Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today, did wake up and made it to the press screening of Isaac Julien's "Derek" (10 AM at MoMA; what are they trying to do, kill me? for me to get there on time i have to wake up at the crack of dawn); was fascinated by the film, but then, i'm always fascinated by these attempts at artist's biopics (especially if i knew the artist(s), in this case, Derek Jarman but also Isaac Julien), but more on that later. I get home and the phone rings. It's Charles. He is going through such a traumatic time in his life, and i have NOT written a word about it because it's his business. Besides, i don't want to be bitchy.

But he calls and starts blubbering that Bob died. Of course, i know immediately to whom he is referring: Bob Rauschenberg. I'm a little confused, and Charles starts yelling, didn't i read the NY Times? Well, i did, and i always look at the obits first! And it must have been announced too late for the Times, because i do rush and look through today's paper, and no mention of Rauschenberg. Yes, it's true, Rauschenberg is one of the major figures in American art since 1950, and (i think) one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, but the NY Times can't print something that they don't know. Ok, i know Charles was (at one time, anyway) very close to Rauschenberg (Charles came to NY to be Rauschenberg's assistant, to help him with silkscreening), but at least i knew enough to know exactly what he was talking about.

Rauschenberg was one of those people that i'd met on several occasions, but i was never a friend. One reason was that i was a friend of a lot of Rauschenberg's friends... as with Claes Oldenburg or Robert Morris, i met them, but i knew a lot of people who really knew them, and that was sufficient. (For some reason, don't ask me why, i never had much interest in getting to be friends with the bigname white male artists; maybe it was because i was always friends with all the women artists: Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Trisha Brown, Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, et al; also, i just realized, if i was going to be friends with white male artists, they had better be filmmakers, since that was my primary interest, so of course i was friends with Ken Jacobs, Jonas Mekas, Ernie Gehr, Robert Breer, Warren Sonbert, Jack Smith, et al.) But i do feel sad, because for all the health problems of the last decade, there was just something that seemed indestructible about Rauschenberg, and he always had an enthusiasm that seemed forever young. Even when he had to go around in a wheelchair (as he did when MoMA had its reopening, and he showed up).

I have to say that i think his influence is just so enormous... i don't think that we'll ever get the measure of the magnitude of his achievement. That retrospective at the Guggenheim (in several parts; that was when the Guggenheim had its branch museum in Soho) was astounding.

Of course, so much of his recent work was really just treading water: it didn't have the zest and the incisiveness and the driving force of his works from the 1950s and 1960s.

But one of the real giants of American art has died. It's a cliche to say that we won't see his like again, but somehow that's true.


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