Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008, American
MOMA, NY reviewed the art of Robert Rauschenberg this year with a representative sample of the artist’s large oeuvre.
The focus was on the artist’s close co-operation with colleagues and friends, arts communities outside the United States. Their mutual encouragement.
MOMA’s focus in this politically bad, bizarre year was apt.
From the evidence, generosity, intellectual and emotional openness and creative curiosity about materials, techniques, the performing arts, were among the chief drivers of Rauschenberg’s work.
The artist enlisted in the navy in 1944 when he was 19 or 20. He was not sent into a foreign theater of war. He worked at a Marine Corps. rehabilitation center before school in the arts in the United States and in Paris.
Postcard, Self-portrait, Black Mountain (where the artist was at art school), 1952, silver gelatin print. Photo from the website of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Rauschenberg’s generosity was comprehensive.
He was generous with people and they with him. It is a substantial list of artists who worked with him. Sharing creation and ideas and human presence.
The Moderna Museet in Stockholm reports an incident in which a woman who did not know the artist dismissed a painting as something that a boxer she named could have done. The artist immediately moved to the painting and wrote that the creation was that of the boxer.
His imaginative generosity extended to the use of materials of all kinds: earth substances, ambient and generated sound, also found objects and manufactured items. The artist spoke of the generosity of objects which he found and incorporated into his work.
Perhaps the liveliness and popularity of his combines – the artist’s name for his combinations of sculpture, painting , collage and found objects – come from the artist’s belief in the agency of non-organic objects. Not symbolic agency necessarily but agency because each is with its history of human interaction.
One interpretation of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, black too, which he began in 1951 is also generosity. These paintings were much reproduced by other painters including Cy Twombly and Brice Marden.
And by Ad Rheinhardt who reduced his own black painting in 1963 to a death knell for the end of the painted tradition. Something belied by Rauschenberg’s achievement after that date.
Ultimate Painting, 1963, oil on canvas. Ad Rheinhardt, 1913-1967, American. Collection of Virginia Dwan on exhibition in 2016 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Rauschenberg’s white canvases and some of his black canvases are covered with paint but with no other mark.
It was John Cage, I think, who called these white paintings ‘airports of light’ and, of course, airports are institutions open to everyone. People passing are reflected in some of these paintings.
With this white and black work, Rauschenberg was in Duchampian mode. (Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1966, American born France).
The same can be said also of the Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). This was a work in which Rauschenberg tried (and did not totally succeed) to erase the lines of a Willem de Kooning (1904-1977) drawing (with de Koonimg’s reluctant assent; Rauschenberg had first chosen his own drawing to erase but decided that the exercise needed the work of someone of renown).
The work of Rauschenberg’s life was to determine and push out the boundaries of artistic creation.
White Painting, 1958, repainted 1968, seven panels painted with Latex house paint, roller and brush. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Untitled and detail, enamel paint and and paper on canvas, 1951. 4 parts. Whitney Museum of American Art on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
This is one of six black paintings which the artist reworked to a size larger than the original to match sizes being produced by the Abstract Expressionists.
Untitled, 1952/53, oil and newspaper on canvas affixed to screen door. Private collection loaned to MOMA, NY in 2017
Detail of Untitled (Black Painting with Asheville Citizen), c. 1952, asphaltum and newspaper on oil and metallic paint on canvas. Two panels. MOMA, NY
The museum notes that beneath the surface of asphaltum are a seated man and the bust of a woman. The original appears to be work done by the artist and Susan Weil and overpainted by Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg was not sentimental about old work because he recognized that he was in a process of education.
A third layer is provided by people circulating in the gallery and looking at this work.
To these white, and black, paintings, Rauschenberg himself responded with his combines: paintings combined with collage and found and manufactured items and structures. The art historian Leo Steinberg said, “What he invented above all was…a pictorial surface that let the world in again.”
Again, that is, after the eclecticism, the interiority and the gate-keeping of the Abstract Expressionists. Rauschenberg blew open the artistic field for good and also, naturally, for boringly derivative and imitative.
