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RIP Robert Rauschenberg

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Legendary Abstract Expressionist Robert Rauschenberg has died at age 82.

A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.

Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and others, he helped obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.


We were lucky enough to see the Guggenheim retrospective of his work ten years ago, and to our eye, no artist so encompassed multi media with such authority, building sheer nonsense to pure beauty. In particular, we often think of his installation “Soundings”:

Soundings is a 36 foot long sculpture made up of three layers of Plexiglas. The front layer would be partially mirrorized and behind are two layers of Plexiglas with images of a wooden chair on them. Different lights behind the sheets of Plexiglas would vary in intensity based upon the amount of sound in the room and backlight the images so they would be visible through the mirror.


Viewers would stomp and shout as fleeting images of the chairs flashed and danced. It sounds like complete twaddle, we know, but as you became part of the art with your own motions and sounds, something even more amazing emerged. He was a fantasist, a visionary, and whatever this post modern world is, he’s a big part of the good in it.

  1. He was/is in my top ten. I might be projecting here, but I think viewing his work taught me a lot about establishing a visual lexicon, and by extension a storytelling lexicon, using abstracted or at least non-traditional images. I mean, I’ve always been interested in paring down storytelling actors to their iconic essence (Toth, Crane, Caniff, etc.), but Rauschenberg showed me that you can hang a narrative on something much less overt.

    What a productive career.

  2. This is sad news. When I lived in SW Florida during the 80’s I would see Rauschenberg at many of the small artist gallery shows. Here was a legend of the art world supporting the local art scene. He even exhibited at the community college. My wife received a scholarship from Rauschenberg to attend art school, he always gave back with little fanfare. He always had a smile, and it gave me a different perspective from those who chose to create boundaries between the world of illustration and the fine art world. The guy just loved art and making art.

  3. :(

    another person i need to check off my list of people i’d like to thank in person one day

    he anf Johns were/are about the same age, right?

  4. Back in my bartending days, in the mid-’80s, I waited on Rauschenberg just after he’d won some sort of award. I confess didn’t recognize the man, but I recognized the name on the award! When he realized I knew who he was, he broke out into an enormous grin–he looked like a demented pixie. We had such a nice conversation, and he left a monster tip. Turns out he did the same thing with the doorman who got his cab, who also recognized him.

    It’s always nice when geniuses turn out to be fabulous people.

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