Eight Art Project
Eight Art Project

Robert Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern.

Until April 2, 2017, the Tate Modern in London is offering visitors an opportunity to look back over the career of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) with the first complete retrospective to have been staged since his death. Thanks to the loan of important works by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in fact, it is possible to retrace the production of the great American artist, from his most famous masterpieces to the multidimensional experiments carried out in his days at Black Mountain College. Looking at the finest of his works, it is no wonder that Rauschenberg was the first North American artist to be awarded the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale (1963) for his distinctive capacity to undermine the rules of the masters who came before him, radically changing the relationship between art and life.

It is probably for this reason that he has been historically placed within the New Dada movement. In the company of his fellow artist and friend Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg always oriented his production toward a revival of the tradition of the first half of the 20th century, while updating it to take into account the technical and conceptual innovations of the sixties and seventies. Monogram (1955-59) and Bed (1955), perhaps the best-known of his combine paintings, show how the simultaneous presence of readymade and paint can result in a fascinating and often eloquent association. Bed, in particular, is a consecration of the everyday elevated to the status of art because it has been presented as the theater of a bloody act, evoked by a disquieting dripping of color.

Notwithstanding the bulk of the stuffed goat and tire, what is surprising in Monogram is the way that the pictorial solution used for the base has already been regularized, even tamed with respect to his previous exuberance. And if we look at Double Rauschenberg (1950) or Triathlon (Scenario) (2005), it will become clear that another of the American artist’s aesthetic inclinations was toward a conceptual approach in which the space devoted to painting is reduced to a minimum. In the self-portrait of 1950 the outlines of his body, cut out and superimposed, are lightened through the exposure to light, just as in the photographic collage of 2005 the heavy stuffed objects of the past have been replaced by their photographic traces, as he moved in the direction of an increasingly rarefied expression.

With Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), finally, the artist comes to terms with his training, turning his hand to the fruitful time he spent at Black Mountain College with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns, among others. The result of this patient work of erasure in 1953 is not just a courageous symbolic act of going beyond the masters of the past—a status that the Dutch painter Willem de Kooning had gained as a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism—but also a further indication of the shift toward the conceptual that was to mark his subsequent works. Just as would transpire from his numerous collaborations with the dancers Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown, which speak of a profound and multifaceted world of expression, able to set an example outside the practice of painting as well.

Elena Tettamanti


Londra // until 2 April 2017
“Robert Raushenberg”
Curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Leah Dickerman, Catherine Wood
Tate Modern, Bankside, London


Photo credits:

1. Robert Rauschenberg
Retroactive II, 1964
Oil and silk-screen ink print on canvas
213.4 x 152.4 cm
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Partial gift of Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York.
Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

2. Robert Rauschenberg
Bed, 1955
Combine painting: oil, pencil, toothpaste, and red fingernail polish on pillow, quilt (previously owned by the artist Dorothea Rockburne), and bedsheet mounted on wood supports
191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Leo Castelli in honour of Aldred H. Barr, Jr.
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York
Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

3. Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil
Untitled (Double Rauschenberg), c. 1950
Exposed blueprint paper
209.6 x 92.1 cm
C Y Twombly Foundation
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

4. Robert Rauschenberg
Monogram, 1955-59
Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters
106.7 x 135.2 x 163.8 cm
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York
5. Robert Rauschenberg
Triathlon (Scenario), 2005
Inkjet dye transfer on polylaminate
217.2 x 306.1 cm
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

January 2017
Elena Tettamanti