Movement: Abstract Expressionism; Neo-Dada
Education: Academy Julian, Paris; Black Mountain College; Art Students League of New York
“White Painting,” 1951
“Automobile Tire,” 1953
“Erased de Kooning Drawing,” 1953
“Factum I,” 1957
“First Landing Jump,” 1961
“Tribute 21,” 1994
Robert Rauschenberg was an American artist who was fundamental to the Neo-Dada movement. He was especially well known for his “Combines,” works created from articles and materials that did not necessarily belong to the art world. He was also an artist known for his long and deep collaborations with other artists.
Rauschenberg’s given name was Milton Ernest Rauschenberg. Born into a working class family, Rauschenberg had initially wanted to be a minister at his Fundamentalist Christian church. His mother was in the habit of making clothes for the family from scraps. His precociousness as a child was evident from an instance when, not particularly fond of this tradition of home-made clothes, he demanded a new shirt for his graduation.
Though he was always drawing, no one noticed his skills. He enrolled at the University of Texas, to study Pharmacology. But as he did not wish to dissect animals, he was asked to leave the course. However he was soon drafted into the army around the same time. Since he refused to carry arms, he was incorporated into the Navy Hospital Corps.
Beginnings as an artist
After the war, Rauschenberg joined the Kansas State University, studying art. He also changed his name to Robert, to celebrate a new beginning. He moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. The G.I. Bill helped him do this. Here he met and befriended Susan Weil, a painter.
Europe didn’t quite work for him, and with Weil, he decided to go study at Black Mountain College. He was an admirer of Josef Albers, the director of the school and the founder of Bauhaus. Unluckily for Rauschenberg, Albers regularly criticized his work. But he also learnt how to see everyday objects differently, something that perhaps influenced his later work. He once said, “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.”
Rauschenberg moved with Weil to New York in 1949. He joined the Art Students League, studying with Vaclav Vytlacil, and also met CyTwombly, with whom he would share a professional as well as romantic relationship.
As an artist, he was beginning to find his style, and was beginning to use non-traditional materials in his work. He was an admirer of pop culture, and was drawn towards combining unrelated images and objects into three-dimensional works.
The Middle Years
Rauschenberg and Susan Weil were married in 1950. However, they didn’t stay together long, and it is possible he was already involved with Twombly before his divorce in 1953.
Together with Twombly, he travelled to North Africa. He used trash he found there to make collages. These were shown in Italy. From this period were born the “Red,” “White,” and “Black” series, in which he integrated newsprint and objects on the surface of his images. His “Combines” also date from this period.
The first important, long-standing partnership Rauschenberg would have was with Jasper Johns. The two met in 1953, and were to form an intense romantic as well as professional relationship. They lived together, and had studio spaces next to each other. They were each other’s audience, and significantly influenced each other’s work, as they moved further and further away from Abstract Expressionism, a movement that Rauschenberg had turned his back on from the beginning of his career. They remained together till the end of the decade.
The other long-term collaboration he had was with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, and his partner, the composer John Cage. Along with Jasper Johns, the four were at the forefront of what was termed the Neo Dada style.
Rauschenberg designed sets and costumes for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1954-64. He was a good dancer, and choreographed his own pieces in the 1960s.
The artist had established himself by the 1960s. His work was travelling to exhibitions in Europe, and he was presented the first prize at the Venice Biennale.Always interested in current events, he created “A Modern Inferno”, commissioned by Life Magazine, in which he condemned the Vietnam War. He created a series of lithographs entitled “Stoned Moon” at the end of the sixties in which he used pictures of space travel from NASA records.
Through these later years, he began creating large-scale works. He continued his old practice of using everyday objects in his art. Some critics were not too impressed by this, and insinuated that the artist had run out ideas.
In later life, Rauschenberg suffered from alcoholism, and in 1996, he went into rehab. A year later, in 1997, a retrospective of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
The last few years of his life were difficult; he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side. He died in 2008.
1925 - Born in Texas
1947 - Attends the Academie Julian
1948 - Enters the Black Mountain College
1949 - Joins the Art Students League of New York
1953 - Meets Jasper Johns for the first time
1964 - Receives the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale
1966 - Begins experimenting with electronics
1970 - Settles permanently in Captiva
1990 - Establishes the Rauschenberg Foundation
2008 - Passes away in Florida
1951 - Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
1964 - Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1970 - Minneapolis Institute of Art
1980 - Kunsthalle Dusseldorf
1982 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1991 - Corcoran Art Gallery, Washington DC
1995 - Galerie Jamileh Weber, Zurich
1997 - Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
2000 - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
2010 - Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
2013 - Gagosian Gallery, London
Museums / Collections
Ludwig Museum, Budapest
Art Institute of Chicago
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Dallas Museum of Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Tate Gallery, London
Les Abattoirs de Toulouse
Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Museo Guggenheim de arte Moderno y Contemporaneo, Bilbao
Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice
Books / Publications
“Robert Rauschenberg: Gluts” by Trisha Brown and Mimi Thompson
“Off the Wall” by Calvin Tomkins
“Rauschenberg: Art and Life” by Mary Lynn Kotz
“Robert Rauschenberg” by Sam Hunter
“Stoned Moon: Robert Rauschenberg” by Jaklyn Babington