You Can Take It With You: Art and Time Travel after Rauschenberg

Oliver Shultz
Oct 20, 2014 7:49AM

Robert Rauschenberg called many places home over the course of his long career, but his work remains indelibly associated with New York City. In the early 1970s, however, Rauschenberg departed New York for the idyllic environs of Captiva, a sparsely developed island off Florida’s Gulf Coast. No longer surrounded by New York’s landscape of urban detritus, which had provided readymade materials for iconic works like Collection (1954-5), Rauschenberg turned from found objects to ones that he had brought with him. He proceeded to transform the cardboard boxes in which the contents of his studio had been shipped into a series of whimsical geometric wall reliefs, works which today are among the most important examples of post-minimal art. Testaments to his ingenuity and resourcefulness, these cardboard sculptures are also objects charged with a profound sense of nostalgia. As traces of Rauschenberg’s physical and psychic displacement, they transform humble shipping containers from merely utilitarian things into artifacts of longing and remembrance.

This exhibition is organized around one such work: Rauschenberg’s Rosalie/Red Cheek/Temporary Letter/Stock (Cardboard) of 1971. It takes this cardboard construction as a touchstone, exploring the ways in which contemporary art after Rauschenberg engaged questions of distance and proximity, evoked feelings of longing and belonging, and probed the political and affective stakes of displacement. Like Rauschenberg’s transformed boxes, which linked his current milieu with a prior one, the works in this exhibition attest to experiences of loss and displacement while also standing as artifacts and traces of that loss.

The exhibition includes Rauschenberg’s own works as well as those of other artists. In each case, the works surveyed engage questions of distance, proximity, travel and temporality, speaking at times directly and at others tacitly to Rauschenberg’s own approach. Whether in pressing himself against blueprint paper to produce indexical images of his body or by making visible the movement of an automobile’s tire by capturing it in a deeply corporeal process of printing, Rauschenberg was already exploring questions of proximity and temporality in the early 1950s that would influence later artists for decades. The exhibition travels back in time with Rauschenberg’s works to examine these resonances, situating his early practice in the context of other engagements with questions of distance, proximity, and presence, such as Marcel Duchamp’s  infamous Boîte-en-Valise—a portable archive of the artist’s oeuvre—or Yoko  Ono’s Grapefruit, a script that enabled the actualization of her performances anywhere she might go. Segueing to the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, the exhibition explores how later generation of artists engaged similar dynamics by mining affective iconographies of travel and distant communication, as in allegorical works by Isa Genzken and Moyra Davey. Works by younger artists also explore tensions between temporality and memory, as in Christian Boltanski’s photographic installations, or probe the interweaving of time, intimacy and bodily mortality, as in works by Feliz Gonzalez-Torres and Nayland Blake. Finally, the exhibition explores the politics of distance with relation to the appearance or erasure of the human body in the work of Ana Mendieta, David Hammons, and Oscar Muñoz.

Oliver Shultz
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019