Like Cunningham and Cage, Rauschenberg found beauty in everyday objects. Through close observation, the quotidian could bloom into something either sublime or subversive. This is a tenet of queer art, the ability to transform normativity into the unexpected.
We see it in Cunningham’s dances, wherein pedestrian movements intersperse with ballet efficiency. We see it in Cage’s compositions, in which everyday objects ache and moan their way into an indeterminate musical composition. But Rauschenberg was arguably the best observer of the bunch. He was a
ian editor, a purveyor of objects that constitute the thingness of identity—and then he threw it all onto the canvas, splashing everything with bright color.
Many of Rauschenberg’s works in the show capture this communal quality of finding the unexpected within the quotidian. For example, Pilgrim (1960) interfaces with Cunningham’s dance Antic Meet (1958), in which the choreographer danced with a chair on his back. Rauschenberg takes that idea and translates it to painting; he paints with the chair, smudging the pigments down the canvas as low as possible. Then, for added humor, he tacks the chair onto the painting and calls it collage.
And it would be remiss not to mention Rauschenberg’s Mud Muse (1968–71), which embraces Cage’s taste for incidental music. The piece consists of a large aluminum tank holding 8,000 pounds of mud with a bass track playing underneath that would cause bubbles to rise and burst at the top of the mud pit. Here, Rauschenberg revels in the spectacle of combining art and technology with earthly refuse. His ability to animate something as disgusting as mud into music indicates a desire to revise our conception of beauty.