WALTHAM — “I want to give a really BAD party,” says Dick Diver, the great party host in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night.” “I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.”
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was the Dick Diver of American postwar art. He understood intuitively the need for art, like social life, to get messy again after too many years of starchy self-importance and pomposity. That’s why I love him, and it’s why I particularly love this work at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.
It’s called “Second Time Painting,” and it is one of a series of three witty, brazen works Rauschenberg made in 1961. All three were made in a hurry, as part of a performance at the American Embassy Theater in Paris in 1961 (a great year for parties, I’m told).
Rauschenberg set up three canvases, turning their backs to the audience. With an alarm clock running down, he began working away. The audience could hear only his voice, and the sounds of his busy activity.
Various fabrics and clothing items were glued to the canvas. Paint was applied liberally and with Rauschenberg’s characteristic panache. Only when the alarm went off were the canvases turned around. (For good measure, the clock itself was also attached, though upside down.)
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