Always one to recycle, Robert Rauschenberg had the uncanny ability to find new and often improved uses for what others tossed aside, reinvigorating detritus with a revealing second life. Faced with disparate objects littering his studio floor, he applied a direct approach to the group of works he called Gluts (1986–89 and 1991–95), assemblages of found, mostly metal, objects that now represent his final series of sculpture. For nearly a decade, Rauschenberg frequented the Gulf Iron and Metal Junkyard outside Fort Myers, Florida, near his Captiva Island home and studio, gathering metal parts, such as car dashboards, traffic signs, bicycle wheels, exhaust pipes, corrugated tubing, radiator grills, washing machine drums, metal awnings, and so on, which he incorporated into poetic, humorous assemblages. His empathy for such detritus was visceral: “Well, I have sympathy for abandoned objects, so I always try to rescue them as much as I can.” These salvage operations created an extremely mature and confident body of work, personal exercises or amusements for Rauschenberg, where the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Following stops at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, and the Museum Tinguely, Basel, Robert Rauschenberg: Gluts at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a homecoming of sorts (the museum hosted a historic Rauschenberg retrospective in 1998–99). This presentation underscores the spirit of the artist’s excitement about Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece and its transformative presence in Bilbao. In response to the building’s scale, larger and more elaborate Gluts have been added to the exhibition, displaying not only their majesty and monumentality, but also the dynamic between the sculptural and painterly that defined this great American artist.
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