Performance was also a part of the artist’s repertoire even if minimal compared to his other artistic output. He was on stage painting (below) during a danced tribute to the composer David Tudor. The audience could not see the painting and when an alarm clock sounded, Rauschenberg picked up his work and walked out of the theater with it. But I don’t know how many such gestures have been reported.
The artist did not, to my knowledge, include his physical body in his creations in the manner, for instance, of David Hammons (American, born 1940), whose work is inspirited, in part, by Robert Rauschenberg’s.
Pray For America, 1969, pigment and screenprint on paper. David Hammons, American, born 1943. On display at MOMA in 2017; a gift promised to both MOMA and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
One of several body prints which the artist made by pressing his skin and clothing smeared with grease or margarine onto paper. He would then sprinkle the surface with graphite or pigment.
I like to be with Rauschenberg’s works.
I do not think the museum said anything about his sensuality. Perhaps this is not the way museums talk about artists.
The artist’s sensuality streams out of photographs and his work; and out of the handling of his paint and of the many substances he used.
Merce Cunningham‘s dancers spoke of the pleasure they had feeling and dancing their way through and around one of his dance sets (below).
Rauschenberg accommodated many different kinds of materials and techniques. He treated some of them minimally and worked with others extensively. All of them result in presentations without cynicism or affectation. They also recall us to the interestingness and even beauty of the habitats in which we live.
Photo from the collection of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm with whom the artist had a long collaboration. (I don’t know the date). Christer Strömholm: Robert Rauschenberg, Amsterdam. Copyright of Christer Strömholm/ Bildverksamheten Strömholm
I like also the apparently ad hoc (improvised) quality of the artist’s combines and of some of his paintings. Not of his silkscreens and lithographic work: they are as meticulous as a Seurat. But the combines are ad hoc when you experience them: they are, after all a hybrid mode of expression. When you are confronted with the hybrids, your mind creates a crevice, a breakage, an objection. You either jump or you don’t. Some people don’t and are disconcerted.
The combines were often not executed in an ad hoc way. Monogram (below), probably the most famous, was four years in the building and positioning.
Rauschenberg’s techniques included the peremptory brushwork and dripping, dribbling, scraping, splashing and gorgeous colours of the Abstract Expressionists. He denied that he was trying to displace them or do anything to their exalted status: he owed them.
He need not have defended himself: his work showed that he enveloped and incorporated them.
Satellite, 1955, oil, fabric, paper and wood on canvas with taxidermic pheasant. Whitney Museum of American Art
Then he opened paths out of their world. This ever-opening is the promise and opportunity of our Western civilization.
A quintessential American (Texan), pushing, bending, juxtaposing, expanding. The artist acknowledged his antecedents to include the god Apollo: he of the many, complex layers; and master of pinpoint light which allows us to see clearly near details and the far horizon also.
Gift for Apollo and detail, 1959, oil fragments of a pair of men’s pants, necktie, wood, fabric, newspaper, printed paper, and printed reproductions on wood with metal bucket, metal chain, doorknob, L-brackets, metal washer, nail, cement and rubber wheels with metal spokes. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017.
The museum notes that the god’s chariot has been reimagined and that the artist liked to add wheels to his combines in order that they can be moved around. Like the sun, perhaps.
I appreciate Robert Rauschenberg’s work for its innovations, possibilities first suggested by Marcel Duchamp. I love him for the attitude with which he worked: generous, optimistic, open, without cynicism. I like his whimsy which seems to have been equal to his seriousness.
Rauschenberg worked in companionship with many artists: sharing studios when he was young, and ideas, work techniques. He worked with choreographers and dancers. He made work in company with artists.
Among artists who shared with him some portion of their work lives was Susan Weil, whom he married and with whom he had a son before he came to assume fully his homosexuality. Their mutual care and work encouragement continued throughout Rauschenberg’s life. Their son is the keeper of the Rauschenberg Foundation.
