Robert Rauschenberg

American Abstraction. At the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

(Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, May, 1990)

This small show of American abstract art from the MFA’s permanent collection includes a cool, cubic polished stainless steel sculpture by David Smith, a bold, gestural Franz Kline, an elegant, brooding, geometric black-on-black Frank Stella – and Metropolitan Escape, a dazzling new painting by Robert Rauschenberg.

Raushenberg’s painting is a photosilkscreen collage in acrylic and patina on brass.  It shows storefronts filled with foodstuffs, fragments of neoclassical architecture, the white wood porch of a summer house, and big brush strokes, directly emblazoned onto the bed of brass that gleams through all the images like gold.

Rauschenberg, an American old master, must be thinking of mortality – and immortality.  That golden glow poignantly recalls Titian’s late paintings, when he was luxuriating in love of the world – the color, the flesh, the things, the paint – yet at the same time leaving them behind and yearning only for that golden light.

Great art cheats death of its victory by transforming memory’s fragile fragments into something lasting, precious, and incorruptible. The ghostly white porch is a window to a world beyond flesh and paint – a world without sorrow or substance, color or weight.  It is cool, pale, and white as a bone.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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