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monogram.jpgToday’s Times has a tour through NYC’s Rauschenberg holdings by Roberta Smith, the paper’s chief critic. It opens with the point that the artist not only epitomized (some would say dominated) the post-War NYC art world, but that he insistently drew on — and gave back to — the city as well. The piece begins: “Robert Rauschenberg, who died Monday at age 82, is part of the cultural mythos of postwar New York. He regularly exhibited new work here for more than 56 years, which must be some kind of record. It extended from his first solo show at the Betty Parsons gallery in 1951 to the debut of his 2007 “Runts” series at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea in January.  … Many of the materials for Mr. Rauschenberg’s found-object wizardry came directly from the sidewalks, gutters and trash bins of New York. Most of the images he used were lifted from its magazines and newspapers and mirrored the look and pulse of urban life.” She goes on to tell you where you can find work on display — and which institutions own the most stuff of his. The rest of the article is here.

Her invocation of his relationship to print media serves as a reminder that few contemporary artists can be said to have worked so fervently in so many media — or to have made the concept of distinct media problematic. And not just in his refusal to differentiate between painting and sculpture, as in the “combines.” Yesterday’s paper had a piece on his contributions, largely in collaboration with Merce Cunningham, to the city’s dance world. David Byrne writes in, reminding us that he even designed album sleeves for popular NYC bands like Talking Heads. He pushed video projection ahead of its time. NPR’s obit closes with music he recently composed.

I love the story about his first trip to a museum in the midst of a rural Texas childhood, when, looking at Blue Boy, he first realized that artists existed — that it was possible to be an artist. He spent the rest of his life grappling with that realization and in doing so serves as a model for anyone else who wants to wake up and make things — or to make up things — and look at them with new eyes or ears.

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The artist Robert Rauschenberg, subject of one of my favorite New York biographies, is dead at 82. The Times appreciation here. The Combines show, which I saw here and in LA, was without a doubt one of the best shows I’d ever seen — and as good as it was it benefited from being seen in different venues.

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Last weekend, the DUMBO Arts Council sponsored its eleventh annual arts festival, which I’ve attended for several years running. I plan to write at length about a couple NY-related projects I came across, one of which really has me excited, but for now I wanted to post this photo a friend took:


This neon work, one half of an installation by the Canadian-born, New York-based artist Juozas Cernius, was mounted over one exit from the waterfront park between the bridges. The other half of the piece, mounted on the other side of the gate (that is, over the entrance), said “GOD IS GREAT.”

I love this piece for a million reasons. Why hadn’t anyone ever thought to say “God Was Great” before? It’s such a funny sentiment: Sure, God was good back in the day, before he sold out. Or, God was great in bed last night. Or God was great, and then humans had to go and ruin it.

I’d seen this photo before I showed up there Saturday. In context I found the piece to be even more interesting. Unless you entered the park, you only ever saw the “GOD IS GREAT” side from the street. The sign looked a little like the entrance to a Christian theme park, with all the families with dogs and baby strollers milling around on the lawn inside.

But the other thing through that gate, of course, is the hole in the sky where the WTC used to be. (Why’s it on my mind so much this week?) It’s hard not to be in that park and spend some time looking across the river. What does it mean to situate your religious theme park across from Manhattan? (Of course the Jehovah’s Witness HQ was in DUMBO long before the neighborhood picked up that acronym and became, as one friend put it, a paradise for yuppies.) Are you safe on Brooklyn’s shores, protected from the evil metropolis beyond?

When you turn around to leave the park though, and get the “GOD WAS GREAT” side, it’s hard — at least it’s hard for me — not to associate the sentiment with 9/11 itself. God was great, and then he had to go and provide an excuse for religious fanatics to fly planes into towers full of people. It’s a funny sign, but with a hell of a bitter bite.  

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