Untitled (Double Rauschenberg), c. 1950, exposed blueprint paper. Susan Weil , American born 1930, and Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008, American. Loaned by the Cy Twombly Foundation to MOMA, NY in 2017
Female Figure, c. 1950, exposed blueprint paper. Susan Weil , American born 1930, and Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008, American. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Sue, c. 1950, exposed blueprint paper. Susan Weil , American born 1930, and Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008, American. Private collection loaned to MOMA, NY in 2017
Shooting Painting American Embassy and detail, 1961, paint, plaster, wood, plastic bags, shoe, twine, metal seat, axe, metal can, toy gun, wire mesh, shot pellets, and other obects on wood. Niki de Saint-Phalle, 1930-2002, French. MOMA, NY
Untitled (Night Blooming), 1951, oil on canvas with embedded gravel, asphaltum and lead paint. Robert Rauschenberg. Loaned to MOMA in 2017 by his foundation
Rauschenberg said: I think a painting is more like the real world if it is made out of the real world.
Mother of God and detail, c. 1950, cut and torn roadmaps with newspaper, oil, enamel, and metallic paint on Masonite. San Francisco Museum on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
The museum notes that the artist made a number of ‘elemental’ paintings to showcase a particular material: paper, gold, dirt, clay. In order to ‘test the market’, the artist also made paintings of toilet paper for each painting he made of precious metal. These last have not survived.
Gold and silver leaf on fabric, newspaper, paint, wood, glue and nails on wood in a wood and glass frame, 1953. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
Gold Leaf on fabric, and glue on composition board in a wood and glass frame, 1953
Mud Muse, 1968-71, bentonite mixed with water in aluminum and glass vat with sound-activated compressed-air system and control console. Loaned to MOMA in 2017 by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
This work comprises a feedback loop which the artist created with aerospace engineers from Teledyne. The sounds seem primordial. The technology is modern.
The museum notes that the basin of this vat is filled with bentonite normally used when drilling natural gas and oil wells. There are sound-activated pneumatic tubes installed in its base which pump air through the mud in response to a tape recording of the sounds of the bubbling clay.
In the process of making his painting more like the real world, the artist invited the interaction of people visiting his art.
There are chairs on which to imagine yourself sitting, beds which he was afraid would invite people to lie down, baths into which you can imagine yourself climbing. In one piece, he placed a metal box and in it things which viewers could take so long as they replaced what they took with something of their own.
In his grand creation, Oracle, the sound, created with the help of Bell Labs engineers, was originally created interactively.
Among his celebrated colleagues were Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns, also sometime lovers of Rauschenberg.
15 Entr’acte (Fifteen-minute intermission), 1961. Jasper Johns, American born 1930. Music Ludwig, Cologne on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
Target with Four Faces and detail, 1955, encaustic on newspaper and cloth over canvas surmounted by four tinted plaster places in wood box with hinged front. Jasper Johns, American born 1930. MOMA, NY
Johns and Rauschenberg had studios in the same building when Johns made this. The face is that of the artist Rachel Rosenthale. Above the faces can be seen a hinged plank which allows a door to open for further access to the faces.
Short Circuit and detail, mixed media, 1955. This was created by Robert Rauschenberg with Jasper Johns (American, born 1930), Susan Weil (American, born 1930), Elaine Sturtevant (1924-2014, American). It includes a program from an early John Cage concert given by him and by David Tudor; and an autograph of Judy Garland.
The short circuit of the title refers to an invitation by Rauschenberg to friends to contribute works to this piece once he discovered that the gallery for whom this piece was made was not accepting individual works from his co-artists. Susan Weil and Jasper Johns were, in the end, the only two to contribute their own drawings to this piece and these were incorporated by Rauschenberg within the shallow cabinets (Johns’ flag later stolen).
Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg identified each other as their own first serious critics and gave each other creative ideas.
Rauschenberg worked for 10 creative years with the choreographer, Merce Cunningham and the composer John Cage. For them and for others, Rauschenberg created stage design, lighting and costumes.
Minutiae and detail, 1954, oil, paper, fabric, newspaper, wood, paint sample colour chart, graphite, metal, plastic, with hanging mirror and wooden supports. Jasper Johns, American born 1930 with Robert Rauschenberg. Private collection in Switzerland on loan to MOMA, NY.
