Constructions and Assemblage
Is it not an instance of assemblage, and have we not
called it a piece of sculpture? Actually, there is no inconsistency
here. The Bull's Head is a bronze cast, even though we cannot
tell this by looking at a photograph of it. Had Picasso wished to
display the actual handlebars and bicycle seat, he would surely have
done so. Since he chose to have them cast in bronze, this must have been
because he wanted to "dematerialize" the ingredients of the work by
having them reproduced in a single material. Apparently he felt it
necessary to clarify the relation of image to reality in this way—the
he used the same procedure whenever he worked with ready-made objects.
Constructions present a difficult problem. If we agree to restrict
the term "sculpture" to objects made of a single substance, then we must put "assemblages" (that is, constructions using
mixed mediums) in a class of their own. This is probably a useful
distinction, because of their kinship with ready-mades. But what of
Picasso's Bull's Head
Nevertheless, we must not apply the "single-material" rule too
strictly. Calder's mobiles, for instance, often combine metal, string,
wood, and other substances. Yet they do not strike us as being
assemblages, because these materials are not made to assert their
separate identities. Conversely, an object may deserve to be called an
assemblage even though composed of essentially homogeneous material.
Such is often true of works known as "junk sculpture,"
made of fragments of old machinery, parts of
wrecked automobiles, and similar discards, which constitute a broad
class that can be called sculpture, assemblage, or environment,
depending on the work itself.
Rauschenberg (born 1925)
pioneered assemblage as early as the
mid-1950s. Much like a composer
making music out of the noises of everyday life, he constructed works of
art from the trash of urban civilization. Odalisk (fig.
1158) is a box covered with a
miscellany of pasted images—comic
strips, photos, clippings from picture magazines—held
together only by the skein of brushstrokes the artist has superimposed
on them. The box perches on a foot improbably anchored to a pillow on a
wooden platform and is surmounted by a stuffed chicken.
The title, a witty blend of "odalisque" and "obelisk," refers both to
the nude girls among the collage of clippings as modern "harem girls"
and to the shape of the construction as a whole, for the box shares its
vertically and slightly tapering sides with real obelisks.
Rauschenberg's unlikely "monument" has at least some qualities in common
with its predecessors: compactness and self-sufficiency. We will
recognize in this improbable juxtaposition the same ironic intent as the
ready-mades of Duchamp, whom Rauschenberg had come to know well in New
Construction, 205.7 x
Museum Luckvig, Cologne
Robert Rauschenberg, original name Milton Rauschenberg (born
Oct. 22, 1925, Port Arthur, Texas, U.S.—died May 12, 2008,
Captiva Island, Fla.), American painter and graphic artist
whose early works anticipated the Pop art movement.
Rauschenberg knew little about art until
he visited an art museum during World War II while serving
in the U.S. Navy. He studied painting at the Kansas City Art
Institute in 1946–47, changed his name from Milton to Robert
because it sounded more artistic, and studied briefly in
Europe. During 1948–50 he studied at Black Mountain College,
North Carolina, under the Bauhaus master Josef Albers and at
the Art Students League in New York City.
Rauschenberg’s first paintings in the
early 1950s comprised a series of all-white and all-black
surfaces underlaid with wrinkled newspaper. In subsequent
works he began to explore the possibilities of making art
from such objects as Coca-Cola bottles, traffic barricades,
and stuffed birds, calling them “combine” paintings. In 1955
Rauschenberg became associated with the Merce Cunningham
Dance Company, first as a designer of costumes and sets and
later as a technical director. He also produced theatrical
pieces in collaboration with composer John Cage.
From the late 1950s Rauschenberg
experimented with the use of newspaper and magazine
photographs in his paintings, devising a process using
solvent to transfer images directly onto the canvas. About
1962 he borrowed from Andy Warhol the silk-screen stencil
technique for applying photographic images to large expanses
of canvas, reinforcing the images and unifying them
compositionally with broad strokes of paint reminiscent of
Abstract Expressionist brushwork. These works draw on themes
from modern American history and popular culture and are
notable for their sophisticated compositions and the spatial
relations of the objects depicted in them. During this
period his painting became more purely graphic (e.g.,
Bicycle ) than the earlier combines. By the 1970s,
however, he had turned to prints on silk, cotton, and
cheesecloth, as well as to three-dimensional constructions
of cloth, paper, and bamboo in an Oriental manner.
Among Rauschenberg’s preoccupations from
the 1970s to the 1990s were lithography and other
printmaking techniques. He continued to incorporate imagery
from the commercial print media but began to rely more
heavily on his own photography. Some of his works were
influenced by visits with artists in such countries as
China, Japan, and Mexico.