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    Rauschenberg's Long Goodbye
by Charlie Finch
Robert Rauschenberg
"Apogamy Pods"
Installation view
at PaceWildenstein
"Apogamy Pods"
Robert Rauschenberg
E (Apogamy Pods)
Robert Rauschenberg
R (Apogamy Pods)
An earlier work:
Port of Entry
The artist's signature
Robert Rauschenberg at work.
Photo Ed Chappell
Much has been made in the art press of the quote from Robert Rauschenberg stenciled on the wall of PaceWildenstein in Soho, where Rauschenberg's latest work constitutes the last show in that noble space (Pace is moving to Chelsea).

Here Rauschenberg pines, this work "was very hard to do. The hardest thing since I erased Bill's [de Kooning] drawing," almost half a century ago.

Truer words were never spoken. Nearing 80, naughty Bob enters the terrain of symphony conductors and Pablo Picasso, at the back end of twilight. Anyone would wonder, "What is the point of continuing to create, rather than just passively experiencing what's left?"

Rauschenberg's answer is essentially to erase his new pictures, mordantly dubbed "cryptograms." Bob's last show at Pace was playful, joyful, boyish, full of glowing ice cream cones and fire hydrants, one last splash in the fountain of youth.

Now, he has erased all that. These are deliberately ugly canvases, painted through a very dark glass. Muddy segments of past Rauschenbergs teeter over the edge, like ships on a flat-earth map of the Middle Ages, overthrown by the oceans of white at the center of each piece.

A few years ago, Julian Schnabel painted some OK portraits just to splatter white paint over them. Rauschenberg's pale hose tickle his painterly fragments, but definitely throw them over.

Even in mortalis excelsis, Bob is characteristically optimistic, choosing old pal white over the more basic black. He knows he's dancing on air, so he'll just make the air his own, thank you.

And, as always, Bob is honest with us: That space between art and life is getting awfully thin.

*          *          *
Longtime fans of this corner will appreciate a call we received from one Mary Boone last Friday night.

"Charlie, I loved your piece on Artnet" ["Mary Boone's Chelsea Triumph"].

"Thank you, Mary."

"I guess Eric [Fischl] won't like it much."

"That's OK, he's a big boy."

"You are a bold writer, Charlie, and I appreciate that. I often feel too intimidated to talk to you."

"Don't worry Mary. Your new space is terrific."

"I'm so happy to be in Chelsea, Charlie."

How nice to reach kismet with the feisty Boone, who told the Village Voice in 1998, "Finch is kind of like when an artist's work first goes up for auction. You quickly find out what the real value is."

Let's take it to market, sugar!!!

Robert Rauschenberg, "Apogamy Pods", Nov. 16-Dec. 30, 2000, at PaceWildenstein, 142 Greene St., New York, N.Y. 10012.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).