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The Artistic Inclusivity of Robert Rauschenberg

19 April - 2024
by Vincent Moleveld
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In the realm of art, there are few figures as dynamic and influential as Robert Rauschenberg. His oeuvre, spanning a multitude of mediums, styles, and techniques, serves as a testament to his commitment to inclusivity and innovation. From his groundbreaking Combines to his lifelong dedication to collaboration, Rauschenberg's artistic journey is a rich tapestry woven with the threads of experimentation and boundary-breaking.

Robert Rauschenberg Oracle, 1962–65 Five-part found-metal assemblage with five concealed radios: ventilation duct; automobile door on typewriter table, with crushed metal; ventilation duct in washtub and water, with wire basket; constructed staircase control unit housing batteries and electronic components; and wood window frame with ventilation duct, all on wheels dimensions variable (dimensions variable) Museé National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Schlumberger, 1976 ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg Oracle, 1962–65 Five-part found-metal assemblage with five concealed radios: ventilation duct; automobile door on typewriter table, with crushed metal; ventilation duct in washtub and water, with wire basket; constructed staircase control unit housing batteries and electronic components; and wood window frame with ventilation duct, all on wheels dimensions variable (dimensions variable) Museé National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Schlumberger, 1976 ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Rauschenberg emerged onto the art scene in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a time dominated by the tenets of Abstract Expressionism. Yet, rather than adhering to the prevailing aesthetic of the time, he boldly proclaimed that "painting relates to both art and life," a statement that would come to define his entire career. In doing so, he challenged the notion of art as separate from the everyday, laying the groundwork for a new era of artistic exploration.

Robert Rauschenberg National Spinning / Red / Spring (Cardboard), 1971 Cardboard and string 100 x 98 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches (254 x 250.2 x 21.6 cm) The Menil Collection, Houston Purchase, with funds contributed by the Brown Foundation, Inc., and the following Menil Board of Trustees: Louisa Stude Sarofim, Frances R. Dittmer, Estate of James Elkins, Jr., Windi Grimes, Agnes Gund, Janie C. Lee, Isabel S. Lummis, Roy Nolen, Charles Wright, Michael Zilkha, 2005 -014 ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg National Spinning / Red / Spring (Cardboard), 1971 Cardboard and string 100 x 98 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches (254 x 250.2 x 21.6 cm) The Menil Collection, Houston Purchase, with funds contributed by the Brown Foundation, Inc., and the following Menil Board of Trustees: Louisa Stude Sarofim, Frances R. Dittmer, Estate of James Elkins, Jr., Windi Grimes, Agnes Gund, Janie C. Lee, Isabel S. Lummis, Roy Nolen, Charles Wright, Michael Zilkha, 2005 -014 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Central to Rauschenberg's artistic vision were his celebrated Combines, which he began in the mid-1950s. These groundbreaking works blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, incorporating real-world images and objects into abstract compositions. By juxtaposing the handmade with the readymade, the gestural brushstroke with the mechanically reproduced image, Rauschenberg challenged traditional notions of artistic production and representation.

The Combines were not merely a departure from convention; they were a manifesto for a new way of creating and experiencing art. Rauschenberg's willingness to embrace diverse materials and techniques opened up new possibilities for artistic expression, inspiring generations of artists to follow in his footsteps.

Robert Rauschenberg Sor Aqua (Venetian), 1973 Water-filled bathtub, wood, found metal, rope, and glass jug 120 1/4 x 120 1/8 x 33 7/8 inches (305.5 x 305 x 86 cm) The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Foundation ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg Sor Aqua (Venetian), 1973 Water-filled bathtub, wood, found metal, rope, and glass jug 120 1/4 x 120 1/8 x 33 7/8 inches (305.5 x 305 x 86 cm) The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Foundation © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Yet perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Rauschenberg's career was his unwavering commitment to collaboration. Throughout his life, he collaborated with performers, printmakers, engineers, writers, artists, and artisans from around the world. For Rauschenberg, collaboration was not just a means to an end; it was a fundamental aspect of his artistic philosophy. By working with others, he was able to push the boundaries of his own creativity, constantly challenging himself and those around him to think differently about art and its possibilities.

Robert Rauschenberg Big Pile of Bones (Scenario), 2005 Inkjet pigment transfer on polylaminate 85 1/2 x 120 1/2 x 2 inches (217.2 x 306.1 x 5.1 cm) Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg Big Pile of Bones (Scenario), 2005 Inkjet pigment transfer on polylaminate 85 1/2 x 120 1/2 x 2 inches (217.2 x 306.1 x 5.1 cm) Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


In the end, Robert Rauschenberg's legacy is not just one of artistic innovation, but of inclusivity and openness. He showed us that art knows no bounds—that it can encompass a multitude of mediums, styles, and perspectives. As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary art, let us draw inspiration from Rauschenberg's fearless spirit of exploration and embrace the endless possibilities that lie before us.

Header afbeelding: Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59, Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas with oil and rubber tire on Angora goat on wood platform mounted on four casters, 42 x 63 1/4 x 64 1/2 inches (106.7 x 160.7 x 163.8 cm), Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Purchase 1965 with contribution from The Friends of Moderna Museet (The Museum of Our Wishes) NMSK 1963 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Relevant: A Complete list of the Top 100 Contemporary Artists