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Love Letters

Robert Rauschenberg from the collection of Terry Van Brunt

When I broke up with my boyfriend he burnt, crushed, stomped or ran over everything I had ever made for him. Special delight was taken later in recounting to me how things I had toiled over making met their end. It is truly fortunate that the beauty and deitrous of Terry Van Brunt and Robert Rauschenberg's relationship survived the fireplace’s lure to be hung on a wall for the whole city to see.

The inaugural exhibition of the Queer Cultural Center's Visual Arts Program, Love Letters: Robert Rauschenberg and Terry Van Brunt includes an impressive number of high-quality works from the collection of Terry Van Brunt, Rauschenberg's studio assistant, muse and personal companion for much of the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the pieces have never before been viewed by the public and were probably never intended to be. Ranging the gamut from major works of creative and technical merit, to pieces which amount to nothing more than artistically rendered pillow notes, or in one case a possibly used toothpick, the works on display are simultaneously revealing as well as voyeuristic in nature. The highlights of the show include a rare self-portrait, Untitled (AKA Bob's Face with Fly) of 1983, as well two untitled pieces of 1981 given to Van Brunt for his birthday and Valentine's Day respectively. A third piece, also Untitled of 1982, provides the crux of the show's accompanying exhibition essay and is a fine example of Rauschenberg's solvent transfer collage technique.

According to Dr. Jonathan Katz, the curator of the show, the collection affords a valuable opportunity to view Rauschenberg, the man and the artist, in a new way. Rauschenberg, he feels, has been unduly described through the art historical cannon as an artist obsessed with the improvisational process of random creation, when in reality much of his work is rooted in personal identity and experience and is expressly referential in its subject matter.

Faced with only Van Brunt's emotionally charged and intensely private collection pieces, those who enter Love Letters without prior knowledge of Rauschenberg's overall body of work will be more swayed by this argument than others. Wholly convincing in its bombardment of repeated thematics and consistency of images and subject matter, the exhibition succeeds in mounting an articulate defense for Rauschenberg's non-Dadaist sensibility. However, it is important to remember that the works forming this defense were made for an audience of one. As such, they can not possess the random universality of some of Rauschenberg's more arguably improvisational and widely received works.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating to engage in the push and pull of art and artifact that makes up Van Brunt's collection. Loudly passionate and intensely private, the collection creates a pictorial and thematic code that leaves the viewer feeling, foolishly perhaps, that they have mastered the reading of Rauschenberg's work. This sense is made more dramatic by the exhibition's final display, a series of letters written from Rauschenberg to Van Brunt, which the viewer can literally read. In one of these letters, Rauschenberg writes to Van Brunt, "Dear Terry - I just wanted a thought of great caring and supreme gratefulness to be left for you in some strategic place. This time I picked this one. Love, Bob."

It is this described moment of selection, whether it is random or careful, that fuels the work of Robert Rauschenberg and provides the backbone for this thought-provoking exhibition.

The Queer Cultural Center will present three exhibitions a year from internationally and nationally recognized artists who examine queer issues in their work. The space will also be available as a showcase for the work of local artists. Love Letters will be open Wednesday, June 28 through Sunday, August 4. Wednesday through Friday the show is open from 2 - 7 pm, Saturday Noon - 6 pm, and Sunday 1 - 5 pm. Admission is $3-10 suggested donation, and catalogues are available for $5.