The New York Review of Books arrived today. Excitement rushes through my body when I see it in the mailbox. This is The Art Issue. The one article that caught my eye on the front page was titled – Jed Perl: Robert Rauschenberg. “Ideal,” I mused.
An exhibition will be curated at MoMA in New York from May 21st until September 21st. The article is taken from the catalogue via Tate Publishing. So what’s this to do with cigars? Ah, everything and nothing. Depending on how you read the article. (Oh, how I wish I could be there to see the show. My perspective certainly would certainly be first hand.)
Briefly, “Milton Ernest “Robert” Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American painter and graphic artist whose early works anticipated the pop art movement.” (Google) To wit: “Robert Rauschenberg was a showman, a trickster, a shaman, and a charmer.” Perl goes on to say that the exhibit that will grace the halls of MoMA will display “the imprint of an automobile tire; a couple of rocks tied with pieces of rope or string; paintings that are all white, all black, or all red; a sheet and pillow spattered with paint; a drawing of William de Kooning that Rauschenberg erased; deconstructed corrugated cardboard boxes; bright silken banners; a blinking light; a taxidermied Angora goat; mixed-media works mounted on wheels so as to be easily moved around; and paintings packed with photographic images.”
Of course, I can’t reprint the entire article, but note that Rauschenberg was a success almost from day one by “keeping admirers and detractors alike on their toes with his swaggering insouciance, and thrust into the art world into what critic Harold Rosenberg dubbed, ‘the de-definition of art.’” In short, “Rauschenberg would do whatever it took to destabilize the audience’s expectations.” Comedic overtones. That’s why we laugh!
Sound familiar yet? Halfwheel wrote in an article dated February 18th, 2016 “When you think of, for lack of a better term, gringos owning and operating cigar factories in Estelí, Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate and Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac come to mind. But there’s another: James and Angela Brown of Black Label Trading Co., who not only own their own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra but also live in Estelí.” And then they decided to launch Black Works Studio. Both producing some of the most innovative cigar blends to hit the market.
It’s simple to see that there are some cigar manufacturers that have their three fingers on the pulse of the marketplace and are able to do whatever it takes to “destabilize the audience’s expectations.” And with this comes interest and eventual fame.
Modern art cannot be mentioned without naming works by Rauschenberg, just as cigars cannot be mentioned without mentioning Padron.
It’s fine and dandy to capitalize on tradition, even that has its place in art and the cigar industry. But those brands do something agile – different, that get the attention of bloggers, consumers, and the industry.
Of course, this is just a smidgen of the contributions of one artist and one gangly new cigar manufacturer. But it’s this confident difference that defines an era in art and procreates an edgy, razor-like movement out of the temporal tradition of cigar manufacturing.
Another perfect example is The Leaf by Oscar. Who would ever have thought that one of the ugliest cigars on the planet would take the industry by storm and become one of the most popular boutique cigars to date?
It is the innovative eye and savvy blender plus the acute, aware artist “who crossed boundaries and cross-pollinated staid disciplines that thrust them into their respective worlds making them almost instantaneous phenomenons.
There is a caveat that must be considered here. Art, such as what Rauschenberg produced, bestowed upon him a permanent and special place in the cultural milieux. That is not the case for cigars and is missing from the products that come from manufacturers such as The Leaf, and Black Works Studio. Yes, they will have their day, but will they have created an immutable spot in the cigar sphere? Methinks not. This is conjecture on my part, not a devastating blow to endless, enduring creativity.
When Marcel Duchamp exhibited Nude Descending a Staircase in 1913 when the Armory Show opened in Manhattan, the modern art world – the entire art world – was forever changed by dilating the eyes of other artists, critics, and museum goers alike to envision so far beyond what was considered acceptable art. A miracle.
New blends seem only to have a temporary impact in the industry and then it’s back to the blending board to keep the Nude from slipping back down further into the abyss of the usual and the traditional.
A battle royal indeed. Change is inevitable but tectonic, everlasting alterations in cigar blends that move smokers to trembling and tears are rarely experienced with an unusual blend. And maybe it’s not supposed to. But that shouldn’t stop anyone with swaggering gusto from giving it a shot.
Who is the next Rauschenberg? We don’t know. Ask Larry Gagosian the Armenian American art dealer who owns the Gagosian Gallery chain of art galleries (think, Richard Serra, Walter De Maria, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Howard Hodgkin, Rachel Whiteread, and Damien Hurst) – perhaps he knows.
Who’s the next Leaf? Who do you ask?