Walk around LACMA … with Robert Rauschenberg

Visual arts

No one walks in Los Angeles. Everyone knows that. Video artist and New Yorker Charles Atlas noted it in a chat at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) the day of a duel-exhibition opening. Atlas, who installed the museum’s video-rich Merce Cunningham exhibit, explained, “I’ve been here a few weeks. I walked to the museum from my hotel every day. A twenty-minute walk.”

The witty Atlas expressed his incredulity that, “I never saw one other person walking. And half of the street didn’t even have a sidewalk!” 

That gives good reason why the flamboyant The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece is a perfect match for Los Angeles. A renowned, career-culminating work by Robert Rauschenberg, “Quarter Mile” is composed of 190 panels that, combined, measure approximately one-quarter mile in length.

Wrapping ’round the third floor of the museums’ BCAM Building, the show, among its other blessings, provides a perfect ‘promenade’ for Angelenos. 

Rauschenberg’s epic, mural-esque work, itself an assemblage created over 17 years (from 1981 to ’98), exemplifies the artist’s use of varied mediums and methods, and criss-crossing cultural exchange. An eclectic array of materials is on view: textiles, mass media images, and photographs by the artist intermingle with bold passages of paint, while everyday objects such as chairs, cardboard boxes, and traffic lights add sculptural depth.

The seemingly random, often intentional and profound juxtapositions of Rauschenberg’s found-object collage-klatches (photography plays a key role) bring a smile. In their ebullience, they feel right. They also evoke cultural and personal sadness, nostalgia, regret, and shame — a range of feelings. The artist, who died in 2008, is present by dint of his choices, also in his over-painting, his persistent directional signage, and the pathos that lends the work its humanity. One feels the sweat of his labor. Nothing is tidy or polished. And yet, fine artistry is present in the colors, in the myriad shapes and in the crash-collisions of cultural iconography. (He seems like a most American of artists.) It is a very fun show to hang around. This thinking person’s artist will not tax you, however. In fact, “Quarter Mile” will lift you up.

“Quarter-Mile” is Rauschenberg’s massive graffiti, his leave-behind. And the walk-thru ends with a tremendous reward. In the final room, a multi-paneled work of shimmering beauty, seen below. If a mature artist can access this kind of vibrant color, well then, it signals a life well lived.

LACMA’s is the first exhibit of the work in its entirety. Co-curators are Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, LACMA and Katia Zavistovski, associate LACMA curator.

Rauschenberg: The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece | LACMA |  thru June 9, 2019

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