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Scorching Heat of Rauschenberg Summer in L.A.

Actually, I don't mind the occasional mangling of phrases by President Bush, or his idiosyncratic pronunciation of 'nu-ku-ler' instead of 'nu-cle-ar.' With my accent, and inability to put articles where they belong (unless my wonderful assistant intervenes), who am I to throw stones? But when I catch the New York Times, the Newspaper of Record and my virtual bible of English, making mistakes, that shakes me up. On the front page of Sunday's "Week In Review" section, there is an article summary stating that, "you're nobody until you're chiseled in bronze." I beg your pardon...? "Chiseled in bronze"?! How is it possible? One uses a chisel to work with stone, or wood, not bronze. Unless I'm missing something, the article headline should have read, "you're nobody until you're cast in bronze." Is anyone listening?

Last year, the New York Times published an article about the legal controversies around the Getty collection of antiquities. The story was illustrated with a photo of the Getty Villa that -- ouch! -- turned out to be a picture of a nearby private residence. And how about the newspaper's reference to LACMA as a museum located in downtown L.A.?

But enough about my favorite newspaper and its occasional faux pas. Let's talk about the much-anticipated cultural event that finally rolled into town over the weekend--and I'm not talking about The Da Vinci Code, that monumental bore I had to flee from after an hour.

The event to really get excited about is the absolutely superb exhibition, "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines", which originated at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and just opened here at MOCA. For Paul Schimmel, curator of this exhibition and one of the authors of the catalogue, this whole project is, no doubt, a labor of love. The installation of the exhibition is nothing short of brilliant, a theater presentation full of suspense and intrigue. As MOCA's chief curator, Schimmel is intimately familiar with the eleven Combines his museum owns, the largest number of these prized Rauschenberg works in anyone's collection.

For ten years, between 1954 and 1964, the artist, it seems, could do no wrong; in a state of sustained fury -- or could it be a state of grace? -- Rauschenberg was churning out one masterpiece after another, and all of them of a kind never seen before. They were a combination of painting and sculpture, and he called them 'Combines.' He threw in stuffed chickens and a goat, old socks and dirty linen, rubber tires and a whole panoply of electric appliances, and then, in a baptism of color applied with coarse brushstrokes, the artist transformed this junkyard detritus into sizzling icons of frightening, awe-inspiring power. How anyone could sustain his creativity at such an unbelievable fever pitch for a whole decade is beyond me.

I definitely plan to see this exhibition any chance I get. Today's program is only my initial gut reaction to this fascinating, multi-layered exhibition. The next three months in Los Angeles should be proclaimed 'Rauschenberg summer' as we all are going to bask in the heat of his genius. But please, be warned: it's possible to get scorched by Rauschenberg's art.

"Robert Rauschenberg: Combines"
May 21 - September 4
MOCA
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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