Robert Rauschenberg is not the first artist you may associate with Los Angeles. Perhaps Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, or Mike Kelley spring to mind. Rauschenberg is more known for his time in New York and Florida, but an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, called Rauschenberg: In and About L.A., shows that artist’s travels to the west coast were more influential than one might initially think.
Rauschenberg’s artistic history actually began in California. In the mid-1940s, Rauschenberg was stationed at a California base during World War II. He visited an art museum for the first time, and was so moved that he decided to pursue art as a career. He would often return to the city for his exhibitions, partnerships with printing studios, personal projects, and even a collaboration with LACMA for their Art and Technology program. The dozens of works spawned by his time in Los Angeles over the years is the clear focus here.
What is most dazzling from this show is the artist’s works on paper and his photographs of Los Angeles. The scenes of the city on film often resemble the layered assemblages of his famous Combines or paintings. With the appearance text, advertisements, automobiles, and glass and metal, Rauschenberg’s photographs both embody his stylistic cues and capture the actual look and feel of post-war Los Angeles. Many of the prints range from the 1960s to the 1990s, although one highlight was Rauschenberg’s series of screen prints entitled L.A. Uncovered. These beautifully layered and colored prints serve as a sort of ode to the city. Included are gritty streets, flowers, a copy of The Los Angeles Times, hazy skylines, advertisements, and glossy, sensual photos of men and women.
In and About L.A. isn’t as expansive as a retrospective, but with an artist like Rauschenberg (who produced so much work) it feels right to take a more edited approach. However, this is an exhibition of surprises. Los Angeles provided endless fodder for the artist, and by transposing the real and the imagined Los Angeles, Rauschenberg invokes his practice of making something beautiful, something between art and life.