Today’s Times has a tour through NYC’s Rauschenberg holdings by Roberta Smith, the paper’s chief critic. It opens with the point that the artist not only epitomized (some would say dominated) the post-War NYC art world, but that he insistently drew on — and gave back to — the city as well. The piece begins: “Robert Rauschenberg, who died Monday at age 82, is part of the cultural mythos of postwar New York. He regularly exhibited new work here for more than 56 years, which must be some kind of record. It extended from his first solo show at the Betty Parsons gallery in 1951 to the debut of his 2007 “Runts” series at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea in January. … Many of the materials for Mr. Rauschenberg’s found-object wizardry came directly from the sidewalks, gutters and trash bins of New York. Most of the images he used were lifted from its magazines and newspapers and mirrored the look and pulse of urban life.” She goes on to tell you where you can find work on display — and which institutions own the most stuff of his. The rest of the article is here.
Her invocation of his relationship to print media serves as a reminder that few contemporary artists can be said to have worked so fervently in so many media — or to have made the concept of distinct media problematic. And not just in his refusal to differentiate between painting and sculpture, as in the “combines.” Yesterday’s paper had a piece on his contributions, largely in collaboration with Merce Cunningham, to the city’s dance world. David Byrne writes in, reminding us that he even designed album sleeves for popular NYC bands like Talking Heads. He pushed video projection ahead of its time. NPR’s obit closes with music he recently composed.
I love the story about his first trip to a museum in the midst of a rural Texas childhood, when, looking at Blue Boy, he first realized that artists existed — that it was possible to be an artist. He spent the rest of his life grappling with that realization and in doing so serves as a model for anyone else who wants to wake up and make things — or to make up things — and look at them with new eyes or ears.