This was built by the two artists at the request of the choreographer, Merce Cunningham who wanted something that his dancers could use in a dance. When the curtain went up, the mirror would be spinning and flashing.
Screenshots of Travelogue, a 1977 ballet: choreography by Merce Cunningham, score by John Cage to include bird sounds and dialed telephone numbers. The set design and costumes were by Robert Rauschenberg. The set consisted of a row of chairs, bicycle wheels and hanging banners. During the dance, various items were appended to the dancer’s leotards. These included tin cans whose sound accompanied each move.
Scanning and detail, 1963, oil and silkscreen ink print on canvas includes images of members of Merce Cunningham’s dance group rehearsing Aeon. The paw marks on the left are those of Rauchenberg’s pet kinkajou whose name was Sweetie. Private loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
The artist’s combines, begun in 1954 with Charlene, below, the first, are structures which are free-standing or attach to walls. They combine the improvised brushwork of Abstract Expressionist painting with collage and objects found in the real world.
They are the result of his process of making his painting more like the real world; and he made about 160 of them over the next 10 years.
Charlene and detail, 1954, mixed media. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam on loan in 2017 to MOMA.
The artist wanted the world in his paintings: he included a number of real objects, some of them possessions like a T-shirt, in this painting. This tableau is the largest of the artist’s works in his ‘Red Painting’ series and is considered the first of his combines.
The large variety of materials which he used in his work attest to his voracious curiosity.
Bed and detail, 1955, oil, pencil, toothpaste and red fingernail polish on pillow quilt; and bedsheet mounted on wood supports. MOMA, NY.
The artist made this when he did not have the money for a canvas. He used a quilt given him by the artist Dorothea Rockburne. Cy Twombly, who often worked with Rauschenberg at this time in his NY studio, is thought to have added the pencil marks on the pillow.
The museum points to the artist’s preference for art made in a context of friendship and exchange rather than as an solitary act.
Untitled Drawing, 1954, gouache, wax crayon and coloured pencil on paper. Cy Twombly, 1928-2011, American
The museum juxtaposed this drawing by Cy Twombly.
I am not going to start on about how awful Twombly’s work is but I would like to point to Rauschenberg’s vast creativity compared to the monomaniacal Twombly scribbling.
Rebus and detail, 1955, oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, paper paint chips, printed and painted paper, newspaper, journal, poster clippings, drawing by Cy Twombly, and fabric on canvas, mounted and stapled to fabric. Three panels.
The artist incorporated in this work a number of things which he found in a period of a few days in his neighbourhood. Colour discipline is provided a strip mid-painting of 117 commercial paint samples. A painting by Cy Twombly is included in the lower panel.
The title of the painting is the name of a game in which words and pictures can be used interchangeably. The museum notes that the artist believed the name to be an integral element of a work.
Monogram and detail, 1955-59, oil, paper, printed reproductions, metals, wood, rubber shoe heel and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil, an Angora taxidermied goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters.
Moderna Museet, Stockholm loaned to MOMA, NY in 2017.
It was four years of experimentation for the artist before he decided, with the advice of Jasper Johns, to let him just stand there on his canvas with the tire around his middle. The artist was reminded of the interweaving of the letters of a monogram with this goat and his tire.
There are many interpretations of this work. I like that it juxtaposes our natural and fabricated worlds, our very rich milieu. I don’t like that this goat is constrained. But then I like angora wool.
Untitled, 1959, tin can, pocket watch, and chain. Private loan in 2017 to MOMA, NY
Painting with Grey Wing and detail, 1959, oil, printed reproductions, unpainted paint-by-number board, typed print on paper, photographs, fabric, stuffed bird wing, and dime on canvas.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
A depiction of the homeoerotic desire in the myth of Zeus and the boy Ganymede whom he kidnapped and lifted to his Olympian abode.
