Robert Rauschenberg: Japanese Clayworks
Apr 8 – Jul 9, 2022

Robert Rauschenberg, Mirthday Man (Ceramic) II, 1998

This comprehensive exhibition brings together rarely seen works from two of Robert Rauschenberg’s most innovative series. For a period of 15 years, Rauschenberg made several trips to Japan where he created ceramic artworks using a newly developed technique that combined ancient Japanese pottery traditions with modern innovations.

The Japanese Clayworks (1982/1985) feature sculptural elements, photographic imagery of ancient and modern Japan as well as distinctive brushstrokes. His Japanese Recreational Clayworks (1982–83/1985) comprise prefabricated reproductions of historical Western artworks on ceramic panels, to which Rauschenberg added his own imagery of contemporary Japan from photographs he took across the country, along with gestural brushwork.


Robert Rauschenberg, All Abordello Doze 2 (Japanese Recreational Claywork), 1982

Robert Rauschenberg, Index (Japanese Recreational Claywork), 1985

The monumental Dirt Shrine: East is one of the first works of Rauschenberg’s series of Japanese Clayworks, which the artist created in close collaboration with the Otsuka Ohmi Ceramics Company (OOCC) during numerous trips to Shigaraki, Japan. The sculptural elements are reminiscent of his Combines (1954–64) and Spreads (1975–83) and by combining elements of both painting and sculpture, he blurred the boundaries between these artistic categories.

The title implies that this work is a kind of temple to the earth. This has particular resonance as Shigaraki – one of six famous kiln sites in Japan – is especially known for the color and qualities of the local clay.

I think collaboration is a prescription or device that keeps one from getting hung up on a strong single intention that blinds. […] Every individual that you add to a project will result in ten times as many possibilities. –Robert Rauschenberg

While Rauschenberg was waiting for his works to be fired in the kiln at the OOCC, he started work on a second series, the Japanese Recreational Clayworks. This series features reproductions of historical Western artworks on ceramic panels, which the OOCC specialized in manufacturing. To these iconic motifs, Rauschenberg added his own imagery of contemporary Japan from photographs he took across the country, along with gestural brushwork.


Robert Rauschenberg, Dirt Shrine: East (Japanese Claywork), 1982

Appropriating works by other artists as source imagery or even collage elements was characteristic of Rauschenberg’s practice from the early 1950s. The works in the exhibition reflect on ideas of appropriation through the ongoing dialogue between the artist’s hand and the mechanically reproduced image, continuing an exploration of the interplay between unique and multiple and echoing Duchamp’s concept of the readymade.

Rauschenberg’s earliest exposure to art was seeing printed reproductions of oil paintings on playing cards and the doubled portrait and proportion of this work recalls the Queens in a deck of cards.


Robert Rauschenberg, Lisa Fugue #1, 1985

Robert Rauschenberg, Pneumonia Lisa (Japanese Recreational Claywork), 1982

Characteristically a focus of innovation in his practice, the flat picture-plane of the Japanese Recreational Clayworks is subject to conceptual considerations. While the texture of the original oil paintings is completely eradicated by the glassy ceramic surface of the recreations, Rauschenberg reintroduces a painterly quality to the works through his own playful strokes of color.

To this depiction of two iconic female nudes by Gustave Courbet, Rauschenberg added imagery from color photographs that he had taken in Japan during the 1980s. One image shows an arm-wrestling arcade game reminiscent of a sumo wrestler, another shows a painting of two Chow Chow dogs. Juxtaposing these icons of Western art with everyday images allowed him to guide the viewer’s imagination, continuing beyond the narratives in the original works and inviting the development of new perspectives.


Robert Rauschenberg, Rice Blessings (Japanese Claywork), 1985

Robert Rauschenberg, Testimony (Japanese Claywork), 1985

Travel to foreign countries, where he explored the use of local materials and worked with local artisans, was a fundamental part of Rauschenberg’s artistic practice. He embraced international cultures through his contact with people and ideas from around the world and continually challenged the potential of materials and definitions of medium and originality.

The images in this work are derived from photographs taken during Rauschenberg’s travels around the world. An image of a marsh in Venezuela is highlighted by a painted green frame.

Rauschenberg’s fruitful collaboration with OOCC concluded with the creation of his monumental Mirthday Man (Ceramic) II (1998). Selected by Rauschenberg for ceramic recreation after his retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1997, the work prominently features X-rays of the artist’s body alongside images from his own color photographs and a depiction of Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485). The imagery in this work, which marks the artist’s 72nd birthday, can be seen as a self-portrait incorporating many leitmotifs that held personal meaning for him.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Kristen Clevenson, Curatorial Assistant at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and an introduction by Christopher Rauschenberg, President of the Board of Directors.


Robert Rauschenberg: Japanese Clayworks
April 8 – July 9, 2022 / Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg Villa Kast
Salzburg, Austria
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