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Robert Rauschenberg 1925 – 2008

by habituallychic

05 . 14 . 08

I was so saddened to learn that artist Robert Rauschenberg died today at the age of 82. His “Combines” show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005/2006 was one of my all time favorites. The art I’ve featured here is from that show and althought most of it dates from the 1950’s, it is still modern and moving and most certainly beautiful.

Jasper Johns said “Rauschenberg was the man who in this century invented the most since Picasso.” Quite a compliment. Jerry Saltz wrote in “Our Picasso”, Everything Abstract Expressionism was, Rauschenberg and Co. weren’t. Ab-Ex was big, lofty, abstract and made by older straight men. This neo-Dada, proto-Pop and Pop art was smaller, cooler, figurative, vernacular and often made by younger gay men. As Rauschenberg professed, “I could never make the language of Abstract Expressionism work for me — words like ‘tortured,’ ‘struggle’ and ‘pain,’ I could never see those qualities in paint. How can red be ‘passion?’ Red is red. Jasper and I used to start each day by having to move out from Abstract Expressionism.”

His piece entitled “Bed” from 1955 was slightly controversial and turned art on it’s ear and Leo Steinberg said it”expresses the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture.”

“Rauschenberg created a turning point in visual syntax and optical structure.
Roy Lichtenstein said Robert Rauschenberg’s combines “marked the end of Abstract Expressionism and the return of the subject.” The combines are radical for the way they fuse painting, sculpture and everyday objects.”

“As Lorenzo Ghiberti fused illusionist space and materials in his miraculous bas-relief baptistry doors (1403–1424), Rauschenberg created a turning point in visual syntax and optical structure. If all representational images promise depth, the synaptic rhythms and rhymes of the combines create a new kind of visual poetry. As Rauschenberg put it, the combines offered him “a new kind of wisdom.”

Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes, in his book “American Visions,” called Rauschenberg “a protean genius who showed America that all of life could be open to art. … Rauschenberg didn’t give a fig for consistency, or curating his reputation; his taste was always facile, omnivorous, and hit-or-miss, yet he had a bigness of soul and a richness of temperament that recalled Walt Whitman.”

One of Rauschenberg’s first and most famous combines was titled “Monogram,” a 1959 work consisting of a stuffed angora goat, a tire, a police barrier, the heel of a shoe, a tennis ball, and paint, above. I had the pleasure of seeing this piece first at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm while I was visiting and then again at the show at the Met. I was a member of the Apollo Circle at the time so we had a private tour of the exhibit and were told a funny story about how the goat came to the museum with a handler from the Moderna Museet who after it had been placed, pulled a comb out of his pocket and brushed it’s hair. I bet Rauschenberg would have gotten a kick out of that!

“I don’t ever want to go,” Rauschenberg told Harper’s Bazaar in 1997 when asked of his own death. “I don’t have a sense of great reality about the next world; my feet are too ugly to wear those golden slippers. But I’m working on my fear of it. And my fear is that something interesting will happen, and I’ll miss it.” And the world will be a little less interesting without Robert Rauschenberg in it. May he rest in peace.

Comments Closed

  1. T8 May 14, 2008 | 2:07 pm

    This is quite a beautiful tribute; it’s a sad day. I appreciate the education and the reminder of things I had known but lost in the clutter of life.


    When design takes priority, the result is often strange closets.

  2. maison21 May 14, 2008 | 2:46 pm

    while i’ve never really understood the subtext of his art, i’ve always appreciated it’s beauty. you wouldn’t think a dead animal in a tire could be pretty, but it is…

  3. Alice Olive May 14, 2008 | 5:41 pm

    I agree with maison21 – I feel like I don’t quite understand some of his pieces. They are beautiful nevertheless.

    A lovely tribute.

  4. visual vamp May 14, 2008 | 11:50 pm

    I am so sad to hear about RR’s passing. Thanks for the in depth walk down memory lane of this impressive man and incredible talent. You do great work, and a great service for all of us.

  5. pve design May 15, 2008 | 7:53 am

    Only wish I had one of his paintings.
    You know now they will be all the more valuable.
    One of my Professors in college introduced me to his work and I have been enamored ever since. R’s -Rauschenberg, Rothko and Reubens, Renoir.
    All Artists ahead of their time.

  6. Ana May 16, 2008 | 3:45 am

    That was a lovely tribute to a master. In your post, you included one of my favorite combines; Pilgrim is such a great piece.