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Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925)
Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925)

Bride's Folly

Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925)
Bride's Folly
signed, titled and dated 'BRIDE'S FOLLY RAUSCHENBERG '59' (on the reverse)
combine painting--oil, fabric, paper, printed paper collage and metal on canvas
57½ x 38¾ in. (146 x 98.4 cm.)
Executed in 1959.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Dr. and Mrs. Samuel H. Fraerman, Highland Park, 1959
B.C. Holland, Inc., Chicago
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1976
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1978
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Robert Rauschenberg, May-June 1965, no. 7 (illustrated).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Autres Dimensions, June-September 1976, no. 73 (illustrated in color).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler; Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró and Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, America America, October 1976-September 1977, (illustrated, no. 49; p. 42 and no. 12--front cover in color; respectively).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Arte USA, February-March 1977, no. 23 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

In Bride's Folly Rauschenberg has created a work that through the arbitrariness and quirky blend of its forms, objects, colors and imagery firmly signals the artist's intention to operate in the 'gap' between art and life. Painted in 1959 at time when Rauschenberg was fully in command of his new medium--the Combines--that he had first invented in 1954, and was well aware of the scandalous impact they had had on the New York avant-garde, Bride's Folly is also a knowingly ironic picture as well as a proud statement of his intent.

Beginning where artists like Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and Alberto Burri had left off, in 1954 Rauschenberg began creating his celebrated series of Combines by assembling almost at random, objects and materials found from his immediate environment in and around his Fulton Street studio. Marking a significant development from his earlier 'red' and 'black' paintings in which he had used newspaper and cardboard to stimulate the painterly ground of these monochrome paintings, Rauschenberg's Combines incorporated all and any materials that lay to hand as a surface and/or support for his paint. Fusing the material and objects of real life with paint in this way was an act of integration between the artist's daily life and his work that Rauschenberg consciously sought as a new and vital means of expression.

If Rauschenberg did paint himself into his Combines in any way, it was by proxy, assembling objects from his daily life that he found lying around him. Even then, of paramount importance for Rauschenberg was the matter-of-factness of these objects and the arbitrariness of their combination within the work. When he saw Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel for the first time in 1953 he thought it "the most fantastic piece of sculpture" he had ever seen. The surprise of the real contained in this seemingly arbitrary combination of a stool and a bicycle wheel evidently impressed itself on him. Similarly, reflecting the profound influence of his teacher, Joseph Albers' color theory of 'combinations' and his contrasting of different materials and pure colors, Rauschenberg also turned to techniques of direct contrast and juxtaposition. "Albers' rule was to make order", Rauschenberg once recalled, "but I consider myself successful when I do something that resembles the lack of order that I sense" (cited in Tomkins, Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World of Our Time, New York, 1981, p. 115.)

In response to this notion Rauschenberg's use of paint is almost unique. He appears to use it in an ego-less and autonomous way that demonstrates its material properties, its plasticity, opaqueness and its integrity. In Bride's Folly Rauschenberg uses pure color and simple forms in an extraordinary variety of ways, contrasting rectangular blocks of pure color in sequence over raw unprimed canvas at the top of the picture, letting it drip and smear. In other parts of the work, it is brushed in varying degrees of opacity, scratched, scrubbed and sponged onto the variegated surfaces of the work. On a shirt sleeve it has been mixed as if it were part of an artist's palette.
In terms of surface, Rauschenberg has applied paper, torn-up cardboard boxes, posters, sacking, gauze, the aforementioned torn shirt, a geological map of the moon and even a piece of a necktie, as well as, of course, at the centre of the work, a metal fork, brushed with black paint and pinned into the canvas. The seeming arbitrariness in the way these objects have been composed is both intentional and deceptive. Rauschenberg had learned from his friend, the composer John Cage, something of his Zen-influenced ideas about composition and the placing of objects in such a seemingly arbitrary and unstructured way that each element maintained its own clear identity, independence and autonomy.

The importance of these elements, their significance and possible symbolism is also deliberately underplayed. In Rauschenberg's earlier Combines, the artist had often incorporated personal items and effects into his work, along with a plenitude of photographic material. But by 1959, wary of what he once described as the 'souvenir quality' of some of these earlier works, he consciously sought a more objective and documentary-like selection of objects and materials. As Calvin Tomkins has pointed out, by the late 1950s, "Rauschenberg was starting to think of himself as a reporter, someone who bore visual witness to the constantly shifting, gritty, tension-filled life he saw around him in downtown Manhattan." (Tomkins, Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World of Our Time, New York, 1981, p. 115.)
Bride's Folly is clearly a work that responds to these aims. An assemblage of ordinary 'real' elements of the street, it is a work that materially and anonymously seems to document the life of an artist. Emptied of the highly personal, intimate, and nostalgic ephemera and memorabilia that comprised his earliest Combines, this work remains a personal work. With its extensive range of material and painted surfaces and its personal effects such as the shirt, tie and perhaps even the fork, it conveys a strong sense of an anonymous artist working within a contemporary urban environment. While the inclusion of a detailed map of the moon, veiled behind a black gauze lends the work a mysterious quality as well as anticipating Rauschenberg's later fascination with the space race and America's mission to the moon, the painting's central feature, the fork, is a deliberately humorous piece of irony. Placed at the very centre of the work against a cascading splash of white paint, the pinned fork gives order and meaning to the whole composition, while explaining nothing but itself. An ordinary household object, it appears in this context to be surrealistically transformed into an implement of magical or even mystical significance, a feature that is perhaps supported by the work's mysterious title. As with the material elements that constituted his Combines Rauschenberg liked to append seemingly arbitrary titles to his works so as to give them another layer of apparent significance without restricting them to any single explanation or meaning. In this context, the title of Bride's Folly seems wholly appropriate for this energetic, inventive and whimsical work.

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