Dry Cell


Gagosian has a Robert Rauschenberg mini-retrospective at its Chelsea satellite gallery. Lots of so-so work mixed with good pieces, an ahistorical mingling of early and late. Was glad to spend some time with Dry Cell, 1963, reproduced above.

Jim Long, writing in the Brooklyn Rail, described the piece as follows:

In [this] assemblage a military helicopter is screened on a piece of Plexiglas attached to the frame of a folding camp stool mounted on the wall. A sound sensor activates a small motor that spins a shrapnel-like fragment of metal; it’s terrifying.

The motor wasn't operating at Gagosian--possibly it might have frightened the venerable and well heeled patrons milling about last Saturday and made one or more of them think about exerting some social pressure on that nice military contractor in their co-op, you know, the one that keeps pushing these silly foreign wars for profit. Vietnam flashbacks aside, what I find interesting in Dry Cell is its complex spatial layering of angled lines, a formal puzzle to rival the social vectors of mass destruction: the camp stool is one set of such lines; another is screened onto the pane of glass attached to the stool, and a third resides in the outlines of a swaybacked '60s Army helicopter (just visible in the above photo). An incongruous coat hanger complicates matters even further. The assemblage has a rough, dirty quality, like a prototype robot that has just come back from the field with holographic combat images, mounted for its final debriefing.