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Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Stuffed chickens, backyard bathtubs, roller skates, pilled blankets: these are just a few of the homespun discards featured in Robert Rauschenberg’s work. As a young artist in New York in the 1950s, Rauschenberg would roam the streets around his studio, picking up everything from yesterday’s funny papers to worn out car tires and use them in his assemblages. In line with many of his Black Mountain contemporaries, Rauschenberg sought to close the gap between art and life by incorporating into his artwork the textures of American detritus.

It is this aspect of Rauschenberg’s aesthetic cosmology that playwright Charles L. Mee focused on in bobrauschenbergamerica, which was performed by the SITI Company under Anne Bogart’s direction in 2003’s Next Wave Festival. Made up of more than 40 discrete vignettes, Mee’s play is itself an assemblage of biographical sketches of Rauschenberg’s early life in Texas and fantasias that explore the sources of artistic inspiration—all in the remarkably playful spirit that has endeared Rauschenberg to generations of art viewers.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Untitled (Spread)"
Just as Rauschenberg sought to collapse the boundaries between art and life, within the space of the proscenium Mee collapses the line between interior and exterior. When an unidentified voice from offstage says in the first vignette,
everything overlaps doesn't it?
you can assume that this is Rauschenberg's aesthetic philosophy, as well as Mee telling us to relax into the disjunctions to come in the course of the evening. Both Rauschenberg’s and Mee’s voices are politically instructive. The odds and ends, the debris, and the idle chatter—they all have their place within Mee’s vision of Rauschenberg’s America. It’s a utopian junkyard in which a worn down, cast off shoe is charged with keen resonance. Mee declares this a civic space in which every broken umbrella, tossed to the gutter, merits its own 4th of July.

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