Exhibition Proposal: “Mother of God: Robert Rauschenberg and the Birth of Minimalism, 1949-1984” by Guillaume Vandame
“Mother of God: Robert Rauschenberg and the Birth of Minimalism, 1949-1984” surveys Robert Rauschenberg’s earlier works in relation to the development of minimalism and conceptualism in the United States from the 1950s through the early 1980s.
The exhibition takes its name from Rauschenberg’s work of art Mother of God (1951) and considers some of the key themes introduced in his earlier works including purity of color and form; structure and order; spirituality and the spatial relationship between the individual and the environment. Through a series of four individual galleries, this ground-breaking survey explores Rauschenberg’s influence on four modern American artists: Louise Nevelson, Brice Marden, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin.
The first space focuses on the dialogue between Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson, both of whom sought to repurpose everyday ephemera into new works of art. In 1960, Nevelson was featured alongside Rauschenberg in the exhibition “Sixteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rauschenberg’s use of assemblage, concrete shapes such as the circle and monochromatic painting in black and white found in works such as Mother of God and Untitled (1952) is echoed in the contemporary works of Nevelson including Cascade (1964) and Dawn’s Presence – Two Columns (1969-1975).
The second space highlights Rauschenberg’s pivotal relationship with Brice Marden, who was hired as his studio assistant. In 1968, Marden completely repainted Rauschenberg’s monumental series of white paintings for the exhibition White Paintings, 1951, at Leo Castelli Gallery. Between 1968 and 1972, Marden completed No Test and Fave two monumental monochromatic paintings made from oil and beeswax. Rauschenberg’s influence can be seen in Marden’s austere colors, detached style, and, perhaps most importantly a similar format: Rauschenberg’s earlier paintings were seventy-two by thirty-six inches each, while Marden’s later paintings were each seventy-two by thirty-three inches.
The third space connects Robert Rauschenberg’s emphasis on purity and freedom with the modular works of Sol LeWitt. In 1960, the same year Nevelson and Rauschenberg showed together, LeWitt was working at the Museum of Modern Art, where he met and befriended Flavin. LeWitt was known to make structures from monochromatically painted wood and his emphasis on the color white for his earlier works. For example, Rauschenberg’s White Painting (Four Panel) (1951) makes use of the seriality and minimal format LeWitt used in such works as Floor Piece (1976) while Rauschenberg’s Crucifixion and Reflection (1950) provides a direct link with LeWitt’s later sculptures such as 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 Cross and Tower (1984).
Finally, the fourth space looks at the relationship between Rauschenberg and Dan Flavin. As a master of minimalism, Flavin was known for his appropriation of industrial incandescent and fluorescent lights and repurposing these forms as sculptures and installations including The Diagonal of May 25, 1963 (1963) and “monument” for V. Tatlin (1969). In addition, Flavin’s ability to create such strong light was evocative of transcendence and spiritual enlightenment, a theme present in Rauschenberg’s earlier works such as the photograph, Quiet House – Black Mountain (1949).
Through these different juxtapositions, this exhibition provides a revised understanding of Rauschenberg’s earlier work and his continued legacy in the twentieth century.