Canyon and detail, 1959, oil, pencil, paper, photograph, fabric, wood, canvas, buttons, mirror, taxidermied eagle, cardboard, pillow, paint tube, and other materials. MOMA, NY
The bald eagle was a gift from the artist Sari Dienes who found it in a pile of discarded stuff in a building in New York. The photograph is of his son, Christopher. A depiction of the homeoerotic desire in the myth of Zeus and the boy Ganymede whom he kidnapped and lifted to his Olympian abode is one of the sources of this combine also.
A fabulous painting, sensuous and sober, of the acceptance by an American artist of his American destiny and of himself as he was.
You want to extend your arm and touch the artist’s heart, that smudged flesh dull blood pink in the middle of the painting.
You are relieved for the earth- tethering sandbag hanging from the right side of the painting because the eagle, Zeus and eagles are soaring sky powers who do what they want to do and are often rapacious.
And you smile to see the artist’s son on the left of the painting in a little man’s Ecce Homo pose, greeting and presenting his father.
First Time Painting and detail, 1961, oil, paper, fabric, sailcloth, plastic exhaust cap, alarm clock, sheet metal, adhesive tape, metal springs, wire, and string on canvas.
This was a contribution to Hommage to David Tudor (1926-1996, American composer closely associated with John Cage and Merce Cunningham).
Rauschenberg painted this on stage, its back to the audience and attached contact microphones to amplify the sound of his brushstrokes. He declared the painting done when the alarm clock rang. The artist wrapped the painting and left the theater. The painting was put on display the next day in a commercial gallery.
Black Market and detail, 1961, oil, watercolour, pencil, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed paper, printed reproductions, wood, metal, tin, street sign, license plate, four metal clipboards on canvas, with rope, chain and metal suitcase containing rubber stamp, inkpad and typed instructions regarding objects to be given and taken by viewers.
Loaned to MOMA, NY by Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
Exhibited first in Amsterdam in 1961, Rauschenberg placed objects in the metal suitcase and had an invitation to visitors to take an object and replace it with something of their own and place a drawing of their contribution on one of the clipboards. He withdrew the invitation when it was found that people were stealing the objects in the box and contributing nothing.
Ace and detail, 1962, oil, paper, paint can label, umbrella, doorknob, wood, fabric, nails, and metal on canvas. Albright Knox Art Gallery on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017.
The speakers originally intended to accompany this work are included in the artist’s multi-object creation, Oracle. Ace was the artist’s name for the dancer and choreographer, Steve Paxton, also the artist’s sometime lover.
Pilgrim, 1960, oil, graphite, paper, printed paper, and fabric on canvas, with painted wooden chair. Loaned by a private collector to MOMA, NY in 2017
The museum notes that Merce Cunningham carried a chair on his back in his Antic Meet of 1958 and that may be a source of this combine. This chair was used to scrape paint down the painting. In his ever generosity, the artist is inviting you to sit with this work.
Cove, 1963, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas. Loaned by Jasper Johns to MOMA, NY in 2017
In 1962, Andy Warhol taught Richard Rauschenberg how to use silkscreen. This coincided with a decision of Rauschenberg’s to incorporate ‘current world-wide images’ in a painting also containing ready-mades.
Rauschenberg created an inventory of more than 150 screens, combining and recombining their images in different composites adding paint. For this he won the Venice Biennal in 1964.
The artist’s silkscreens are the most beautiful and evocative compositions. He wanted them to incorporate the world’s passing images.
The artist called a friend in New York to destroy his screens in order to avoid the temptation to repeat himself in the wake of enormous attention and pressure following his acceptance of the 1964 Venice Biennial prize.
Let us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family) and detail, 1962, silkscreen-ink print on canvas. Andy Warhol, 1928-1987, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC on loan in 2017 to MOMA, NY
The museum notes that Andy Warhol asked Rauschenberg if he could make a portrait of him. This is the result made from one of several phtographs dating from the 1920s and 30s of members of Rauschenberg’s family in Port Arthur, Texas.
Warhol’s title comes from a celebrated 1941 book of photos of the Depression in the south of the US of James Agee and Walker Evans. Rauschenberg was not famous in 1968 and the title is taken as expressing Warhol’s regard for him.
Persimmon and detail, 1964, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas. Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017.
