SynopsisRobert Rauschenberg was a painter, sculptor, printmaker, choreographer, performer and occasionally composer, as well as a key figure in the transition from to later movements. Sometimes called a Neo-Dada artist, his experimental approach stretched the boundaries of art, opening possibilities for future artists. While his work often enraged Abstract Expressionists and critics, his imagery and methods profoundly influenced Pop, Conceptual, and other late Modern artists.
ChildhoodRobert Rauschenberg was born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in the small refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas. His father, Ernest, was a strict and serious man who worked for the Gulf State Utilities power company. His mother, Dora, was a devout Christian and a frugal woman. She made the family's clothes from scraps, a practice that embarrassed her son but possibly influenced his later work in assemblages and collages. Rauschenberg drew frequently and copied images from comics, but his talent as a draughtsman went largely unappreciated, except by his younger sister Janet. Until he was 13, he planned to become a minister, a career of high standing in the conservative community. However, Rauschenberg discovered that his church called dancing a sin, and as a skilled dancer himself, he was dissuaded from a career in ministry.
Early TrainingFollowing his parents' wishes, Rauschenberg attended the University of Texas in Austin to study pharmacology, but was expelled freshman year after refusing to dissect a frog. The draft letter that arrived in 1943 saved him from breaking the news to his parents. Refusing to kill on the battlefield, he was posted to a hospital caring for combat survivors in San Diego. While on leave, he saw oil paintings in person for the first time at the East Huntington Library. After the war ended, Rauschenberg drifted, eventually using the G.I. Bill to pay for art classes at Kansas State University in 1947, and a year later, at the Academie Julian in Paris. On his arrival in Kansas City, Rauschenberg decided he would mark his new life with a new first name - Bob.
Rauschenberg met fellow American student Susan Weil in Paris, and the two became inseparable friends. He followed her to Black Mountain College after hearing about the discipline of its famed director, Josef Albers who, upon Rauchenberg's entry into the College, criticized Rauschenberg's work frequently and harshly. Albers' course on materials, in which students investigated the line, texture, color, etc. of everyday materials, profoundly influenced Rauschenberg's later assemblages. Rauschenberg and Weil stayed at Black Mountain for the school year 1948-1949, and then moved to New York City, which Rauschenberg had determined to be the center of the art world. They arrived as the Abstract Expressionist movement was just reaching maturity. In June 1950 Rauschenberg and Weil were married, and in August 1951 they had a son, Christopher.
In 1951 and 1952, Rauschenberg split his time between the Art Students League in New York, studying with Morris Kantor and Vaclav Vytlacil, and Black Mountain College over the summer. His ambition secured him a prestigious solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, exhibiting a series of white paintings with scratched numbers and allegorical symbols. Rauschenberg continued his paintings in white at Black Mountain College, where he rolled white house paint onto canvas with a roller. The flat white canvases were influenced by their surroundings, reflecting shadows of people and the time of day. He was also encouraged by the painter Jack Tworkov to explore black. His black paintings, unlike the white series, were textured with thick paint and incorporated newspaper scraps.
Early Mature PeriodOn Rauschenberg's return to New York from Black Mountain in fall 1952, Weil filed for divorce and brought Christopher to live with her parents. Rauschenberg left for Europe to travel with Cy Twombly, a fellow student in the Art Students League and later an important Conceptual artist. Abroad, Rauschenberg made his first assemblages from junk he collected in the Italian countryside. When he returned to the States, he continued his experiments in paintings with the Red series in 1953, which were as textured as the Black series, and also incorporated newsprint. Rauschenberg began to include objects in the surface of his paintings, from parasols to parts of a man's undershirt. Rauschenberg called these assemblages "Combines," because they combined paint and objects (or sculpture) on the canvas.
Rauschenberg met the young painter in 1954 and after several months of friendship, the two became romantic and artistic partners. In 1955, Rauschenberg moved into the same building as Johns, and the two artist saw each other every day, exchanging ideas and encouraging their mutual exploration of the boundaries of art. Though their styles were too different to form a new movement, the intensity of their artistic partnership has been compared to the partnership between Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. As Rauschenberg said, he and Johns gave each other "permission to do what we wanted." The pair also grew close to minimalist composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who had attended Black Mountain College with Rauschenberg. The four artists shared a similar philosophy, rejecting the coded psychology of Abstract Expressionist paintings and embracing the unplanned beauty in everyday life. Rauschenberg's close relationship with Johns did not last, however. Johns was featured on the cover of Art News in 1957 and three of his works were bought by The Modern Museum of Art. This explosion of fame caused tension between Johns and Rauschenberg, and the they ended their relationship in 1958. Regardless, Rauschenberg remained friend and collaborator to Cage and Cunningham.
