Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2008) is rightly famous for his freestanding and wall-hung "combine" (mixed-media) pieces created between 1954 and 1964. These works were both influenced by surrealism and a harbinger of Pop Art and, as such, form an art historic bridge between movements. This incarnation of the traveling exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Combines was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Shortly before being on its way to the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, weaught up with Combines during its stay at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The gallery that follows is courtesy of the latter institution.
Charlene combines oil paint, charcoal, paper, fabric, newspaper, wood, plastic, mirror, and metal on four homasote panels mounted on wood with an electric light.
"The order and logic of the arrangements are the direct creation of the viewer assisted by the costumed provocativeness [sic] and literal sensuality of the objects." — Exhibition statement by the artist, 1953.
Minutiae is the earliest and one of the largest freestanding combines that Rauschenberg created. It was constructed for dancer Merce Cunningham's ballet (entitled "Minutiae" and first performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts in 1954) whose music was composed by John Cage. Both men were friends of Rauschenberg's dating from time he — and they — spent at the legendary Black Mountain College in the late 1940s.
Cunningham and Rauschenberg went on after Minutiae to collaborate for more than ten years. As Cunningham recalled about a set the latter created for the ballet "Nocturnes" (1955) in a June 2005 interview with The Guardian, "Bob had made this beautiful white box, but the fireman at the theatre came and looked at it and said, 'You can't put that on stage. It isn't fireproof.' Bob was very calm. 'Go away,' he said to me. 'I'll solve it.' When I came back two hours later he'd covered the frame with damp green branches. I've no idea where he got them from."
Minutiae is a combine of oil paint, paper, fabric, newspaper, wood, metal, plastic with mirror, and string on a wooden structure with a beaded framework.
Untitled combines oil paint, paper, fabric, newspaper, wood and a stained-glass panel illuminated by three yellow bug lights. Rauschenberg once commented that the bug lights served a practical purpose, namely keeping nocturnal flying insects somewhat at bay.
"I'd really like to think that the artist could be just another kind of material in the picture, working in collaboration with all the other materials. But of course I know this isn't possible, really. I know that the artist can't help exercising his control to a degree and that he makes all the decisions finally." — Robert Rauschenberg quoted in Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: The Heretical Courtship in Modern Art (1965).
Hymnal combines an old paisley shawl glued to a dimensional canvas, oil paint, a fragment of the Manhattan telephone directory ca. 1954-55, an FBI handbill, a photograph, wood, a painted sign and a metal bolt.
"One looks forward to a painting finishing itself … because if you have less of the past to carry around, you have more energy for the present. Using, exhibiting, viewing, writing, and talking about it is a positive element in ridding oneself of the picture. And it does justice to the picture that defies this. So that you may not accumulate mass as much as you may accumulate quality." — Robert Rauschenberg in an interview with David Sylvester, 1964.
Interview combines oil paint, a found painting, a found drawing, lace, wood, an envelope, a found letter, fabric, photographs, printed reproductions, toweling, and newspaper on a wood structure with brick, string, fork, softball, nail, metal hinges, and a wood door.
"We have ideas about bricks. A brick just isn't a physical mass of a certain dimension that one builds houses, or chimneys with. The whole world of associations, all the information that we have — the fact that it's made of dirt, that it's been through a kiln, romantic ideas about little brick cottages, or the chimney which is so romantic, or labor — you have to deal with as many of the things as you know about. Because if you don't, I think you start working more like an eccentric, or primitive, which, you know, […] can be anyone, or the insane, which is very obsessive." — Robert Ruaschenberg in an interview with David Sylvester, BBC, June 1964.
Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns (from whose collection this piece is borrowed) had a powerful creative effect on one another. Two Southerners in New York City, they became friends in the early 1950s and, in fact, once paid their bills designing department store windows together under the name "Matson-Jones." When they began to share studio space in the mid-1950s, each artist respectively entered that which is arguably his most innovative, prolific, well-known-today phase.
"He was kind of an enfant terrible at the time, and I thought of him as an accomplished professional. He'd already had a number of shows, knew everybody, had been to Black Mountain College working with all those avant-garde people." — Jasper Johns on meeting Robert Rauschenberg, in Grace Glueck, "Interview with Robert Rauschenberg," NY Times (October 1977).
Untitled combines oil paint, crayon, pastel, paper, fabric, print reproductions, photographs and cardboard on wood.
Satellite combines oil paint, fabric (note the sock), paper, and wood on canvas with a stuffed pheasant (with missing tail feathers).
"There is no poor subject. A pair of socks is no less suitable to make a painting than wood, nails, turpentine, oil and fabric." — Robert Rauschenberg quoted in the catalogue for "Sixteen Americans" (1959).
Odalisk combines oil paint, watercolor, crayon, pastel, paper, fabric, photographs, printed reproductions, miniature blueprint, newspaper, metal, glass, dried grass, steel wool, a pillow, a wooden post and lamps on a wooden structure mounted on four casters and topped by a stuffed rooster.
Though not visible in this image, the area between the wooden post and the rooster (a white Leghorn, or Plymouth Rock?) actually has four sides. Most of the images on these four surfaces are of women, including photographs of the artist's mother and sister. You know, between the title about female slaves, the girly pinups and the male chicken, one might be tempted to ponder on cryptic messages in here about gender and roles.
"Every time I would show them to people, some would say they're paintings, others called them sculptures. And then I heard this story about Calder," he said, referring to the artist Alexander Calder, "that nobody would look at his work because they didn't know what to call it. As soon as he began calling them mobiles, all of a sudden people would say 'Oh, so that's what they are.' So I invented the term 'Combine' to break out of that dead end of something not being a sculpture or a painting. And it seemed to work." — In Carol Vogel, "A half-century of Rauschenberg's 'junk' art," New York Times (December 2005).