Rauschenberg: Collaging Beyond

Art is constantly reinventing itself – and the artist is the catalyst. During a visit to the MoMA, with artist Olya Dubatova, I was thrilled to revisit the work of a favorite artist, one who embodied transformation not only in his work, but also in his life: the great Robert Rauschenberg. The show, entitled “Rauschenberg: Among Friends”, gave a stunningly visual expression to his range and how his connections to others infiltrated his work.

Robert Rauschenberg. Ace, 1962. Five panels: oil, cardboard, wood and metal on canvas. 108 x 240 inches (274.32 x 609.6 cm). This and all photos in this article were taken by me at the MoMA. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

The artist truly brought to light the wild nature of collage and his genius for harmonizing unrelated elements in a composition. Rauschenberg incorporated everyday imagery into his work, but elevated it in large sized compositions and bold, arresting colors.

Rauschenberg. Estate, 1963. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. 95 3/4 x 69 3/4 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art

What made Rauschenberg’s work a truly invigorating experience was that even amongst undertones of angst, there lay an elegant nod to his contemporaries and predecessors. His mixed media took on pop culture, but appraised it with high quality brush stroke techniques creating a fusion that cannot be matched. The exhibit also featured sculpture, video and a series of silkscreened paintings on metal, which were among my favorites.

Rauschenberg. Gold Standard (detail), 1964. Combine: oil, paper, printed reproductions, clock, cardboard box, metal, fabric, wood, string, shoe, and Coca-Cola bottles on gold folding Japanese screen with electric light, rope, and ceramic dog on bicycle seat and wire-mesh base. 84 1/4 x 142 1/8 x 51 1/4 inches. Glenstone. Created during performance of Twenty Questions to Bob Rauschenberg (1964)

Like on all artist dates, my companion’s presence infused the experience. A multimedia artist originating from Russia, Olya has intense stories to tell about her childhood and her travels. Our discussion wove around the viewing of the works, and we switched from the personal to the paintings in a seamless stream of shared appreciation.

As a collagist and artist, Rauschenberg’s work is inspiring in its lack of trepidation. While elements of his work reflect his time and could be read even sentimentally, half a century later his expression felt fresh. Reaching beyond his time, Rauschenberg the artist, collagist, sculptor, collaborator and man, gave two artist friends a lot to behold this day at the MoMA.