This summer, the Museum of Modern Art presents “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends,” the artist’s first retrospective exhibition of the 21st century. The exhibition, which will run May 21st – September 17th, presents over 250 works that range in medium and span the length of his eminent career.
The exhibition identifies Rauschenberg as a connector and makes the argument that his genius resided in his remarkable openness to others. He brought together mediums and artists of seemingly unrelated fields. Such artists included Jasper Johns, Jean Tinguely, choreographer and dancer Trisha Brown, experimental composer John Cage, and and electrical engineer Bill Klüver.
Curator Leah Dickerman’s inspired decision to portray Rauschenbeg not as an individual star but as a creative collaborator distinguishes her presentation from more traditional career retrospectives. Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking mixed-media work that resulted from his singularly forward-thinking attitude continues to inspire young artists today. “Among Friends” breaks down the etymology of Rauschenberg’s most daring works, his past and most influential relationships that were accrued throughout his life. Dickerman’s study of Rauschenberg’s creative collaborations offers rare insight into the artist’s attitude vis-à-vis artistic creation. These principles Rauschenberg developed as an artist resonate today and serve as inspiration to a new generation of artists.
The exhibition illustrates Rauschenberg’s pioneering approach to art with works such as “Mud Muse” (1968 -1971), a pool of 1,000 pounds of bentonite clay mixed with water which bubbles in bubbles and spurts as air is released in response to the sound levels created by the mud bubbling. Mud Muse, like other early Rauschenberg works, creates an intersection between art and science. One of Rauschenberg’s earliest collaborations was with his fellow artist and wife Susan Weil. The couple created this series of ghostly figures on light-sensitive paper when they were fresh out of their first year at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Black Mountain College was committed to an integrative approach to education, and the school’s interactive ethos lent itself to Rauschenberg’s interdisciplinary and collaborative art.
Other pieces that resulted from Rauschenberg’s close affiliation to other artists include “Auto mobile Tire Print” (1953), for which he had John Cage drive his car over 20 sheets of typewriting paper; “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953), a de Kooning drawing it famously took Rauschenberg a month and 40 erasers to rub out; “Set and Reset” (1983), an interactive set with which Trisha Brown’s dancers could perform.
The exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends” itself was a collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Museum London, as well as artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas. Atlas, who worked with Rauschenberg in the past, participated in the installation of works pertaining to the medium of moving image. His participation in the MoMA’s exhibition moved to pay tribute to Rauschenberg’s life-long interest in dance and performance.
Among Friends is more than a chronological survey of Rauschenberg’s career—it establishes the artist as an early and frequent collaborator who was inspired by some of the greatest creative thinkers of his time, and one who continues to inspire generations of artists today.
Megan Fox Kelly is the Advisor for Sales to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.