Robert Rauschenberg, Jammers, Gagosian Gallery, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Monday 18 February 2013
There is a photograph of American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) relaxing on a lilo in the swimming-pool of the Villa de Madame Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, India. The year is 1975.
Designed by Le Corbusier in 1951, the villa featured a slide, or “tropical toboggan run”, connecting the roof garden to the pool. In the evening, bats would swoop down and drink the water. Peacocks would wander nearby.
Walled off from everyday India, it was a setting that would inspire Rauschenberg to create the Jammers series: mostly large rectangles of silk, muslin, and cotton in stunning, burnt colours, supported by rattan poles.
The works exist only in relation to the gallery wall; they droop, hang, and stretch. There is little tension in these brilliantly coloured banners, but rather lightness and looseness. They are named after the sails of the Windjammer merchant ships.
Hibiscus (Jammer) (1976) is comprised of coral-coloured silk, hanging between two poles. A pouch is sewn onto the centre. It is open, but the contents are hidden from the viewer. The sag of silk creates shadows. The colour is both gentle and hot. The surface of the material is opalescent, as though covered in a sheen of water.
These works are a departure from the muscular Combines for which Rauschenberg is best known. They combined everyday objects with splatters of Abstract Expressionism, rejecting the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and anticipating Pop Art.
Hibiscus, however, recalls Bed (1955), one of Rauschenberg’s earliest Combines, which consists of a blanket, stolen from the laundry basket of a friend when he was too poor to buy canvases, mounted on the wall and attacked by oil paint. Like Hibiscus, Bed includes a pillow that bulges out of the work but remains closed to the viewer.
Earlier still, Rauschenberg experimented with monochrome paintings in red, white, and black. While many of the Jammers are likewise monochrome, the fabric’s subtlety of colour is permitted to speak for itself.
Snowpool (Jammer) (1976) is divided in half by a pole. The top half is a greyish white, the colour of a very pale stone. It is muted but not bleak. The lower half is comprised of vertical stripes, ranging from blue to brown to yellow. A layer of gauze covers the latter, concealing and softening the contrast, floating free of the work.
These works are minimalist but warm. They pay respect to the country which inspired them.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 5 9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
Apprentice series 11: Claude Littner to replace Nick Hewer as Lord Sugar's aide
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'