If looking at Robert Petersen’s latest body of work makes you flashback to Robert Rauschenberg, you are right on the mark.This month Jim Kempner’s gallery presents Mr. Petersen’s series of collages that the artist categorized as an homage to late Rauschenberg’s obsession with Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. As the legend goes, Blue Boy was the first painting that made Rauschenberg realize that he could be an artist.
And while the seriality of the images could mean an homage to Rauschenberg’s moment of self realization, it is possible that this moment is not solely an isolated occurrence. Perhaps this is the sort of realization that can span a lifetime, from one inspiration to another.
Confronted with multiples of the same image in different shapes and different colors, (red, green, blue) I was curious to find out why the series of all shapes were in threes. If I had anticipated any revolutionary explanation, I would have been out of luck. The trick it seemed to be that the printers Mr. Petersen engaged for his large and small works became interested in his art and worked out a deal to create more multiples. Sometimes the meaning behind an action is that simple.
And sometimes the meaning is so hidden it takes two Graduate students to unearth it. While we appreciated the nod to Rauschenberg in his latest work, my esteemed colleague Ingrid Nordstrom and I worked up a sweat debating the merits of a particular drawing/collage created a decade earlier.
This piece hangs almost unnoticed in the gallery with dim lighting and barely any audience. Curious, Ms. Nordstrom and I studied the work. Three predominant colors -red, green and blue that are prevalent in current exhibition were already visible in this early work. The visual subtractive and additing properties displayed on the graph paper contributed to our understanding of the work as a problem to be solved, not just as a visual construct but a conceptual one. I suggested that the point of heavy marks and closeness of words were there to create light and shadow. Ms.Nordstrom who does have a background in theater, was first to find that the reciting of words drawn on the work according to the speed and heaviness of the lines was crucial to the composition, making it into a musical score. I found my colleague’s interpretation much more interesting than mine, but we agreed that it was quite possible that the artist intended both effects for the work. We were both so exhausted from the mental and vocal exercise, that we didn’t bother to consider the possibility that the artists had neither of our ideas in mind. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Sometimes the experience of discussing the work of art is far more satisfying than finding out the truth behind it.
On the side note Jim Kempner Gallery has become one of my favorite galleries to visit. The inventory is exciting, the shows are constantly changing, and the staff is knowledgeable and personable. None of those barely visible-over-the-giant -white cube-of a desk barely legal office assistants one gets in a certain Madison avenue gallery.
And you must check out Jim Kempner’s website http://themadnessofart.com/
- Rauschenberg / Art and Live, Mary Lynn Kotz, H. N. Abrams, New York, 1990, p. 60