Robert Rauschenberg (born Milton Ernst 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.[1][2]

Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. While the Combines are both painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg has also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance. 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 his 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."[3]

In 1953, Rauschenberg famously erased a drawing by de Kooning.[4] 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). Since then he enjoyed a rare degree of institutional support. Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City and on Captiva Island, Florida until his death on May 12, 2008, from heart failure.[5]


Early life

File:Robert Rauschenberg's untitled 'combine', 1963.jpg

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled "combine, 1963.

Rauschenberg was born as Milton Ernst Rauschenberg (he changed his first name as an adult) in Port Arthur, Texas, the son of Dora and Ernest Rauschenberg.[6] His father was of German and Cherokee ancestry and his mother of Anglo-Saxon descent.[7][8] His parents were Fundamentalist Christians.[7] Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil, who later became his wife. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina.[9][10]

At Black Mountain his painting instructor was the renowned Bauhaus figure Josef Albers, whose strict discipline and sense of method inspired Rauschenberg, as he once said, to do "exactly the reverse" of what Albers taught him.[5] Composer John Cage, whose music of chance occurrences and found sounds perfectly suited Rauschenberg's personality, was also a member of the Black Mountain faculty.

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 and the painter Susan Weil were married in the summer of 1950.


In 1951 Rauschenberg had his first one-man show at the Betty Parsons Gallery[13] and in 1954 Rauschenberg had a second one-man show at the Charles Egan Gallery.[14]

Rauschenberg's "White Paintings", created in 1951, were exhibited at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery in New York during October 1953; while they contain no images at all, are said to be so exceptionally blank and reflective that their surfaces respond and change in sympathy with the ambient conditions in which they are shown,[15] "so you could almost tell how many people are in the room," as Rauschenberg once commented. The White Paintings are said to have directly influenced Cage in the composition of his completely "silent" piece titled 4'33" the following year.[citation needed]

In 1952 Rauschenberg began his series of "Black Paintings" and "Red Paintings," in which large, expressionistically brushed areas of color were combined with collage and found objects attached to the canvas. These so-called "Combine Paintings" ultimately came to include such heretofore un-painterly objects as a stuffed goat ("Monogram", 1959) and a quilt ("Bed", 1955), breaking down traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, reportedly prompting one Abstract Expressionist painter to remark, "If this is Modern Art, then I quit!"[citation needed] Rauschenberg's Combines provided inspiration for a generation of artists seeking alternatives to traditional artistic media.

Rauschenberg's approach was sometimes called "Neo-Dada," a label he shared with the painter, close friend, and sometime lover Jasper Johns.[16] Rauschenberg's oft-repeated quote that he wanted to work "in the gap between art and life" suggested a questioning of the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised by the notorious "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 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 addition to painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg's long 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.

Personal life

Rauschenberg married the painter Susan Weil in 1950. Their only child, Christopher, was born July 16, 1951. They divorced in 1953.[1] 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.[2] An article by scholar Jonathan D. Katz states that Rauschenberg's affair with Twombly began during his marriage to Susan Weil.[3]

Rauschenberg died on May 12 2008 of heart failure after his personal decision to go off life support,[17] on Captiva Island in Florida.[18] Rauschenberg is survived by his partner of 25 years, artist Darryl Pottorf,[17] his former assistant.[19] Rauschenberg is also survived by his son Christopher Rauschenberg and his sister Janet Begneaud.


File:Iris Clert Portrait Rauschenberg.jpg

Robert Rauschenberg, Portrait of Iris Clert

  • "It is impossible to have progress without conscience."
  • "I think a painting is more like the real world if it's made out of the real world."
  • "The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history."
  • "You begin with the possibilities of the material."
  • "An empty canvas is full only if you want it to be full."
  • "I work in the gap between art and life."
  • "You have to have the time to feel sorry for yourself in order to be a good abstract expressionist."
  • "I feel as though the world is a friendly boy walking along in the sun."
  • "People ask me, 'Don't you ever run out of ideas?' In the first place I don't use ideas. Every time I have an idea it's too limiting, and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven't run out of curiosity."

See also

  • Arte Povera
  • Assemblage (art)
  • Happening
  • Experiments in Art and Technology
  • Art Students League of New York

Further reading


  1. Marlena Donohue. "Rauschenberg's Signature on the Century", Christian Science Monitor, 28 November 1997. "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. Rosetta Brooks (December/January 2005), Rosetta Brooks Interviews Robert Rauschenberg, Modern Painters, <>. Retrieved on 28 April 2008 
  4. Robert Rauschenberg Dead at 82, ARTINFO, May 13, 2008, <>. Retrieved on 14 May 2008 
  5. 5.0 5.1 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.”
  6. American Art Great Robert Rauschenberg Dies at 82 | | The Ledger | Lakeland, FL
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Great Permitter - Time
  8. Museum of the Gulf Coast - Robert Rauschenberg
  9. Kotz, Mary Lynn (2004). Rauschenberg: Art and Life. New York City: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. ISBN 978-0810937529. 
  10. 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, 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.”
  11. Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82 - New York Times
  12. Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950's, ISBN 0940619075
  13. The New York Times, May 14, 1951.
  14. Stuart Preston, The New York Times, December 19, 1954.
  15. Ed Krcma (17 October 2006 lecture at The Lion, Stoke Newington Church Street). From Evacuation to Fullness: Rauschenberg in the ‘50s. Stammtisch Forum. “…rather than thinking of them [the 1951 White Paintings] 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.”
  16. "Pop Artist Robert Rauschenberg Dies." May 13, 2008. Accessed May 13, 2008.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ella Nayor,"The Pine Island Eagle,: "Bob Rauschenberg, art giant, dead at 82," May 13, 2008
  18. "Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82", New York Times, May 13 2008. Retrieved on 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." 
  19. Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82 - New York Times

External links