Rauschenberg, France and La Biennale

Sarah Wagner
Oct 17, 2014 2:39PM

Through my exhibition I hope to educate public viewers about La Biennale and how art is influenced by the world around them. La Biennale is an annual arts exhibition that includes visual arts such as painting and sculpting, but also dance, theater, architecture and cinema. In 1964 Robert Rauschenberg won and turned the art world around, changing the focus from France, where it had been since the late 1700s, to the United States.

Since so many thought the French would win La Biennale in ’64, Rauschenberg’s success came as a shock. Some accused Rauschenberg of cheating because some of his pieces weren’t technically in the official exhibit. An additional space had been added to accommodate all of the art, where some of his works were placed.  Therefore it could be argued that those works weren’t technically part of the show. Rauschenber’s Pop Art, as well as those done by others, created such a commotion during the ’64 exhibit that the other exhibitions were overlooked.

After this exhibition concluded the French started taking more risks with their art and focusing on modern, abstract art as appose to classical methods and subjects.

My exhibit pairs Rauschenberg pieces with works by French artists. The paired works date either the same year or have a one-year difference, with the exception of the first pairing. The pre-1964 works show that while the French thought they were being innovative, compared to Rauschenberg’s produced the same year they were not.

One example is Fernand Léger’s Builders (1953). Made up of aquatint and silkscreen this piece depicts workers constructing a building. The characters appear more like cartoons than classical figures. While this style and medium both break away from classical images and seems more modern, compared to Rauschenberg’s Untitled (Gold Painting) (1953) it isn’t. Rauschenberg’s piece contains: gold and silver leaf on fabric, newspaper, paint, wood, paper, glue, and nails on wood in wood-glass frame. Not only are there multiple mediums being used, the image doesn’t depict a certain subject. It is completely abstract. When looking at both pieces produced in the same year Rauschenberg’s creativity shines through.

Jean Dubuffet’s Argument et Contexte (1977) and Rauschenberg’s Goat Chow (Chow Bags) (1977) show how the French changed after 1964. Both of these works are collages but remain quite different. Dubuffet’s work contains elements of flat, 2D figures overlaying patches of different colored, almost scribbled, designs. Contrastingly, Rauschenberg’s piece appears more simplistic, but still holds interest in how different the subject matter of goat chow is.

Single points in history have been known to change the art world. My exhibition showcases one of those moments. After viewing the collection of works I hope viewers leave more informed and with a better sense of how influenced art is by its surroundings.

Sarah Wagner