Friday, December 14, 2012

The Time I Went to Bob's House, Part One


Robert Rauschenberg
I recently picked up a deeply discounted copy of the book to the left at my local Blick outlet.  It's the catalogue from the first posthumous retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg's work.  Curated by Larry Gagosian (who wrote a really nice forward in the book), this marks the new relationship between the Rauschenberg estate and The Gagosian Gallery, which for those of you who don't know the NYC art world, is a powerhouse.  I don't know how the ins and outs of how Pace Wildenstein (who also represented Rauschenberg in his life) lost out on this opportunity to Gagosian, but the collection of works is beautifully put together, so I'm not really worried about it.  If you love Rauschenberg, or art, I suggest checking the book out.  Here's the description from the publisher: 
An essential volume on the work of Robert Rauschenberg, this relevatory selection of rarely seen masterworks is curated in collaboration with the artist's estate and includes an extensive chronology. In a career of nearly sixty years, Robert Rauschenberg changed the course of art history, art making, and viewers' experience of art. An artist of protean creativity, he transformed the mediums of sculpture, painting, prints, and photography. He elevated seemingly casual, everyday images and embraced discarded and found materials, reintroducing content to art after decades when abstraction held sway. This book covers the full span of the artist's career, from 1950 to 2007, focusing on key works from the collection of the artist's estate, including many that have not been shown since they were first made and exhibited more than thirty years ago, as well as masterpieces that have recently been seen in museum exhibitions. Texts by James Lawrence and John Richardson are accompanied by more than sixty color plates and over fifty black-and-white historical photographs. Also featured is an extensive chronology by Susan Davidson detailing the artist's life and career that will become a fundamental reference for students of Rauschenberg's influential oeuvre.
The book, like the show it represents, is stunning - beautifully designed.  I need to mention though that I was taken aback by the tone.  This book prompted me to really think about Bob Rauschenberg in the way that most people look at artists, as someone who is long departed - as someone who existed as part a history that is over.  The idea that Rauschenberg (who if you haven't figured it, is probably my favorite artist...ever) has crossed into the realm of Van Gogh and Picasso and Warhol hadn't fully occurred to me.  Even though I'd known of, and been saddened by, his passing, I hadn't fully absorbed that he is part of history now.

In the tiniest of ways, I was part of that history.  In the early spring of 2004, I wrote a letter to Mr. Rauschenberg.  I had been talking to my students about the idea that artistically, we have a lineage.  I had mentioned that my college painting professor Ken Hoffman had studied under Richard Diebenkorn at The San Francisco Art Institute, which led to a discussion about the ripple effect that artists can have on one another.  That led to more talk about who our artistic influences are and how.  My students were curious who some of my artistic influences were, and I I told them that Rauschenberg was one of my biggest influences.  They asked if he was live.  I stated that he was.  They asked why I didn't know him, if I liked him so much.  Know him?  This is Robert Rauschenberg.  This is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.  After Picasso, he did more to advance painting as an art form than anyone...ever!  He helped pave the way for Pop Art, and all but single-handedly (sorry Twombly, Johns, etc.) concluded Abstract Expressionism!  

So why didn't I know him?  I considered the following points: He's a human being.  I'm a human being.  He's an artist.  I'm an artist.  He likes to talk.  I like to talk.  I quickly convinced myself he and I were going to be best friends.  But back to the letter - I wrote a letter telling him I'd like to meet him, and have a conversation if I could.  Months went by, but I didn't hear anything.  I assumed he was too busy to worry about me and moved on.

Until...early June.  I was running errands when my phone rang.  It was an assitant of Mr. Rauschenberg's and she told me that he greatly enjoyed my letter and was wondering if I'd be interesting in coming down to Florida for a visit.

Interested?  I was speechless.  And I was traveling to Maine the next day.

To Be Continued...


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