Goodbye, Robert Rauschenberg. Thank you.

This will be a short post. I just saw on the New York Times website that American artist Robert Rauschenberg died Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Florida. Please read their excellent obituary of this seminal artist. It is far more articulate than anything I might write here.

Rauschenberg is sometimes identified as a Pop Artist, but he actually predated Pop Art of the ’60s, emerging in the early ’50s. And his work over his long career defied definition or pigeonholing. Here’s how Michael Kimmelman of the Times puts it: “A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.”

Jasper Johns came to prominence about this same time and while both he and Rauschenberg embraced and, in fact, heavily shaped Pop Art, they transcended it as well. Coming out of the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and others, their work was more painterly than other Pop Artists. And this only served to make their inclusion of found objects and mixing of media more exciting, more shocking, more energizing.

A couple of years ago, I had the amazing good fortune to see the show Robert Rauschenberg: Combines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Combines was his term for pieces that included painting, collage and sculpture. I considered myself to be reasonably familiar with Rauschenberg’s work and a big fan of his. But suddenly seeing these 67 works, all created between 1954 and 1964 and all in one place, was electrifying.

In looking back at art from other periods, I’m sometimes frustrated by not seeing it with eyes of the time in which it was created. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art is among the most beloved today—Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh… But when the work was first exhibited, it was revolutionary and caused an absolute uproar. Walking among these Combines at the Metropolitan some 40 or 50 years after they were created, I could get some sense of either how outrageous or wonderfully fresh they must have seemed when they were first exhibited.

It was an amazing show. An amazing career. An amazing life. Thank you, Mr. Rauschenberg.

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6 Responses to “Goodbye, Robert Rauschenberg. Thank you.”

  1. Ronnie Ann Says:

    I also am a big fan. A lovely tribute. Thank you Terry and Mr. Rauschenberg!

    Ronnie Ann

  2. Terry B Says:

    Thanks, Ronnie Ann. The ’50s and ’60s were a watershed time for American art, as it stepped out of the shadows of Europe and took the lead. And artists like Rauschenberg, Pollock, de Kooning and Johns were a big part of the reason this happened. I can only imagine what an exciting time that must have been to be in New York.

  3. Helmut Says:

    A wonderful tribute to a very creative individual. The retrospective picture post is impressive.

  4. Terry B Says:

    Thanks, Helmut. Yes, even that handful of images in the slide show in the New York Times online article gives some sense of the power of his work. And it left me wanting to see more.

  5. vesting Says:

    vesting says : I absolutely agree with this !

  6. Spring, schming—It might as well be chili dogs — Blue Kitchen Says:

    […] Goodbye, Mr. Rauschenberg. Thank you. Farewell to the American artist who, as the New York Times said, “time and again reshaped art in the 20th century,” at WTF? Random food for thought. […]

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