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Robert Rauschenberg – Botanical Vaudeville

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh until October 2nd
4 stars
Inverleith House has long carved a niche for itself as a champion of
late twentieth century American icons, and for the gallery's British
Art Show contribution has gathered up a grab-bag of thirty-seven works
made between 1982 and 1998 by Abstract Expressionism's original
skip-diving grease monkey. This late-period collection is a
fast-moving mixture of shine-buffed collages and rust-laden sculptural
detritus, as if junkyard and garage had been stripped bare after some
Ballardian multiple pile-up on the freeway, then the component parts
put back together again on some customised Frankenstein's dragstrip as
ornamental signposts forever in motion.

Twisted road-signs are heaped together, connecting up neighbourhoods
and no-go areas that one would only normally be just passing through. A
giant pig is draped in neck-ties. A windmill made of metal strips
dominates one room as if oil was just a hidden drill away. On the
walls, mirror images on bronze and brass dazzle like cut-up
wall-hangings at some post-modern diner that should be soundtracked by
some Link Wray twang on the big-fendered car stereo as its boy-racer
occupants go cruising up the strip, so steeped in suggestions of
blue-collar teen romance are they.

With the wall-pieces rounded up from the 'Shiner' and 'Borealis' series
of works, and the more sculptural constructions from 'Kabal American
Zephyr' and 'Gluts', it all adds up to some sharp-edged reimagining of
the American dream with bent out of shape street signs on a mashed-up
grid system where playing in traffic is suddenly safe as houses. In the
sunlit quietude of Inverleith House, this transforms into a Zenned-out
road movie that surfs silently through the ether rather than causes any
kind of congestion.

Rauschenberg's death in 2008 may have robbed us of the world's foremost
architect of reimagined urban arcana, but as 'Botanical Vaudeville'
proves, even a decade before, the road he travelled was as expansively
of the moment as ever. The show's couldn't-be-better title piece sums
it up. This is work as play, a post-industrial dance on gleaming
surfaces that sparkles before zooming into the ether.

The List, August 2011

ends

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