Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Photograph by Irving Penn
Birth name Milton Ernest Rauschenberg
Born October 22, 1925(1925-10-22)
Port Arthur, Texas, United States
Died May 12, 2008(2008-05-12) (aged 82)
Captiva, Florida, United States
Nationality American
Field Assemblage
Training Kansas City Art Institute
Académie Julian
Black Mountain College
Art Students League of New York
Movement Neo-Dada
Works Canyon (1959), Monogram (1959)

Robert Rauschenberg (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008) was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is well-known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. Rauschenberg was both a painter and a sculptor and the Combines are a combination of both, but he also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance.[1][2] He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993.[3]

Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City as well as on Captiva Island, Florida until his death from heart failure on May 12, 2008.[4]



Rauschenberg was born as Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas, the son of Dora and Ernest Rauschenberg.[5] His father was of German and Cherokee ancestry and his mother of Anglo-Saxon descent.[6][7] His parents were Fundamentalist Christians.[6] Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina.[8][9]

Canyon (1959)

Josef Albers originally of the Bauhaus school became Rauschenberg's painting instructor at Black Mountain. Albers' preliminary courses relied on strict discipline that did not allow for any "uninfluenced experimentation".[10] Rauschenberg described Albers as influencing him to do "exactly the reverse" of what he was being taught.[4]

From 1949 to 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York,[11] where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly.[12]

Rauschenberg married Susan Weil in 1950. Their only child, Christopher, was born July 16, 1951. They divorced in 1953.[13] According to a 1987 oral history by the composer Morton Feldman, after the end of his marriage, Rauschenberg had romantic relationships with fellow artists Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns.[14] An article by Jonathan D. Katz states that Rauschenberg's affair with Twombly began during his marriage to Susan Weil.[15]

Rauschenberg died on May 12, 2008, on Captiva Island, Florida.[16] He died of heart failure after a personal decision to go off life support,.[17][18] Rauschenberg is survived by his partner of 25 years, artist Darryl Pottorf,[18] his former assistant.[11] Rauschenberg is also survived by his son, photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, and his sister, Janet Begneaud.

Rauschenberg's will, filed in Probate Court on October 9, 2008, names his charitable foundation as a major beneficiary, along with Pottorf, Christopher Rauschenberg, Begneaud, his nephew Byron Richard Begneaud, and Susan Weil Kirschenbaum. The amounts to be given to the beneficiaries are not named, but the estate is "worth millions," said Pottorf, who is also executor of the estate.[19]

A memorial exhibition of photographs opened October 22, 2008, (on the occasion of what would have been his 83rd birthday) and closed November 5, 2008 at the Guggenheim Museum.[20]

Artistic contribution

Rauschenberg's approach was sometimes called "Neo Dadaist," a label he shared with the painter Jasper Johns.[21] Rauschenberg's was quoted as saying that he wanted to work "in the gap between art and life" suggesting he questioned the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised by the "Fountain," by Dada pioneer, Marcel Duchamp. At the same time, Johns' paintings of numerals, flags, and the like, were reprising Duchamp's message of the role of the observer in creating art's meaning.

Alternatively, in 1961, Rauschenberg took a step in what could be considered the opposite direction by championing the role of creator in creating art's meaning. Rauschenberg was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, where artists were to create and display a portrait of the owner, Iris Clert. Rauschenberg's submission consisted of a telegram sent to the gallery declaring "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so."

Robert Rauschenberg, Riding Bikes, Berlin, Germany, 1998.

By 1962, Rauschenberg's paintings were beginning to incorporate not only found objects but found images as well - photographs transferred to the canvas by means of the silkscreen process. Previously used only in commercial applications, silkscreen allowed Rauschenberg to address the multiple reproducibility of images, and the consequent flattening of experience that implies. In this respect, his work is contemporaneous with that of Andy Warhol, and both Rauschenberg and Johns are frequently cited as important forerunners of American Pop Art.

In 1966, Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg officially launched Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) a non-profit organization established to promote collaborations between artists and engineers.

