In 1972, the art critic Leo Steinberg said that the artist Robert Rauschenberg had invented “a pictorial surface that let the world in again.” He was looking back to the 1950s, when Rauschenberg started making his collage assemblages. After a trip to Chile in the 1980s, the artist swapped out canvas for copper, brass, bronze, and aluminum. These metals, especially the aluminum, symbolized the industrialized world; and the metal’s reflective surface connected the art to its surroundings. In Night Shades and Phantoms, two series from 1991, Rauschenberg joined silkscreen images to brushed and mirrored aluminum, then treated the works with Aluma Black tarnish to create dark and ghostly effects. As David Salle writes in the exhibition catalogue, “Rauschenberg knew how to let forms and masses invade and affect each other, energizing the surface to build a sense of pictorial consequence, itself part of something larger, deeper.” —E.C.
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