Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules

The retrospective, Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, has traveled from the the Tate Modern in London, to MoMA in New York and is now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The show, which includes more than 170 works by Rauschenberg,  will be on exhibit through March 25th.

The title of the show references the Erased de Kooning Drawing that Rauschenberg created in 1953. Always curious, always pushing the boundaries of art, Rauschenberg wanted to create a work of his own by erasing the work of another artist. Rauschenberg held Willem de Kooning in high regard, and decided to ask him for a drawing that he could erase.

“I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels,” Rauschenberg said, “and hoped that he wouldn’t be home when I knocked on his door. And he was home. We sat down with the bottle of Jack Daniels and I told him what my project was and he understood it. And he said, ‘I don’t like it, but I understand what you’re doing.’ And he pulled something out and he said, ‘I’m going to make it so hard for you to erase this.’ And it took me about a month, and I don’t know how many erasers to do it.”

The  Erased de Kooning Drawing wasn’t shown for a few years after it was created, but word got out about his project and the work became well known, even before it was shown.

Combining Art, Technology (and Other Stuff)

Rauschenberg was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925. His parents were Fundamentalist Christians, his father an avid hunter. Rauschenberg served in the navy from 1942 to 1945, then studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Academie Julian in Paris, Black Mountain College in North Carolina and, from 1949 to 1952, went to the Art Students League in New York. He was a well-trained artist, and a curious one, who explored the use of unexpected materials in multiple media. Rauschenberg was a painter, photographer, lithographer, choreographer and performer who never fit into any category, and whose work influenced every postwar art movement since Abstract Expressionism.

After a trip to Yellowstone Park, Rauschenberg was inspired to create Mud Muse, a vat containing  two tons of bubbling mud, activated by a recorded sound track. Mud Muse was done in 1968, before the dawn of the digital age. Rauschenberg had Mud Muse engineered by scientists at California’s Teledyne Technologies.

Mud Muse is part of a permanent museum collection in Sweden, and has traveled to London and the U.S. accompanied by a technician who ensures that the mud is of the proper consistency (like yogurt) and that the mud bubbles in response to the to the sound levels.

Primal and Technical

Just as he combined the primal mud and technical components in Mud Muse, Rauschenberg combined primal printing on stone with space travel. In 1969, Rauschenberg was invited by NASA to witness the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to place man on the moon for the first time. Combining crayon and tusche on lithography stone and images supplied by NASA, Rauschenberg created the Stoned Moon Series, the title reflecting both the primal stone printing process and the technical achievement of science.

Robert Rauschenberg Prints at VFA

Please contact us for more information about work from the Stoned Moon Series, or the other extraordinary work by Robert Rauschenberg available at VFA.

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