Tracer and detail, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas, 1963. The Milton-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
Retroactive I and detail, 1964, oil and silkscreen-ink on canvas. Wadsworth Athenaum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
The artist made 7 canvases based on this image of President Kennedy during a presidential election debate with Richard Nixon in 1968. He had a great admiration for John F. Kennedy’s deportment and actions in office.
Oracle, a multi-media work, 1962-1965
To note that in 1961 Robert Rauschenberg decided to make a painting with ready-mades with ‘current, world-wide information’. This was three years before his 1964 immense fame from the Venice Biennale. It is a sound sculpture made with Bell Labs engineers which took from 1962 to 1965 to make.
It consists of metal parts, some quite large, scavenged from the street and placed on wheels so that they could be moved around. AM radios were embedded in each element along with transistor circuitry. Interactive at first, and now not, the ambient sounds of static, noise, talk and music play continuously.
The entire piece, whose elements are positioned across a space the size of a medium-sized room, cannot be easily reproduced so as to be fully seen.
The artist wanted, as always, to incorporate the world in his work in interaction.
Rauschenberg first left New York in 1962 to get away from the pressure. He went to Treasure Island near St. Petersburg, Florida and kept his New York studio.
From 1968 and for 38 years until his death, Robert Rauschenberg lived on the island of Captiva off the west coast of Florida. There he established workshops with a print center at its center. He continued to work with found materials.
With his customary generosity, Rauschenberg invited others to join him on the island to make work. In the first year, five did just that including Susan Weil and Brice Marden.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Sor Aqua (Venetian) and detail, 1973, wood and metal suspended with rope over water-filled bathtub with glass jug. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on loan to MOMA in 2017.
The artist returned to Venice in 1973. This work is one of several he made to recall, with the bathtub, the canals; and with the rusting metal above the bathtub, the deteriorated, aging surfaces of Venice.
Glacier (Hoarfrost), 1974, solvent transfer on satin and chiffon with pillow. Loaned by the Menil Collection, Houston to MOMA, NY in 2017
Polar Glut, 1987, riveted metal street signs. Promised gift to MOMA, NY.
The museum noted nothing with this work which may belong to the ‘Glut’ series described below.
Throughout his life, Rauschenberg travelled for his work, often including in his work materials he found. Often he worked with local artists.
He established and funded the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (ROCI, 1984-1991) not long after a visit to China in 1982 at the end of the Cultural Revolution to work with artisans at the Xuan paper mill.
He wanted to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and he wanted to turn his belief in human rights into something real in the real world.
This was his statement when he initiated this interchange:
“I feel strong in my beliefs, based on my varied and widely traveled collaborations, that a one-to-one contact through art contains potent peaceful powers and is the most non-elitist way to share exotic and common information, seducing us into creative mutual understandings for the benefit of all.”
Between 1985 and 1991 the artist visited 10 countries.
Wall-eyed carp/ROCI Japan and detail, 1987, acrylic and fabric collage on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Details of Rauschenberg signatures on work done for ROCI
The Rauschenberg Foundation continues the work of ROCI. Among its goals is the support of emerging and estabished artists through a residency program at the artist’s Florida home; and, the use of philanthropy to connecting art, creativity and culture. The subjects addressed are important social issues like climate change.
As the years wore on, Rauschenberg’s tableaux grew very large, to encompass all the world which he had experienced, worked with and appreciated.
A gorgeous sensuality roils the entire surface of some of these canvas, layered with images to some depth.
People lingered in front of these tableaux, and paraded in front of them and watched themselves.
Bible Bike (Borealis) and detail, 1991, screenprinted, chemical-resistant varnish and patina chemicals on three plates of brass, bronze and copper.
Museum Ludwig, Cologne on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
Bidden or unbidden, the god Apollo is present here and his light and his multiple layers have saturated this tableau.
Grand Black Tie Sperm Glut, 1987, riveted street signs and other metal parts. Loaned by the Rauschenberg Foundation to MOMA, NY in 2017.
The museum notes that the artist made this work, one of several in a ‘Glut’ series, in a reaction to the recession in his native state, Texas where a glut in the oil market threw the state into a deep recession. The artist is noting that the way forward is obscure. And that there is violence of a deathly kind in the economy in which we live.
