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Blogger, continued from page 25 Cageiness to this mistake, Rauschenberg and another painter put on roller skates ballerina dancing on point, with parachutes billowing behind them. Soundings printed with images of straight-backed chairs, contained lights and sound-gathering devices. Picking up audio vibrations from its audience, as well as ambient noise, the art flickered in reply. Grace Glueck of The New York Times was unimpressedokay, she was annoyed. “No matter how loud you shout or how low you whisper at Soundings,” she wrote, “you still see the same old static chairs. That’s ‘participating in the creation’ of a work?” Back on our blog we might take a reader-poll: “Thirty-five years later, `interactive art’ is still a bore” \(Click In the early 1960s, Rauschenberg turned to printmaking, then coming into vogue again. It was a medium made for his tempera ment, his aesthetic, his preferred way of working: with others. Fascination with technique boiled over into a love affair with technology. In the era of granny gowns and organic hog farms, Rauschenberg was partying with astronauts and producing works like Booster, then the largest lithograph ever made. Most art types then as now damned the military-industrial complex; meanwhile, Rauschenberg’s Experiments in ing money from Atlantic Richfield and AT&T to pair artists with engineers. Working with printmakers on both coasts, Rauschenberg’s experiments struck upon several technical advances \(and for those interested in technique, Kotz gives generous explanaunleashed his ecstatic “gift for arrangement?’ From an assemblage art limited to objects from the streets, he began “swindling” everywhere: family scrapbooks, the mass media, reproductions of Old Masterworks, ads, textiles, space science diagrams. “Anything that creates an image” was sucked into his artorbit. Initially, these prints were a revelation. Their combination of hand-tinted poignancy, off-the-shelf kitsch, and technophilia expressed the age’s “information overload.” Yet, a la Albers, all was maneuvered with such formal intent and virtuosity that the effect was invariably delightful. If scale is distorted and you drive by fast enough, a massacre looks as bright as a field of poppies. Rauschenberg’s political art of the ’60s and ’70stributes to J.F.K. and posters for Earth Dayis docile. His Currents est silkscreen drawing,” 36 collages of grim headlines and images he called “the most serious journalism I have ever attempted?’ Art historian John Canaday saw otherwise: “a generous portion of aesthetic pleasure to atone for its superficiality as social observation?’ Rauschenberg enjoyed his first retrospective exhibition \(an art-world cus38. Through the 1970s, his reputation soared. The Smithsonian mounted a larger Rauschenberg retrospective at the Bicentennial, for by this time he’d become the unofficial national artist. No wonder he began to recycle himself. By the 1980s his art had grown so bland and his persona so tamed by publicity that even Texas asked him back. In 1984, Port Arthur invited him to come home for a show at the public library. And in 1985 he was named the artist of the Texas Sesquicentennial; Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum mounted a one-man exhibit that toured the state. 0 ver time Rauschenberg’s collage materials have become more exotic, colorful, and preciouspaper hand-made to order from a famous Chinese mill, gold leaf, silk saris from India. Many of these pieces melt into clichs. Works from his overseas exchange are especially egregious. Instead of provocation and incongruity”feathers and marmalade”Mexican Canary tired ethnic joke of images: a bus, an eagle, chili-pepper labels, and lottery numbers all sloshed with red, white, and green. It’s not that the tire went flat; rather, as Kotz explains, Rauschenberg’s art factory began working “like a well oiled machine?’ If he dreams of glass tires, in the morning someone gets glass virtuoso Dale Chihuly on the phone in Seattle; the “disciples and ‘spear carriers’ begin designing molds, and make it so. “That’s it?’ Arts writer Brian O’Doherty observed, “Rauschenberg was always on the run, sentenced by his idea of short-term art to be a brilliant hare in front of the perceptual hounds.” In a 1980 interview, asked about the trap of repeating his old successes, Rauschenberg admitted, “I think the shadow of the escape has cut me off at the pass.” The past had caught up with him. The weird early pieces, like Bed and Monogram, still contain creative powernot because they were “firsts” but because they never come firmly together. Their liveliness is an ingenious rendering of life and art in tension, where goat, tire, plank, and paintsplatter confront you on the way to coherence, but never arrive. Each object links back to its own world: The context where it once was at rest, made sense. In the “combines,” we can see wildly various realms \(fantastic, natural, mundane, they haven’t been stirred smooth by an aesthetic mixmaster. With Rauschenberg’s love of speed, his genius for composition, and a widening world of materials at his command, it’s not surprising so much of his later art turned to mush. It’s the blogger’s problem too. The past is digitized and searchable. Via webcams, we see what “now” is looking like halfway around the world. Drag. Click. You’ve put your kitty on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It’s intriguing to see; it might mean something. Hey, we had 8,000 hits overnight! Blogger extraordinaire Julie Ardery lives in Austin. 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 18, 2005