Painting of the Day

15 Nov



Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp). By Robert Rauschenberg. Oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, metal, drinking glass, metal chain, spoon, and necktie on canvas, 1961. Currently on view at the PMA in its exhibition “Dancing Around the Bride,” which runs until January 21, 2013. 

Notes from

Any incentive to paint is as good as any other. There is no poor subject. Painting is always strongest when in spite of composition, color, etc., it appears as a fact, or an inevitability, as opposed to a souvenir or arrangement. Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made . . . A pair of socks is no less suitable to make a painting with than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.–Robert Rauschenberg, 1959

In the early 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg devised a radical new form, blending two- dimensional collage techniques with three-dimensional objects on painted surfaces. Definable neither as sculpture nor painting, these works were dubbed “combines” by the artist to describe their interdisciplinary formal roots. Rauschenberg’s combination of found imagery and gestural brushwork places these works between two movements in painting: Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.

Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp) is one of a series of five combines, all called “trophies,” which alluded to the unconventional creative spirit of artists whose work Rauschenberg greatly admired: in this case, Marcel Duchamp and his wife, Teeny. Using found objects, photographs, and paint, the artist considered himself “a collaborator with objects.” In this way, he sought to avoid excessive autobiographical readings and instead refers to the dynamics of the urban landscape.

My comments: 

This painting is an excellent component of the PMA’s exhibition “Dancing Around the Bride,” for it perfectly reflects Marcel Duchamp’s influence on Rauschenberg–his name is even in the title. Looking within the painting we see Rauschenberg’s embrace of randomness, the ridiculous and the absurd. He takes random, normally unvalued objects and makes them art, very much in the spirit of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel and urinal. An interesting quote from Rauschenberg, a statement he made several years after Duchamp had died, also reveals the profound effect that Duchamp had on him:

“Marcel Duchamp is all but impossible to write about. Anything you may say about him is at the same time untrue, but when I think of him I get a sweet taste in my body.” 

Rauschenberg speaks of Duchamp almost as if he was talking about a lover, but there’s a deep, professional admiration evident that makes his relationship with Duchamp supersede that of paramour. I got this quote, by the way, from the book that came along with the PMA’s exhibition, which I highly, highly recommend. Hopefully I’ll get to read the whole book so I can post a full review about it, but for now I want to promote it because it is a serious companion to the exhibition, not just a glossy volume an eighth the size of Vogue’s September issue with mostly pictures and few words (such as the disappointing catalogue that accompanied the PMA’s 2011 exhibition “Paris through the Window: Marc Chagall and his Inner Circle”). This tome is actually a large, beautifully designed book, with a wealth of information about the featured artists and about contemporary art in general, of which the featured artists in this exhibition “Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Johns, Duchamp) were no less than titans. 

In short, if you can, go see “Dancing Around the Bride,” because it is an enigmatic masterpiece of the PMA’s Contemporary art department. They really outdid themselves. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: