Partner Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns
Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64111, Stati Uniti
The Art Students League of New York, 215 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019, Stati Uniti
National Academy Museum & School, 1083 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128, Stati Uniti
Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC 28711, Stati Uniti
University of Texas at Austin, 116 Inner Campus Drive, Austin, TX 78712, Stati Uniti
Académie Julian, Passage des Panoramas, Paris, Francia
278 Pearl St, New York, NY 10038, Stati Uniti
Milton Ernest "Robert" Rauschenberg (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008) was an American painter and graphic artist whose early works anticipated the pop art movement. Rauschenberg is well known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. Rauschenberg was both a painter and a sculptor and the Combines are a combination of both, but he also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance.
He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993. He became the recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts in 1995 in recognition of his more than 40 years of fruitful artmaking.
Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City as well as on Captiva Island, Florida until his death from heart failure on May 12, 2008.
Rauschenberg was born as Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas, the son of Dora Carolina (née Matson) and Ernest R. Rauschenberg. His father was of German and Cherokee ancestry and his mother of Anglo-Saxon descent. His parents were Fundamentalist Christians. Rauschenberg was dyslexic.
At 16, Rauschenberg was admitted to the University of Texas where he began studying pharmacy. He was drafted into the United States Navy in 1943. Based in California, he served as a mental hospital technician until his discharge in 1945.
The Broad, Los Angeles
The Broad, Los Angeles
Rauschenberg subsequently studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil. In 1948 Rauschenberg and Weil decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
Josef Albers, a founder of the Bauhaus, became Rauschenberg's painting instructor at Black Mountain. Albers' preliminary courses relied on strict discipline that did not allow for any "uninfluenced experimentation". Rauschenberg described Albers as influencing him to do "exactly the reverse" of what he was being taught.
From 1949 to 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York, where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly.
Rauschenberg married Susan Weil in the summer of 1950 at the Weil family home in Outer Island, Connecticut. Their only child, Christopher, was born July 16, 1951. The two separated in June 1952 and divorced in 1953. According to a 1987 oral history by the composer Morton Feldman, after the end of his marriage, Rauschenberg had romantic relationships with fellow artists Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns. An article by Jonathan D. Katz states that Rauschenberg's affair with Twombly began during his marriage to Susan Weil.
In 1959, in the magazine Arts, Hilton Kramer only thinly veiled his homophobia when attacking Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns as purveyors of ‘the window decorator’s aesthetic’.
At the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Combines at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (December 2005–April 2006), which examined Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking painted sculptural objects, the signage was particularly misleading. A history of the artist’s work and life was mounted on the entry wall to the exhibit, which most viewers read intently (some were even taking notes on my visit). The following text appeared toward the end of the statement: In 1949 Rauschenberg and [Susan] Weil moved to New York. They married the following year, and their son, Christopher, now a photographer, was born in 1951. That spring Rauschenberg had his first solo exhibition, at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, and met the composer John Cage and the dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham. Their friendship solidified in summer 1952 at Black Mountain, where they were teaching and Cy Twombly was a student. Rauschenberg and Twombly traveled to Europe, chiefly Italy, for a year, and in 1953, back in New York, they had concurrent exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Looking at this text, we can see how the institution attempted to place Rauschenberg in the guise of a different-sex lover. If Rauschenberg’s sexuality is unimportant, why inform the public that he was married and had a child? Obviously, his sexuality was important to the exhibitors, and by extension, then, information regarding the artist’s same-sex activities should have been considered significant as well. Rauschenberg and Twombly traveled to Europe as lovers, a fact that is widely known and documented; the trip was the equivalent of a honeymoon. The sign did not explain why Rauschenberg would leave his baby and its mother to go off for a year with a man. Nor did it explain that Cage and Cunningham were lovers and remained so for the rest of Cage’s life. These facts are widely documented. We are therefore led to wonder why Rauschenberg’s same-sex lovers were given a lower hierarchical status, in fact deleted from the institutional narrative. Only in the huge accompanying catalogue was there any mention of Rauschenberg’s same-sex activities, and then they were briefly glossed over: “During the second half of the 1950s, Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg were neighbors, friends, lovers, and, most significantly, artists developing work for which they would ultimately become well known.” While readers of the text might be grateful for this small acknowledgement, nowhere in the exhibition was this information available. It was refreshing to see the relationship between Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns finally acknowledged, even if in such a slight way, yet many visitors would have missed the passage as they scanned the huge text on display in the shop. Few actually purchased the books, because they were expensive ($45 paper, $75 cloth), leaving the vast majority of viewers without this historical information, while the actual exhibit continually informed them of the artist’s heterosexual activities. Nor were they informed of how works like Bed (1955) included in the exhibition directly referenced the artist’s sexual relationship with Johns. Rauschenberg’s art should have been at the center of the discussion, but this could not occur because the museum mostly denied that the art was often made for and about his male same-sex lovers, and not for his wife, whom he divorced within 16 months of marriage, nor his child.
The 2008 Cy Twombly Cycles and Seasons exhibition at Tate Modern in London presented viewers with distorted signage. It referred to the trip Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg took as one between friends and in no way acknowledged the sexual side of their relationship for that extended journey. In the accompanying catalog, the trip was not described as a honeymoon. The chronology did state that “Rauschenberg, who at the time is separating from his wife Susan Weil, decides to join him.” This part of the chronology was illustrated with two intimate photographs taken of Twombly by Rauschenberg, and a third work, a photomontage by Rauschenberg called Cy + Bob – Venice (1952), in which the men are seen side by side under the stallions at St. Mark’s. At no time did the text allude to the sexual nature of the friendship or the romantic status of the trip. On the other hand, it did call Twombly’s visit to Cuba with Tatiana Franchetti a “honeymoon trip” when it documented their marriage in 1959, long after Rauschenberg had left Twombly for Jasper Johns. If biographical sexual information were of no importance, the reader would not be told by the institution that the artist married a woman. That the Tate did not place Twombly’s relationship with Rauschenberg on equal footing, actively eliding information that was already in the public domain, was yet another example of the open prejudice faced by same-sex lovers and the whole LGBT population. It is doubly sad that this happened at one of the world’s leading art institutions, one funded by the public, and that it happened as recently as 2008.
Rauschenberg died on May 12, 2008, on Captiva Island, Florida. He died of heart failure after a personal decision to go off life support. Rauschenberg is survived by his partner of 25 years, artist Darryl Pottorf, his former assistant. Rauschenberg is also survived by his son, photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, and his sister, Janet Begneaud.
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