In 1984, Rauschenberg announced his Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, or ROCI, at the United Nations. This would culminate in a seven year, ten country tour to encourage "world peace and understanding," through Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Beijing, Lhasa (Tibet), Japan, Cuba, Soviet Union, Berlin, and Malaysia in which he left a piece of art, and was influenced by the cultures he visited. Paintings, often on reflective surfaces, as well as drawings, photographs, assemblages and other multimedia were produced, inspired by these surroundings, and this was considered some of his strongest works. The ROCI venture, supported by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., went on view in 1991.

In 1986, he was commissioned by BMW to paint a full size BMW 635 CSi for the sixth installment of the famed BMW Art Car Project. Rauschenberg's contribution was the first to include the wheels in the project, as well as incorporating previous works of art into the design.

In addition to painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg's career has also included significant contributions to printmaking and Performance Art. He also won a Grammy Award for his album design of Talking Heads' album Speaking in Tongues. As of 2003 he worked from his home and studio in Captiva, Florida.

In a famously cited incident of 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Kooning, which he obtained from his colleague for the express purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.[22][23] In 1964 Rauschenberg was the first American artist to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale (Mark Tobey and James Whistler had previously won the Painting Prize). After that time, he enjoyed a rare degree of institutional support. In 1951 Rauschenberg had his first one-man show at the Betty Parsons Gallery[24] and in 1954 had a second one-man show at the Charles Egan Gallery.[25] In 1955, at the Charles Egan Gallery, Rauschenberg showed Bed (1955), one of his first and certainly most famous Combines. [26]

The White Paintings, Black Paintings, and Red Paintings

Robert Rauschenberg, untitled "combine," 1963.

In 1951 Rauschenberg created his "White Paintings," in the tradition of monochromatic painting, whose purpose was to reduce painting to its most essential nature, and to subsequently lead to the possibility of pure experience.[27] The "White Paintings" were shown at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery in New York during October 1953. They appear at first to be essentially blank, white canvas. However, one commentator said that "…rather than thinking of them as destructive reductions, it might be more productive to see them, as John Cage did, as hypersensitive screens – what Cage suggestively described as ‘airports of the lights, shadows and particles.’ In front of them, the smallest adjustments in lighting and atmosphere might be registered on their surface.[28] Rauschenberg himself said that they were affected by ambient conditions, "so you could almost tell how many people are in the room." The Black Paintings of 1951 like the White Paintings were executed on multiple panels and were single colour works. Here Rauschenberg incorporated pieces of newspaper into the painting working the paper into the paint so that sometimes newspaper could be seen and in other places could not. By 1953-1954 Rauschenberg had moved from the monochromatic paintings of the White Painting and Black Painting series, to the Red Painting series. These paintings were created with diverse kinds of paint applications of red paint, and with the addition of materials such as wood, nails, newsprint and other materials to the canvas created complex painting surfaces, and were forerunners of Rauschenberg's well-known Combine series.[27]


Rauschenberg picked up trash and found objects that interested him on the streets of New York City and brought these back to his studio where they could become integrated into his work. He claimed he "wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn't a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing."[29]

Rauschenberg's comment concerning the gap between art and life can be seen as a statement which provides the departure point for an understanding of his contributions as an artist. In particular his series of works which he called Combines served as instances in which the delineated boundaries between art and sculpture were broken down so that both were present in a single work of art. Technically "Combines" refers to Rauschenberg's work from 1954 to 1962, but the artist had begun collaging newsprint and photographic materials in his work and the impetus to combine both painting materials and everyday objects such as clothing, urban debris, and taxidermied animals such as in Monogram[30] continued throughout his artistic life.

Considered the first of the Combines, Bed was created by dripping red paint across a quilt.The quilt was later stretched and displayed as a work of art. Some critics according the UK Telegraph considered the work to be a symbol for violence and rape.[31]

Historical perspectives

Critics originally viewed the Combines in terms of the formal aspects of art, shape, color, texture, and the composition and arrangement of these. This 1960's view has changed over time so that more recently critics and art historians see the Combines as carrying codified messages difficult to decipher because there is no apparent order to the presentation of the objects.

