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Two Art Exhibits From New York Come To The Norton In West Palm Beach

Madeline Fox
Works by Robert Rauschenberg on display at the Norton Museum of Art. These are some of his later works, though the museum is displaying pieces from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Much like many snowbirds this time of year, two art exhibits have made their way to South Florida from New York City.

The Norton Museum of Art is hosting a collection of Robert Rauschenberg’s work, comprising five decades of the pioneering modern artist’s sculpture, prints and mixed media on loan from the Whitney Museum of Art.

“It’s sometimes very hard to classify, by museum standards, Rauschenberg works,” said Carrie Springer, an assistant curator at the Whitney. “Are they paintings, are they sculptures, are they prints? You know, they’re a little bit of everything.”

Credit Madeline Fox / WLRN
One of the pieces on loan from the Whitney Museum of Art by Robert Rauschenberg.

The collection, which includes works Rauschenberg created from the 1950s to the 1990s, includes several very different pieces — a calculated arrangement of used cardboard boxes from his time living in Captiva, on Florida’s west coast; a mixed-media “combine” that includes a T-shirt and a flattened can of Blue Eagle motor oil, and a series of colorful collage-style prints blending photos he took in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

“We sort of take it for granted that so much of what he did was groundbreaking,” said curator Cheryl Brutvan of works like the Blue Eagle piece and his other mixed-media work of the 1950s and 1960s. “When these combines were first exhibited, they really didn’t know how to describe them.”

Though Rauschenberg’s work changed over time, Springer pointed to the heavy influence of different places in shaping his artistic expression as a throughline of his work.

“Rauschenberg had an amazing sensitivity to a kind of spirit of place,” she said. “He traveled a lot throughout his life, and he responded a lot to where he was.”

In the pieces on display in West Palm Beach, including a bicycle sculpture influenced by a visit to the Texas oil country where Rauschenberg grew up, a cardboard box display fashioned after a trip to Venice and the gritty collection of city detritus that animates “Blue Eagle,” created while he was living in New York.

In the adjoining gallery, the museum has staged an exhibit of Art Nouveau posters — a dozen works selected from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of graphic displays commissioned in the 1890s for advertising, magazine covers and books.

The works are from the same era as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous posters for the Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir, but are a little more American in their styling, said Norton curator Ellen Roberts — chiefly in their modesty, with people a little more clothed than Lautrec’s dancers.

The exhibit includes the work of five designers, with several pieces each by William Henry Bradley and Louis John Rhead.

The posters are all from the years 1893 to 1896 — a span that Roberts says reflects the short period where the posters were seen as commercially viable advertising.

“People realized that people were collecting the posters, instead of buying the product that they wanted them to sell,” she said.

Both exhibits come from the collections of Leonard Lauder, a known collector of cubism who’s also amassed collections of more popular art designed for a non-museum audience — the Art Nouveau posters, World War II government posters and old postcards.

The poster exhibit will be on display through May 17th, and the Rauschenberg exhibit through June 28th. Admission to the Norton Museum of Art is free to all on Fridays and Saturdays.