More than a load of old rubbish

Robert Rauschenberg, an immensely influential American artist and arguably the father of the modern trend towards making installations, has died. Here’s a piece about him from The Independent:

Rauschenberg, champion of junk art, dies aged 82

Robert Rauschenberg, the most versatile, inventive and iconoclastic American artist of the past 50 years, who would use anything from canvas to a stuffed goat or household junk for his creations, has died in Florida after a long illness, his gallery representative said. He was 82.

Rauschenberg first embraced painting when he studied at the Kansas City Art Institute in the late 1940s and later in Paris. But to call him a painter was an understatement. In his own words, he sought to operate “in the gap between art and life”.

He painted, true – but he was also a sculptor, set designer and choreographer, working in whatever medium and on almost whatever object that came to hand. Read full article here…

The Washington Post has this to add:

Robert Rauschenberg, Alchemist of the Mundane

Those most famous creations would be his “Combines” — giant collages of found objects that hover somewhere between painting and sculpture. Rauschenberg began to make those in 1954, and they soon came to stand as his signature works.

In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum in New York hosted a big show of Combines alone that won rapturous reviews. It included the celebrated tire-wearing stuffed goat of “Monogram.” Another important Combine called “Reservoir,” a mash-up of working clocks and paint and wheels, is on view right now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Such pieces are plenty influential. They’re at the root of the past 20 years of installation art. Today’s roomfuls of scattered stuff — almost all the recent “Unmonumental” show at the New Museum in New York, for instance — could barely have existed without Rauschenberg.


Working with his close friend John Cage, the pioneering modern composer, Rauschenberg made “Automobile Tire Print.” That was a 22-foot length of paper onto which Cage drove his Model A Ford while Rauschenberg covered one of the car’s tires in black paint. The picture’s single tire track is about a realism that doesn’t come from looking at a thing, but from the trace an object leaves when it carries out its trademark function.

Rauschenberg’s series of “White Paintings” — pictures that were all-white, all the time, everywhere — inspired Cage to make one of the most famous works of modern music, titled “4’33”. Read full article here…

And here’s a wonderful quote from his Wikipedia article:

Rauschenberg had a tendency to pick up the trash that interested him on the streets of New York City and bringing it back to his studio to use it in this works. 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.”

How wonderful is that? A pity that he has died.