The exhibition will showcase paintings from the Salvage series (1983-1985), the artist’s last series on canvas. Consisting of canvases painted and silkscreened with photographs either collected in magazines or taken by himself, Salvage recalls the topics and compositions of his iconic Silkscreen Paintings from the early sixties. Although they use commercial printing processes and focus on mass-media imagery, they remain expressionistic, painterly, and multipart in organization.
Rauschenberg likes wordplay and the exact meaning of the title remains ambiguous. Historically borrowed from the lexicon of maritime terms, salvage designates the act of rescuing debris from a disaster like a shipwreck and, by extension, defines the act of collecting the rescued goods themselves. As such, the title teasingly recalls the artist’s longstanding use of found objects and images in his work. It also plays on the word selvage, which means a fabric edge intended to be cut off and discarded. In this specific case, it might refer to “salvaged” drop cloths that the artist used when silk-screening costumes for Set and Reset (1983), Trisha Brown’s choreographic piece he collaborated on, just before he started the series.
Rauschenberg believed that painting related to “both art and life. Neither can be made. I try to act in the gap between the two” – as famously stated in 1959. Following from this belief, he created artworks that move between these realms, in constant dialogue with the viewers and the surrounding world, as well as with art history. Merging silkscreened photographs with gestural abstraction was a way to incorporate elements from reality into the field of painting.
Considering the world as a gigantic painting, the process of cropping artfully from it and then clustering the actuality and materials of the real world in and onto his art remained his central project. Spanning a variety of themes, the Salvage series counts amongst his finest achievements. It presents recurrent motifs (bicycles, cars, farm animals and architectures) that reflect Rauschenberg’s renewed bond to photography in the early 1980s. His photographs signified a specific approach to the archaeology of the present times, which his paintings forcefully carry out to this day.
A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition with essays by Hervé Vanel and Mark Ormond.
As Hervé Vanel explains in his essay: “What the Salvage series was attempting to rescue is not reducible merely to fragments of personal memory mingled with clever quotations. The series, to borrow something Rauschenberg said, keeps inviting ‘a constant change of focus and an examination of detail.’ It is essentially as if, whatever the cost, the vocabulary and the visual grammar should never be pinned down in a way that might make them easy to decode.”