robert rauschenberg at York Quay Gallery (235 Queen's Quay West) to November 4. 416-973-5379. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
ever since he burst onto the New York scene in the late 40s, fresh from Black Mountain College and perfectly poised to define the cusp between Modernism and postmodernism, proto Pop icon Robert Rauschenberg has defined the best of what America has to offer the art world. The 1998 mega-retrospective staged at multiple venues by the Guggenheim Museum set a record as the largest ever held for a living artist and helped hurl Rauschenberg right back to the centre of celebrity.
He's being feted as part of Harbourfront Centre's World Leaders series (his talk/tribute is October 15), and York Quay Gallery gets with the program by hosting a Rauschenberg show through the series' run. Not a show of his trademark multimedia Combines, mind you, or of his groundbreaking prints, but a show of rare black-and-white photographs.
"I think the reason Harbourfront chose to exhibit photos is mostly budget-based," Rauschenberg candidly tells NOW.
But if photography feels like a marginal part of his output, it remains one of his favourites. In fact, Rauschenberg's first sale to a museum was two photos Edward Steichen bought for the Museum of Modern Art.
"Ever since I learned photography at Black Mountain College, I've loved it and using it. Photography is an economical instant studio that travels well."
It's the portability factor that prompted the art star to take a still camera on the road for his Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, which included stops in Cuba, Japan, Thailand, Morocco, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela through the 80s. Images from that trip are seen in this show.
So are early pieces from the 50s, portraits of famous friends like Merce Cunningham and Cy Twombly. But there's a 15-year gap between works like his 1955 Laundry, NYC and 1980's Charleston, SC, even though both are inspired streetscapes.
"It may appear that I stopped photographing several times in my life. True, my first attempt to build a darkroom in New York City was overthrown by my living conditions. My chemicals stayed frozen all winter.
"True again, the only camera I ever used was stolen," he states, recounting how he finally replaced his beloved Rollei with a Cannon.
"Now it's anything I can work."