

- Black Mountain College was such a magic place! Beautiful, as you can see from the picture above, and very important as a hub for artistic experimentation and collaboration in the early careers of great artists like John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and many others (...Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Denise Levertov...)

Robert Rauschenberg, "White Painting", 1951, Gagosian Gallery.

Robert Rauschenberg was adamant about distancing himself from the Abstract Expressionists. He wanted to minimize evidence of the artist's hand, and painted a series of all-white and a series of nearly black paintings. According to Vincent Katz in Black Mountain College: experiment in art, John Cage has said that Rauschenberg's white paintings gave him the push to compose 4'33'', his very important silent piece.

Many collaborative and experimental happenings were staged at Black Mountain College, and "Theater Piece No. 1" which John Cage "orchestrated" in 1952 is considered the first one. There was film, there were slides, Cage talked about music and Zen Buddhism from a stepladder, Cunningham and other dancers moved through and around the audience, and Rauschenberg's white paintings were suspended above.

Viola Farber in "Summerspace", 1958 by M. Cunningham,
Design: Robert Rauschenberg, Photo from: MONDOBLOGO

In 1958 he designed the set and costumes for Cunningham's "Summerspace", first performed in New London, CT, with music by Morton Feldman.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Bed", 1955
Museum of Modern Art, Photo:

And while he was still at Black Mountain College (the school closed in 1956), he acquired the quilt that he used in one of his first Combines (what he called the kind of works he is most famous for having made, in which he used found objects).

Tornsey and Elsley in their book Quilt Culture: Tracing the Pattern, p. 149:
The Log Cabin quilt used in Bed once belonged to artist Dorothea Rockburne. She recalls, "It was kind of special to me because I had it at the time my daughter Christine was born, and she used to spend a lot of time on it. I didn't actually give Bob the quilt, it just sort of appeared one day. We were living at Black Mountain College then, and when you sent the wash out things had a way of appearing and disappearing. I remember when I first saw the painting he had made of it I thought 'Oh! That's the quilt that I had!' It was a wonderful experience seeing it."

1 comment:

Gudrun and Iris said...

interesting! read up on rauschenberg straight away! every day you learn a little