In Pictures: See Robert Rauschenberg’s Surprisingly Minimalist Sculptures That Are Causing a Buzz at Gladstone Gallery

May 30, 2022

Co-organized with the Rauschenberg Foundation, Gladstone Gallery’s exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg: Venetians and Early Egyptians, 1972–1974” caused an unexpected buzz during Frieze New York, presenting rarely shown Minimalist sculptures by the artist better known for his mixed media canvases. But should we be surprised?

The show coincided with Thaddeus Ropac’s sale at Frieze of Wall Pond/ROCI MEXICO (1985), a large-scale wall piece made of found fabrics on which Rauschenberg silkscreened photographs he took during a research trip to Mexico, for $3.5 million. Clearly, collectors are starting to look beyond the obvious in the oeuvre of this beloved artist. 

While the art world’s focus seems to have only been on his combines paintings and silkscreen works in recent decades, Rauschenberg was always a kind of seeker, pushing boundaries and looking for the next phase of his art.

“He intentionally stepped out of the scene because I think that he couldn’t get his work done, basically, and he was an artist who worked every single day, seven days a week—always,” Julia Blaut, the senior director of curatorial affairs at the Rauschenberg Foundation, told Artnet News. “I would say he was really looking for the things that were going to continue to provide challenges, and if he knew he could do something well, he wasn’t going to keep doing it.”

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Early Egyptian) (1974). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.

The show, running in conjunction with exhibitions at Mnuchin Gallery in New York and at Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg, caught the eye of many key observers in town for Frieze new York.

“We were really bowled over at the foundation,” Blaut said. “We know the work well, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it sort of properly installed and and given this kind of space. It just really has room to breathe. I feel like the Gladstone exhibition gives the work that opportunity to be appreciated.”

Rauschenberg created these works on Captiva Island, off the southwest coast of Florida, in the 1970s, after a fire caused massive damage at his home in New York. While the sculptures share many familiar materials and motifs found in his paintings, they lean towards Minimalism in a way that Rauschenberg’s other works don’t.

“He was always looking for the next challenge, and I think the work his peers were making at the time gave him permission to explore what art could be,” Blaut said. “The whole Post-Minimalist aspect of these works is an announcement of his engagement with that movement.”

Rauschenberg’s influence on contemporary sculpture is clear to see, but it is perhaps even more obvious when looking at this period of his work.

“We’re thrilled with the attention the show has been getting from the press,” Blaut added. “But it’s the attention from the artists that seems to be the greatest indicator.  His ongoing importance to working artists is really the most heartening taking takeaway for us.”

See images from the exhibition below.

“Robert Rauschenberg: Venetians and Early Egyptians, 1972–1974” is on view through June 18, at Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street and 530 West 21st Street, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Venetian) (1973, detail). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Venetian) (1973). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Venetian) (1973). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Venetian) (1972). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.

Robert Rauschenberg San Pantalone (Venetian) (1973). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, courtesy of the foundation and Gladstone Gallery. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photo: Ron Amstutz.