See also


  1. ^ Marlena Donohue (November 28, 1997). "Rauschenberg's Signature on the Century". Christian Science Monitor. "Rauschenberg's mammoth career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and other New York sites) from Sept. 19 to Jan. 7, 1998… along with longtime friends pre-Pop painter Jasper Johns and the late conceptual composer John Cage, Rauschenberg pretty much defined the technical and philosophic art landscape and its offshoots after Abstract Expressionism." 
  2. ^ "Robert Rauschenberg in "The Century's 25 Most Influential Artists"". ARTnews, May 1999 issue. "Born with the name Milton Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas, Robert Rauschenberg became one of the major artists of his generation and is credited along with Jasper Johns of breaking the stronghold of Abstract Expressionism. Rauschenberg was known for assemblage, conceptualist methods, printmaking, and willingness to experiment with non-artistic materials—all innovations that anticipated later movements such as Pop Art, Conceptualism, and Minimalism." 
  3. ^ Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
  4. ^ a b Franklin Bowles Galleries. "Robert Rauschenberg". "Significantly, given his use of print media imagery, he was also the first living American artist to be featured by Time magazine on its cover." 
  5. ^ American Art Great Robert Rauschenberg Dies at 82 | | The Ledger | Lakeland, FL
  6. ^ a b The Great Permitter - Time
  7. ^ Museum of the Gulf Coast - Robert Rauschenberg
  8. ^ Kotz, Mary Lynn (2004). Rauschenberg: Art and Life. New York City: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. ISBN 978-0810937529. 
  9. ^ "Rauschenberg: Art and Life". Publishers Weekly. "Rauschenberg, enfant terrible of American modernism in the 1950s and '60s, is now an ambassador for global good will. ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange), an organization he founded in 1984, sponsors art exhibits and fosters cross-cultural collaborations with the aim of promoting world peace.
    "… his boyhood escape from the conformity of the oil town of Port Arthur, Texas, his formative years at Black Mountain College, his political activism in the service of civil rights and peace, and above all, his restless experimentation blurring the boundaries of painting, sculpture, Ryan Brady Hello photography and printmaking.
    "… the varied facets of Rauschenberg's output, including his color drawings for Dante's Inferno, his sets for Merce Cunningham's dances, the cardboard-box constructions and the sensual fabric collages and mud sculptures inspired by a 1975 trip to India."
  10. ^ "bauhaus-archiv museum für gestaltung: startseite". Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  11. ^ a b Michael Kimmelman (May 14, 2008). "Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  12. ^ Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950's, ISBN 0-940619-07-5
  13. ^ [1] Time magazine online, The Most Living Artist retrieved July 27, 2009
  14. ^ [2] Richard Wood Massi, Captain Cook's first voyage: an Interview with Morton Feldman retrieved July 27, 2009
  16. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (May 13, 2008). "Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-14. "Robert Rauschenberg, the irrepressibly prolific American artist who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died on Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Fla. He was 82." 
  17. ^ "Influential American Artist Robert Rauschenberg Dead at 82". VOA News (Voice of America). May 13, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  18. ^ a b Ella Nayor,"The Pine Island Eagle, "Bob Rauschenberg, art giant, dead at 82", May 13, 2008
  19. ^ Rauschenberg will names charitable causes, family
  20. ^ Art Daily, Guggenheim Museum Honors Late Artist Robert Rauschenberg With Photographic Tribute, retrieved December 16, 2008
  21. ^ Roberta Smith (1995-02-10). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  22. ^ USA. "Explore Modern Art | Multimedia | Interactive Features | Robert Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  23. ^ "Robert Rauschenberg Dead at 82". ARTINFO. May 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  24. ^ The New York Times, May 14, 1951
  25. ^ Stuart Preston, The New York Times, December 19, 1954
  26. ^ Willem De Kooning. "Gallery - The Charles Egan Gallery". The Art Story. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  27. ^ a b "Pop art - Rauschenberg - Untitled (Red Painting)". Guggenheim Collection. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  28. ^ Cage, John (1961). Silence. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. pp. 102. 
  29. ^ "
  30. ^ "Robert Rauschenberg - Monogram". Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  31. ^ The Daily Telegraph (London).]"". [dead link]

Further reading

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