Collaboration was a recurring theme in Rauschenberg's career. His interest in dance led to a ten year partnership with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1954 - 1964), as well as with choreographers Paul Taylor and Trish Brown. He created costumes and sets for Cunningham's dances while Cage composed the music. He also choreographed and planned his own "theater pieces" with fellow artists in the 1960s. Rauschenberg's interest in the promise of technology led him to co-found Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) in 1966 with Billy Kluver of Bell Laboratories, which encouraged collaboration between engineers and artists. Rauschenberg sought collaboration in other media as well: he began to create lithographs in 1962 with Tatyana Grosman, the printmaker and owner of Universal Limited Art Editions. He later collaborated with other printmaking studios, and in 1969, he bought a house on Captiva Island which served as the home of Unlimited Press, a printmaking studio available to emerging and established artists.
Rauschenberg was himself becoming established in the art world. He earned an early retrospective in 1963, at the Jewish Museum in New York, which was received well by critics and viewers alike. His booming popularity in America was followed by an exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London, and an exhibition of his works at the Venice Biennale, which he visited while on tour with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. At the peak of his career, he was awarded the Biennale's first prize for painting in 1964, marking the first year this prize was awarded to an American.
Late Mature PeriodIn keeping with his interest in current events and culture, Rauschenberg began to integrate images of space flight into his work in the 1960s. A Modern Inferno, an image created for Life magazine in celebration of Dante's 700th birthday, pictures Dante as an astronaut. In the series Stoned Moon, Rauschenberg incorporated photographs from NASA's records in 33 lithographs. In the 1970s, he transitioned to politics, creating a silkscreen series from grim newspaper headlines, called Currents (1970), and the collage Signs (1970).
The 1970s also marked a return to assemblage as Rauschenberg embarked on the Spreads and Scales series. He used techniques and imagery from his early works, combining silkscreen prints, magazine images, and everyday objects, but with more color and on a larger scale. While several pieces in this series sold to collectors, critics were not impressed by the rehashing of old methods. He continued to work in a large scale in 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981-1986), a collaged painting that grew to be longer than its title implies.
In 1984, Rauschenberg combined his interest in traveling with his belief that art could change society, founding the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (R.O.C.I.). He traveled primarily to third world and Communist countries, in defiance of American Cold War policies, learning craft traditions from the host country's artists and artisans. Each of the twelve trips resulted in a major exhibition of Rauschenberg's works inspired by the host country, and from previous host countries. The culminating exhibition was held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. While Rauschenberg built ties with artists abroad, critics at home were unimpressed. Roberta Smith writing for the New York Times neatly summarized the project as "at once altruistic and self-aggrandizing, modest and overbearing."
Late Years and DeathIn 1990, Rauschenberg was given a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, accompanied by a smaller show at the Corcoran Gallery of his earlier work from the 1950s. The exhibitions cemented Rauschenberg's status as one of the giants of the art world and especially emphasized the importance his early work had in the development of Modern American art. Rauschenberg won the Commandant de l'Ordre des Lettres from the French government in 1992, followed by the National Medal of the Arts in 1993. In 1996, the artist checked into the Betty Ford clinic to recover from alcoholism, which had grown more severe in his later years. He completed his rehabilitation program in time to celebrate the opening of the 1997/1998 retrospective of 467 works at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a show that took six years to prepare.
Rauschenberg suffered a series of medical mishaps in 2001, first breaking his hip, which led to an intestinal perforation and then a stroke that paralyzed his right side. With the assistance of his caregiver and friend, Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg learned to work with his left hand. He worked until his death on May 12, 2008 from heart failure.
LegacyRauschenberg's work of the 1950s and 1960s influenced the young artists who developed later Modern movements. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein traced their inspiration for Pop art to Rauschenberg's collages of appropriated media images, and his experiments in silkscreen printing. The foundation for Conceptual art in large measure lay in Rauschenberg's belief that the artist had the authority to determine the definition of art. The most fitting example is his 1961 portrait of Iris Clert for an exhibition at her gallery in Paris, which consisted of a telegram: "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so/ Robert Rauschenberg". The happenings of the 1960s trace their lineage to Rauschenberg's early Events in collaboration with John Cage at Black Mountain College as well as his later "theater pieces."
Critics agree that Rauschenberg's later works were not as influential, but his continued commercial success allowed him to support emerging artists. He co-founded Artists Rights Today (ART) to lobby for artists' royalties on re-sales of their work, after observing the gains made by early collectors with the boom in the art market. In 1970, he co-founded Change, Inc., which helped struggling artists pay their medical bills. He became more politically active as he grew older, testifying on behalf of artists for the National Endowment of the Arts in the 1990s. His undying energy is at the root of his success as an artist and as a spokesman for artists.
Below are Robert Rauschenberg's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1947 - 2008
QuotesPainting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)
I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly because they're surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.
I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop. At the time that I am bored or understand - I use those words interchangeably - another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I'm not one. I'd rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can't ignore.
Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery
Radio Waves: New York Nouveau Realisme and Rauschenberg
Open until November 2nd
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographyOff the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg
Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde
Written by the artistRobert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews
PaintingsRobert Rauschenberg: Combines
Robert Rauschenberg: Transfer Drawings of the 1960s
Robert Rauschenberg : A Retrospective
Robert Rauschenberg: Cardboards and Related Pieces
Robert Rauschenberg: Breaking Boundaries
Guggenheim Museum Honors Late Artist Robert Rauschenberg With Photographic Tribute
24 October, 2008
Rauschenberg's Signature on the Century
28 November 1997
Christian Science Monitor
By Marlena Donohue
Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82
13 May 2008
The New York Times
By Michael Kimmelman
Art in Review
10 February 1995
The New York Times
By Roberta Smith
Obituary on NPR, All Things Considered
13 May 2008
Robert Rauschenberg on Charlie Rose
27 February 1998
Charlie Rose on Robert Rauschenberg
16 May 2008
Websites about artist
Artist in Popular Culture
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
ArtStory: Jasper Johns Page
|The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp Page
|Kurt Schwitters was a German multi-media artist who was particularly influential in the development of the Dada and Constructivist movements. By the 1920s Schwitters was heavily involved in the international avant-garde, touring the world with artists like Hans Arp and Tristan Tzara. These travels earned him wide acclaim in the U.S. and scrutiny in his native Germany, which would soon come under the control of the Third Reich.
|Joseph Cornell was an American artist, best known for his collage work and "shadow boxes," which were highly complex diorama-like constructions. Cornell incorporated found objects, old photos, newspaper clippings and other objects into these boxes, resulting in uniquely surreal, three-dimensional worlds. Cornell was one of the few American artists associated with Surrealism.
ArtStory: Joseph Cornell Page
|John Cage was an American composer and conceptual artist who incorporated chance, silence, and environmental effects into his performances. An important art theorist, he influenced choreographers, musicians, and the Fluxus artists of the 1970s.
|Clyfford Still was a leading first-generation Abstract Expressionist. His mature works are large-scale paintings with gaping chasms and stains of jagged color, often in dark earth tones.
ArtStory: Clyfford Still Page
|Cy Twombly is an American artist whose large-scale paintings incorporate writing, scrawls, and graffiti on their surfaces. He combines the gestural quality of Abstract Expressionism with a contemporary interest in language and registers of meaning.
ArtStory: Cy Twombly Page
|Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism which many thought had led to the war. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada Page
|Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
ArtStory: Andy Warhol Page
|Roy Lichtenstein was an American painter and a pioneer of the Pop art movement. His signature reproductions of comic book imagery eventually redefined how the art world viewed high vs. lowbrow art. Lichtenstein employed a unique form of painting called the Benday dot technique, in which small, closely-knit dots of paint were applied to form a much larger image.
ArtStory: Roy Lichtenstein Page
|Allan Kaprow was an American painter, collagist, assemblagist and performance artist. Working in the styles of Fluxus, Installation and various other mixed-media styles, Kaprow was best known for trailblazing the artistic concept "happenings," which were experiential artistic events rather than single works of art.
ArtStory: Allan Kaprow Page
|The famous critic Robert Hughes has admittedly struggled with living in a new world where there is no longer a definitive hotbed of artists living in one city, making one great thing after another. Hughes' views on modern art are fairly traditional, valuing formal training over instinctual gift, and he can be highly critical of art that is ostentatious or seems to cater to the art market.
ArtStory: Robert Hughes Page
|Leo Steinberg is one the 20th century's foremost historians and scholars on the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo and other Italian Renaissance artists. In addition to his scholarly work of Renaissance art, Steinberg is also a significant authority on 20th-century modern art, including the paintings and sculptures of Picasso, Jasper Johns's Flag series, and Willem de Kooning's Woman series.
ArtStory: Leo Steinberg Page
|Leo Castelli was an American art collector and gallery owner. His Castelli Gallery in New York, which opened in 1957, held several groundbreaking shows that revealed to the art world works by such artists as Rauschenberg and Johns. Castelli's gallery was considered an early proving ground for Neo-Dada, Pop, and Minimalist art.
ArtStory: Leo Castelli Page
|British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art Page
|Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid 1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art Page
|The term "happening" was coined by artist Allan Kaprow in 1957 to decribe a series of multi-media artworks on display in a single locale. In general, a happening is an art event, often staged or pre-scripted, that requires active participation from an audience to come to full fruition. This relatively new form of artistic media could be called participatory.
ArtStory: Happenings Page
|When Harold Rosenberg coined the term "Action Painting," he was emphasizing the importance of not the artwork itself - the objet d'art - but the process by which the work was made. Thus, Process Art refers to the actions or, in some cases, the performance of creating a work of art. The actual term was popularized by Robert Morris for a 1968 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum.