This huge exhibition is currently on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/pop-to-popism/. I’m going to focus on some works with textile elements in this post.
Robert Rauschenberg Dylaby 1962
This is one of Rauschenberg’s “combines”, with elements from painting and sculpture. According to Wayne Tunnicliffe in the AGNSW catalogue “Rauschenberg often said that he aimed to bridge the gap between art and life” (p. 20). This isn’t slick and consumerist, yet it incorporates found items of consumer culture including a battered coke sign. The flat surface was a focus in abstract expressionism. Here the canvas has escaped to fall away from the underlying frame and to drape down to the floor. Also in the AGNSW catalogue, Chris McAuliffe writes that instead of an expression of the personal, inner life of the artist seen in abstract expressionism, “Rauschenberg proposed … an art premised on engagement with the world, in which ‘the imagery and the material and the meanings of the painting would not be an illustration of my will but more like an unbiased documentation of my observations’. This suggested that what American art required was not wild acts of assertion but a kind of realism that registered the artist’s responses to the everyday world of affluence and consumerism, media and technology. Rauschenberg charted these responses in layered arrays of found media imagery” (p.62)
The idea of “combines”, including both painting and sculpture, seems very close to some of the ideas in Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (see 26-Dec-2014), particularly in the use here of the canvas.
Tony Tuckson Pyjamas and Herald 1963
This works seems to contain narrative, the signs of an individual life. The newspaper placard gives a specific place and date – Sydney, March 1963. From a recorded interview with Tuckson’s wife on the NGA website I learnt that the pyjamas were her’s, discarded in a waste bin, and the hessian sacking was some of that roughly sewn by Tuckson to make studio curtains.
There seems to be the gestures and dramatic sweeps of paint of abstract expressism combined with these found domestic objects. Denise Mimmocchi notes in the catalogue that this work “has clear affinities with Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, the hybrid form of painting and sculpture” and “Tuckson may also have intended a personal narrative through his collaged objects, yet of greater significance was his use of the canvas as an experimental ground for investing the painted gestures of abstract expressionism with the impact of real-life objects” (p. 152)
As well as occupying an interesting place in art historical movements, this work has an impact, it holds the viewer’s gaze. For me the textile elements are particularly effective in evoking the domestic, the personal, the story, as well as in helping the artist break away from the flat surface.
Enrico Baj General 1961 http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=107603 and Le Baron Robert Olive de Plassey, Gouverneur de Bengale 1966 (I couldn’t find an online image)
In the AGNSW catalogue Anneke Jaspers writes “Baj noted that his creative agenda was not explicitly political, but had long been engaged in debunking ‘official stupidity'” (p. 128). Both the works in the exhibition are collages or assemblages of found items, including a lot of textiles (fabric, braids, tassels…). The General is posed like a child jumping from behind a door and shouting “boo”. His body is made of ineffective “camouflage” fabric, a visually noisy mix of cream, red and green, his chest is covered in sash and medals, his hair a mess of twisted fibres. The General is overtly masculine, apparently powerful, and yet quite ridiculous.
The Governor of Bengal is happy in his bubble of power, also clearly masculine, with the trappings of power in medals and braids, backed by fabrics that are everything traditional, and apparently dazzled by the modern and hip with eyes of Beatles badges. A ridiculous figure, a puppet – and to me quite sinister, a potential petty dictator blind or indifferent to his misuse of power.
In both works the textiles used are more than random found objects. They bring layers of history and meaning, showing the pomp and military/political power of these dangerous, stupid, limited men who fill the frame with their self-importance.
Colin Lanceley Love me stripper 1963
The textile elements of this work are small in area, but very effective in the information they give. Lacy stockings and holed undergarments leave no doubt about the profession of the women shown.
Claes Oldenburg Giant Soft Fan—Ghost Version 1967
This is a very large sculpture of a desk fan – made of canvas, wood and polyurethane foam. Suspended from the ceiling it droops, deflated, casting grotesque shadows. It is shaped by gravity – Oldenburg’s “favourite form creator”. From Alexandra Gregg in the AGNSW catalogue: “With its oversized scale, lumps, bumps and crevices, the sculpture takes on an anthropomorphic guise and reminds us of the not-so flattering parts of our bodies. Its droopy limpness gives it a feeling of being tired or bored”. Also “By making us pay attention to these familiar objects in such unexpected ways, Oldenburg’s art is more an acceptance of the everyday world than a critique of consumer society” (p. 106).
I find humour and a wonderful clear-eyed observation of the world in this work. It’s also exciting to see one of the major (potential) qualities of a textile, its drape or response to gravity, used to such good effect as an integral part of the work.
As a group these works had me thinking again about all the different qualities and associations textiles can bring to an artwork.
Tunnicliffe, W. and Jaspers, A. (eds) (2014) Pop to Popism Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales