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Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Scupture in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens

Edinburgh 11 – Inverleith House   – 27 July – 2 October

Botanical Vaudeville is a collection of 37 works in mixed media, specifically sculpture and paintings.  Common materials to all pieces save one is metal and paint, a small amount of acrylic, bamboo and clay is intermittently used. The sculptures range in size from small sculptures of (30cm x 10cm x 10cm) to room dominating sculptures (75cm x 55cm x 350cm).  The paintings range from A4 sized (21cm x 29cm) to almost wall covering (400cm x 300cm).

The exhibition spans two floors.  Each room features at least one sculpture and a number of paintings.  Moving anticlockwise through the rooms on the ground floor we have a disappointing start to the sculptures with ‘Uptown Pig Pox’ (1988) – a life-size metal pig garishly painted in black with purple polka dots (front) and block orange (back) with clashing ties hung over the middle and covered in acrylic.  It is a sculpture that only the colour blind could love and easily the weakest piece in this exhibition.

Thankfully we also get a taste of the best work we will see with ‘Lixer’ (1988) which is puts bright blue and yellow acrylic paint on shiny mirrored aluminium.  The yellow looks like it has been printed on using a crinoline pattern as a model and the blue is spilled across the centre.  Its arresting to look at, the pattern being at odds with the modernity of the aluminium and with the blue lending it a sense of anarchy.

Rauschenbergs work on metal with either paint or tarnishes is the best work that is displayed in this exhibition.  In the next room we get ‘Untitled (Shiner)’ 1987 which features a turquoise tree on brushed stainless steel and ‘Fossil Lace (Borealis)’ 1992 which features a blocky pattern not unlike ‘Lixer’ tarnished onto brass.  They are astounding in content and material and draw to mind a mixture of classical and modern, organic and manmade.  This theme and mixture of media continues throughout the gallery the finest examples being ‘Party-Bird (Night Shade)’1991 in which black acrylic paint portrays the silhouette of a tree onto brushed aluminium and ‘Maybelle Brass’ 1988 which has a polished copper frame with brass industrially tacked onto the top.

The second room also features the best sculpture of the exhibition.   ‘Eco-Echo IV’ 1992 – 1993 it is a large solar operated fan made from aluminium.  The main feature of the fan is the twenty plus backwardly inclined blades that feature similar designs to the mixed media paintings but also some pieces in acrylic.  The combination of industrial metal fan and the small excerpts (almost) of the other pieces rotating slowly is hypnotic and fabulous to look at.  It is a dominating piece with a great amount of connotations and should most likely be exhibited in one of the bigger rooms.

The exhibition never achieves this quality of sculpture anywhere else.  The final sculpture on the ground floor is ‘Urban Katydid (Glut)’ 1986 made from stainless steel street signs riveted  together it sprawls along only 50cm off the floor but at least 300cm long.  Almost all of the sculptures from this point are similar – found urban objects (almost always metal) bent into new configurations.  Sometimes it works: ‘No Wake Glut’ 1986 which takes the front of a car and bends it round itself spider-like is compelling in its scale and ‘Mercury Zero Summer Glut’ 1987 in which a metal wing exudes from a crushed desk fan also feels essential.  Elsewhere some of the other sculptures; ‘Dirty Ghost Glut’ 1992, ‘Curly Cue Summer Glut’ 1988 feel entirely underdeveloped.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Botanical Vaudeville is hidden away right in the centre of Edinburgh’s botanical gardens.  It is a strange place to have a exhibition as modern and urban as this – which on occasion feels important and is often profoundly compelling.

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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