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Major retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg opens at the Museum of Modern Art
Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, May 21-September 17, 2017. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar.

NEW YORK, NY.- Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, a retrospective spanning the six-decade career of this defining figure of contemporary art, will be on view at The Museum of Modern Art from May 21 through September 17, 2017. Organized in collaboration with Tate Modern in London, this exhibition brings together over 250 works, integrating Rauschenberg’s astonishing range of production across mediums including painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, photography, sound works, and performance footage. To focus attention on the importance of creative dialogue and collaboration in Rauschenberg’s work, MoMA’s presentation is structured as an “open monograph”—as other artists, dancers, musicians, and writers came into Rauschenberg’s creative life, their work enters the exhibition, mapping the exchange of ideas. These figures, among the most influential in American postwar culture, include Trisha Brown, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Sari Dienes, Morton Feldman, Jasper Johns, Billy Klüver, Paul Taylor, Jean Tinguely, David Tudor, Cy Twombly, Susan Weil, and many others. Robert Rauschenberg is organized by Leah Dickerman, The Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, and Achim Borchardt-Hume, Director of Exhibitions at Tate Modern, with Emily Liebert and Jenny Harris, curatorial assistants, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition’s design at MoMA is created in collaboration with acclaimed artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas. In addition to this retrospective’s presentation in New York, Robert Rauschenberg was on view in a different iteration at Tate Modern (December 1, 2016– April 2, 2017) and will be shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) (November 18, 2017–March 25, 2018).

In 1959, Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008) wrote, “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)” His work in this gap played a key role in defining the possibilities for artmaking in the years to come. The early 1950s, when Rauschenberg launched his career, was the heyday of the heroic gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism. Rauschenberg challenged this painterly tradition with an egalitarian approach to materials, bringing the stuff of the everyday world into his art. Working alone and in collaboration with others, Rauschenberg invented new, interdisciplinary forms of artistic practice that helped set the course for art of the present day. He created works that merged traditional art materials with ordinary objects, found imagery, and the cutting-edge technology of an emergent digital age; developed new modes of performance and performative work; and organized collaborative projects that crossed the boundaries between mediums and nations.

“The ethos that permeates Rauschenberg’s work—an openness, commitment to dialogue and collaboration, and global curiosity—makes him, now more than ever, a touchstone for our troubled times,” says exhibition curator Leah Dickerman.

The exhibition galleries group work across mediums from particular moments and places in which Rauschenberg and his friends and collaborators came together, making art and often presenting it in association, starting with Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina, then moving to Rauschenberg’s Fulton Street and Pearl Street studios in New York City, and finally to Captiva Island, Florida, where the artist concluded his prolific career.

Among its many highlights, Robert Rauschenberg presents the artist’s widely celebrated Combines (1954–64) and silkscreen paintings (1962–64) in fresh ways, including two rarely lent works: Charlene (1954), the last and largest from the artist’s series of Red Paintings, which incorporates mirrors, part of a man’s undershirt, an umbrella, comic strips, and a light that flashes on and off; and Monogram (1955–59), Rauschenberg’s famous Combine assembled from a taxidermied angora goat and a tire, positioned on a painted and collaged wooden platform. At the same time, the exhibition explores lesser-known periods within his career, including his work of the early 1950s and the late 1960s, which is increasingly compelling and prescient to contemporary eyes.

Among Rauschenberg’s early landmarks are his Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) and Automobile Tire Print (1953). The latter work was made when the artist instructed composer John Cage to drive his Model A Ford through a pool of paint and then across 20 sheets of typewriter paper. Later galleries present two of his most ambitious technological experiments, both made in collaboration with engineers: Oracle (with Billy Klüver, Harold Hodges, Per Biorn, Toby Fitch, and Robert K. Moore, 1962–65), a five-part sculpture that combines salvaged metal junkyard treasures with the most advanced wireless transistor circuitry, and Mud Muse (with Frank LaHaye, Lewis Ellmore, George Carr, Jim Wilkinson, Carl Adams, and Petrie Mason Robie, 1968–71), a vat of 8,000 pounds of drillers’ mud, which burbles like a primeval tar pit in syncopation with sound-activated air compressors.

The exhibition represents the richness of Rauschenberg’s late career through the Gluts series (1986–89, 1991–94), metal sculptures inspired by the contemporary economy of the artist’s native Texas. The final gallery also features such works as Holiday Ruse (Night Shade) (1991) and Mirthday Man (Anagram [A Pun]) (1997), which show Rauschenberg developing new printing techniques to reproduce his own photographs at the grand scale of painting, refusing through his very last works to segregate artistic mediums from one another.

The pioneering video artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas collaborated on the exhibition’s presentation in New York. An artist with 14 works in the Museum’s collection, Atlas worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from the early 1970s to 1983 as stage manager, lighting designer, and in-house filmmaker, and maintained a close working relationship with Cunningham until his death in 2009. Atlas recounts that Rauschenberg, who collaborated with Cunningham on more than 20 performances from 1954 to 1964, was the reason for the young artist’s first association with the company: “I went to see Rauschenberg’s work—that was my introduction to Merce…. [Rauschenberg] has been my main inspiration all my artistic life.”

Atlas’s work with the Museum’s curatorial and exhibition-design teams foregrounds Rauschenberg’s deep engagement with dance and performance, underscoring the ways these disciplines fundamentally shaped his approach to art making. One of the exhibition’s centerpieces is a new installation that Atlas has created around footage from the historic multimedia performance series 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering (1966), which featured works conceived by artists, including Rauschenberg, in collaboration with engineers from Bell Laboratories. From June 3 through July 30, visitors will also have the chance to see Atlas’s The Illusion of Democracy—a trilogy of video installations comprising Plato’s Alley (2008), Painting by Numbers (2011), and 143652 (2012)—in the Museum’s second-floor exhibition galleries as part of Inbox, an ongoing series of installations that showcase recent additions to MoMA’s collection.

Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends also presents video documentation from Rauschenberg’s own performances Pelican (1963) and Map Room II (1965). Selected film footage, photographs, and archives document his contributions to dances by Cunningham and Taylor. The final gallery highlights and celebrates his 16-year collaboration with Trisha Brown (1979–1995). When Brown invited Rauschenberg to design the costume and sets for Glacial Decoy (1979), her first work on a proscenium stage, a “quartet that ‘slides’ back and forth,” Rauschenberg created a backdrop of 620 photographic slides showing sites in and around Fort Myers, Florida, near his home base of Captiva Island. The slides were made to be projected on four large screens lining the back of the stage, migrating from one screen to the next. These projections, which Brown would later describe as a “luminous continuum,” are featured along with documentary footage from the dance’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2009. Footage from Set and Reset (1983), the second collaboration between Rauschenberg and Brown with Laurie Anderson, are featured in this gallery as well. In addition to his work in dance, Rauschenberg’s exchanges and collaborations with composers Cage, Feldman, and Tudor are represented throughout the exhibition with scores and sound recordings.

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