Robert Rauschenberg: Art and Life

Vinciane Jones
Oct 20, 2014 8:57AM

“Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made (I try to act in the gap between the two)”. This statement made by Robert Rauschenberg in 1959 acts as the guideline for this exhibition as it is key to understanding his works. Through this exhibition, the viewer will be presented with the development of this idea: starting with an artist who inspired Rauschenberg, then following the progression of Rauschenberg’s works through time and finally ending with an artist who was influenced by Rauschenberg.

 The viewer is first presented with Merzbild mit Regenbogen, by Kurt Schwitters, a Dada artist who incorporated everyday objects into his paintings. Schwitters’s belief that both objects designed with aesthetics in mind and those that were not could be of artistic interest inspired Rauschenberg to explore similar ideas.

  The initial Rauschenburg’s work shown is White Painting (three panel). This work embodies contrasting ideas. On the one hand Rauschenberg wanted the work of art to look unmarked by human hands, on the other, he came to see it as creating a reflection of the life around it since it reflected the light and shadows, allowing viewers to see the world around them by looking at the painting.

 Automobile Tire Print, however, approaches the connection to life differently. In this work Rauschenberg has used an everyday object, a car, to create his work of art.

 The way in which Rauschenberg is most known for combining art and life is through his incorporation of everyday objects into his works. Collection, his first Combine painting, is made of oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas. Similar examples include Trophy I (for Merce Cunningham), Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), Fish Park / ROCI JAPAN and Orrey (Borealis). All these works include objects which connect the painting more closely to life, whether it be a sign-post, a window frame, a piece of cloth or a musical instrument. These works also show that just as Rauschenberg tried to blur the boundaries between life and art, he also eliminated the distinctions between different mediums such as photography, painting, printing and sculpture by combining them all in one work.

 In Port of Entry [Anagram (A Pun)], Rauschenberg has juxtaposed several recognizable images seen from everyday life or the media. This showcases another approach Rauschenberg often took to introduce aspects of life into his prints and his two-dimensional works.

 The exhibition ends with Warhol’s Soup Can, Vegetarian Vegetable, a Pop Art work, as Rauschenberg is often seen as one of the forerunners of the movement. This final painting shows an other approach: rather than taking an everyday object and including them in the work, Warhol has made it his only subject.

 In conclusion, this exhibition showcases several different ways in which Rauschenberg tried to bridge the gap between art and life, as well as exploring the source of this idea and what it then led to.

Sources: Walker Art Centre, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , Yale University Art Gallery and

Vinciane Jones