Holiday Ruse (Night Shade) and detail, 1991, screenprinted chemical-resistant varnish, water and Almuma-Black. Menil Foundation, Houston on loan to MOMA, NY
From 1992 onwards, Rauschenberg began using an Iris printer to make digital prints of his photographs. This permitted high-resolution images, luminous hues in large-scale paper format.
Triathlon (Scenario) and detail, 2005, inkjet dye transfer on polylaminate. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation loan to MOMA, NY in 2017
Booster and detail, 1967 from a series called Booster and 7 Studies in a collaboration with Gemini Graphic Editions Limited (G.E.L.) for which the artist created a print in six parts of an x-ray of his entire body. This was the largest hand-pulled print at the time it was made and some thought it challenged the predominance of painted images.
Lithograph and screenprint on paper. MOMA, NY
Mirthday May (Anagram (A Pun) and detail, 1997, water-soluble inkjet dye and pigment transfer on polylaminate. Loaned by the Faurschou Foundation to MOMA, NY in 2017.
The X-ray is the same as was made and used 30 years earlier in Booster. It is surrounded here with photographs taken by the artist over many years.
And what can be said, about the issue , which arose when Robert Rauschenberg was done: how to judge work whose presentation has a conceptual basis of a mystifying kind. An idea we do not understand.
That is to say that many works for decades now spring from the mind of the artist alone. Their pictorial surfaces no longer invite in the world. And we may or may not appreciate these ideas. Very often not. Ideas being from the time of Marcel Duchamp, as important as the object, person or scene painted or sculpted.
I don’t know if there is one answer.
An answer is provided by the market and its manipulators. If the market marks an artist as producing works of value, then they are of value.
Not so good because we all know how much of the art market is about money above all.
Another answer is provided by Marcel Duchamp: we need to educate ourselves on the work of art and, that done, we can decide whether a work is or is not a work of art because we are also the makers of that art.
Bottle Rack, 1960 (third version after the original of 1914 was lost), galvanized iron. Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, American born France.
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
The museum notes that Rauschenberg bought this for 3 dollars in 1960 when he saw it in an exhibition called Art and the Found Object in which his own work was also exhibited. Marcel Duchamp inscribed the rack at Rauschenberg’s request; and the artist kept this in a place of treasured objects in his studio for the rest of his worklife.
As to how to begin our self-education: perhaps with the succinct dictum of Albert Camus (1913-1960, French, in Lyrical and Critical Essays, 1968): A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
Erdetelephone (Earth Telephone), 1968-71, telephone, earth, straw, glass wood. Joseph Beuys, 1921-1986, German. Philadelphia Art Museum.
I don’t think that MOMA mentioned Joseph Beuys or made any connection between him and Robert Rauschenberg.
However, they were of the same generation. They both served in WW2 even if Rauschenberg was not sent into the arena of war. The artists shared critical concepts. This Beuysian combine represents the power of human communication.
The musuem points out that Beuys believed in art as an interdisciplinary and participative process. That every individual possesses creative power and so is responsible to contribute to the building of a participative, democratic social order.
And this gets to the point of what art is: the art which was practiced by Duchamp, Camus, Beuys and Rauschenberg.
That art is addressed to the hearts and minds of each of us, one by one: to break us open so that we may take up our own work with openness, clarity and generosity.
My heart belongs to Marcel, 1963, mixed media.
Niki de Saint Phalle, 1930-2002, French. Philadelphia Museum of Art
This presupposes minds which we have taken the time to educate.
And hearts which are ready to be broken open because we have prepared them to be as generous, open, sensitive and sturdy as Robert Rauschenberg’s, his collaborators and his artist forerunners.
Robert, 1997, colour polaroid. Chuck Close, American born 1940. Loaned by the artist to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2017
Robert Rauschenberg continued to work – with his left hand – when a stroke in 2002 cut off the use of his right hand. He worked with performers and printmakers and in collaboration with artists abroad.
The artist died on Captiva.