Unprecedented Commitment of Works by Robert Rauschenberg

Unprecedented Commitment of Works by Robert Rauschenberg


Largest Commitment by an Artist in Museum's History Will Include Landmark Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, and Photographs

Thomas Krens, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, today announced a preliminary agreement between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, whereby a selection of more than one hundred major paintings and sculptures; a significant and representative selection of drawings; and a comprehensive group of photographs will eventually become part of the Guggenheim permanent collection. The commitment is contingent on the successful completion of a new Guggenheim Museum in New York City with the capacity to display a substantial part of the museum's permanent collection.

The announcement of the commitment by Robert Rauschenberg coincides with the April 18 announcement of plans for a new Guggenheim Museum for New York City, designed by Frank Gehry. "The masterpiece that Frank Gehry has created for the new Guggenheim will be an inspiration for us all, and it will accelerate cultural activity all over the world," said Rauschenberg. "The new museum will be a port for the most exciting global art, maintaining New York City's preeminence as the international cultural pioneer."

The program for the new Guggenheim Museum calls for approximately 75,000 square feet of exhibition space for the permanent collection. As part of the agreement with the Rauschenberg Foundation, the Guggenheim would designate 12,000 square feet of that gallery space for a permanent but continuously and gradually changing exhibition of Rauschenberg's work. In addition, the Guggenheim would house the artist's archives, a research and education center, and the administrative offices for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. The museum would also organize and maintain an exhibition and publication program with the express purpose of documenting, preserving, and presenting the achievement of Rauschenberg's oeuvre to a worldwide audience."I believe Robert Rauschenberg is the greatest American artist of the postwar period," said Krens. "With this enormously generous gesture, the Guggenheim will be in a unique and highly enviable position: not only will we be able to present a broad selection of works by this pivotal twentieth-century master and to demonstrate the full range of his achievement, but we will be able to show the development of his art in a careful, scholarly, and historically meticulous way."

In a career that has spanned more than fifty years, Robert Rauschenberg has redefined the art of our time. In 1997, the Guggenheim Museum organized Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist's work ever organized. It featured nearly 300 works, including several newly created pieces. The exhibition opened to universal acclaim and traveled to museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Rauschenberg was born in 1925 in Port Arthur, Texas. He began to study art after his discharge from the United States Navy in 1945, and attended North Carolina's Black Mountain College. There he studied with the former Bauhaus master, Josef Albers, and solidified friendships with the composer John Cage and the dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham. Between 1949 and 1954, Rauschenberg introduced the mediums, materials, and motifs that have continued to occupy him. He worked in photography, made his first monoprints, and became involved in performance. After settling in New York in 1949, Rauschenberg encountered the Abstract Expressionists, and began to incorporate their gestural brushwork into his own paintings. He deviated from their pictorial purity, however, with references beyond the canvas. For example, newsprint and maps were incorporated into Mother of God (ca. 1950), pebbles and dirt were impressed into the dark pigment of the Night Blooming (1951) paintings, and newspaper collage formed the ground of the series of black paintings.

In 1952, Rauschenberg introduced his method of combining disparate subjects, for example in his collages on Italian shirtboard, and the use of found materials, as in his Scatole Personali (c. 1952). These early works were laboratories for the Combines, begun in the mid-fifties, where real world images and objects were brought into the realm of abstract painting, thus blurring boundaries not only between painting and sculpture but also between art and life. Odalisk (1955/1958), one of Rauschenberg's first true Combines, incorporates a rooster, electric lights, and a pillow with autobiographical materials, including one of his miniature blueprints. Expanding upon Marcel Duchamp's concept of the readymade, Rauschenberg gave new significance to ordinary objects, such as a patchwork quilt or an automobile tire, by juxtaposing them with unrelated items and placing them in the context of art. When the Combines were first shown at Egan Gallery in December 1954, critics were baffled by these works, which challenged existing definitions of art. Rauschenberg was sustained during these years through an intellectual dialogue with Cage and Cunningham, as well as with the artist Jasper Johns, who shared his interest in deriving art from the commonplace.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, found images became paramount in Rauschenberg's visual vocabulary. Reproductions from newspapers and magazines were incorporated into his drawings, prints, and paintings as he perfected techniques of solvent-transfer, lithography, and silkscreening. With the silkscreened painting series, made between 1962 and 1964, Rauschenberg became identified with Pop art, partly as a result of his use of a commercial means of reproduction and his emphasis on media subjects, ranging from baseball to the Vietnam War. Rauschenberg's growing reputation as the leading artist of his generation was sealed by his first solo museum exhibition, held in 1963 at the Jewish Museum in New York, and the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale, which he was awarded the following year.

Throughout his career, and particularly during the 1960s, Rauschenberg became involved in several collaborative ventures that moved him outside the confines of his studio. Rauschenberg's approach to art as an inclusive form engaging all the senses led naturally to his work in performance. Between 1954 and 1964, he designed sets, costumes, and lighting for both the Merce Cunningham Company and the Paul Taylor Company. His early stage designs included freestanding Combines such as Minutiae (1954), as well as what he called "live décor," in which human action became "scenery." In the early 1960s Rauschenberg worked closely with the Judson Dance Theater, a collective comprising such dancers and visual artists as Trisha Brown, Robert Morris, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, and Carolee Schneemann. Its primary objective was to liberate movement from all formal conventions. Between 1963 and 1967, Rauschenberg choreographed and performed in at least eleven documented performance pieces. Eliminating the customary division between performer and scenic element in these works, which ranged from Pelican (1963) to Urban Round (1967), he emphasized the interaction with specially designed costumes and stage props. In his ensemble pieces, such as Spring Training (1965), Map Room II (1965), and Linoleum (1966), disparate actions — some intentionally dancerly, others entirely pedestrian — were performed simultaneously. The pieces were often accompanied by audio collages made from electronically amplified noises, compilations of prerecorded music, and found sounds.

With Billy Klüver, a Bell Laboratories engineer he met in 1960, Rauschenberg explored technology's potential applications to the visual arts and theater. In 1966, he and Klüver established E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), an organization devoted to promoting interaction between artists and engineers in order to realize technically challenging artistic concepts. Rauschenberg created interactive, technologically-driven installations such as Oracle (1962-65), which accentuate the relationship between seeing and hearing. A five-part sculpture constructed from scrap-metal objects, Oracle emits the sounds of radio broadcasts, which viewers can manipulate by adjusting a control system programmed to scan multiple stations simultaneously.

With his move in 1970 to Captiva, Florida, Rauschenberg retreated temporarily from urban imagery, favoring an abstract idiom and the use of natural fibers, such as fabric and paper. The Cardboards (1971) and Venetians (1972-73) reveal his fascination with the inherent color, texture, and history of found materials. The beautiful and disparate effects of cloth, ranging from cotton to satin, are explored in the Hoarfrosts (1974-75) and Jammers (1975-76) series. Collaborations at paper mills in France and India resulted in works where paper pulp itself was elevated to an art form.Rauschenberg's early interest in photography was renewed in 1979, when he incorporated projections of his own black-and-white photographs into a set design for the Trisha Brown Dance Company's Glacial Decoy. From this point forward, images incorporated into Rauschenberg's work in all mediums were drawn almost exclusively from his own photographs.

During the 1980s, Rauschenberg undertook two long-term projects. The first, The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981-present), is a multipart work-in-progress, which currently comprises 189 paintings and sculptures, and spans approximately 1,000 feet. Often described as Rauschenberg's visual autobiography, The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece presents significant developments in the artist's career, with sections referring to past motifs and techniques as well as current trends in his art. It may be regarded as the ultimate serial work for an artist who conceives in series.

The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) project (1984-1991) represented the culmination of his belief in the power of art and artistic collaboration to bring about social change. Traveling to eleven countries throughout the world, Rauschenberg explored diverse cultures, materials, and artistic traditions. He mounted an exhibition of his work in each country, often where artistic experimentation had been suppressed, seeking to spark dialogue and to achieve mutual understanding through the creative process.

The ROCI pieces launched several of Rauschenberg's metal painting and sculpture series begun in the mid-1980s. The metal paintings have a wide range of effects, from the brilliantly colored enamels of the Urban Bourbons (1988-95) to the dark monochrome of the Night Shades (1991). The Gluts, begun in 1986, are made from scrap-metal objects, such as gas station signs and automobile parts, that are transformed into wall and freestanding sculptures.

Since 1992, Rauschenberg has used an Iris printer to make digital color prints of his photographs. It is this technology that allows for the high-resolution images and luminous hues in the recent large-scale works on paper, the Waterworks (1992-94) and the Anagrams (1995-1997). In 1996, Rauschenberg transferred the Iris prints to wet plaster in the Arcadian Retreats (1996), a fresco series that provided him with an entirely new avenue of exploration.

April 18, 2000


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