Nick Hackworth

Robert Rauschenberg, Waddington Galleries

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Now in his 76th year, Robert Rauschenberg, long regarded as a figure of major art-historical significance, is showing a series of 10 large works produced over the past two years. He first came to prominence in the Fifties when he began assimilating real objects into his paintings, creating collages of life and art. He beat Hirst and Emin by several decades to the use of dishevelled beds and dead animals in art, exhibiting a stuffed goat and a bed, both splattered with paint. The Pop artists inspired by Rauschenberg (and Jasper Johns) extended this logic of appropriation until the surfaces of their work became almost indistinguishable from the fabric of everyday life.

Rauschenberg’s new works, too, are an exercise in the arrangement of disparate, appropriated elements, in this case fragmented images of everyday life: people, beaches, dogs, pavements, windows, walls, plants and cars all culled from magazines and photographs. Rauschenberg has collaged them together on white backgrounds, but loosely, so that much of the background is visible in each piece. Superficially, the works appear to be inkjet prints on canvas, but are, in fact, vegetable-dye transfers on polylaminate board, a mysterious technique that leaves the colours washed out and the images flat. These effects are uniform, however, giving the pieces an overall visual coherence.

Narrative coherence, however, is absent, despite the expectations conjured up by the name of the show, Short Stories, and by the title of each work being a page and paragraph number. In Page 33, Paragraph 4, the incomplete images of three cartoon figures, a chef and a couple in Alpine dress, float next to an illustration of an armchair and some photos of a wall painted black and white.

Most of the other pictures are similar unhappy marriages of mundane images that have little going for them individually or collectively, either aesthetically or as starting points for imaginative journeys. A few of the works, it is true, wear a moving air of melancholy — as if the faint fragments were the remnants of a half-remembered dream. Unfortunately, the few good pieces that there are, such as Page 1, Paragraph 3, stand next to others that record only the dreams of dullards.

Until 6 July. Information: Short Stories is at the Waddington Galleries, 11 Cork Street, W1 (020 7851 2200)