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Trashes to trashes, rust to rust . . .

Just came back from the Rauschenberg Cardboards, brimming with enthusiasm. You can forget what really good art is if you haven't seen any in a while, and this show has left me refreshed, invigorated, and optimistic. Somebody needs to do something about that man. He's too good to live.

Anchor/Federal/Tumbler, 1971


 

It's the first show I've seen in a long time that's excited me. I need to find some boxes, quickly. I want to make me one of those. It ought to be easy, now that Rauschenberg has showed me how.

Oh- the works themselves. Huge but humble, elegant without pretension, as only trash art can be. Formal, without stepping back one bit from the hurlyburly of everyday life. They're thirty-six years young; unlike many found objects, R (to save typing I'm calling him R) has hit upon a material so ubiquitous, so consistent, so useful it hasn't acquired a tinge of obsolescence in the decades since these pieces were made; or rather, it hasn't added any new obsolescence, since the boxes were discards before R even began with them.

They're big but not bombastic. They are assured work, work that isn't impressed by itself. After the stuffed goat, boxes seem traditional. Sad, monumental gestures in water-stained cardboard, they are castles, hieroglyphs, floor plans, figures. Ephemeral (at least they look ephemeral; lord knows what Frankenstein's brew the conservators have sprayed on them to keep them intact all these years) they have an existential optimism.

Should you doubt the authority of the master's touch in these works, look at the pathetic (by comparison) editions derived from them. A series of ceramic pieces are lifeless shadows next to the larger original pieces. As easy as R makes it seem, don't try this at home.

also by Bill Davenport
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