Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Autobiography’, 1968, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Robert Rauschenberg’s monumental three-part lithograph offers an encyclopedic array of information signifying personal identity. The first panel combines hard and soft science with an X-ray of the artist’s skeleton superimposed over an astrological chart. The middle panel alludes to the indexical trace of a fingerprint , similar to Rauschenberg’s 1964 Self-Portrait (for “The New Yorker” Profile), also included in this exhibition, with a spiral-patterned text that documents significant events of Rauschenberg’s life and artistic career, centering on a photograph of the artist as a child surrounded by his family. The third panel includes a large-scale photograph of Rauschenberg during a performance of Pelican (1963), paired with images that convey his geographical history–a photograph of the New York skyline and a nautical chart from near his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. Together, the three panels suggest the complexity of the individual by offering a flood of information for the viewer to decode and interpret.

Image rights: Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, gift of Marian B. Javits, Robert Rasuchenberg, and Milton Glaser

About Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm for popular culture and, with his contemporary Jasper Johns, his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. A prolific innovator of techniques and mediums, he used unconventional art materials ranging from dirt and house paint to umbrellas and car tires. In the early 1950s, Rauschenberg was already gaining a reputation as the art world’s enfant terrible with works such as Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), for which he requested a drawing (as well as permission) from Willem de Kooning, and proceeded to rub away the image until only ghostly marks remained on the paper. By 1954, Rauschenberg completed his first three-dimensional collage paintings—he called them Combines—in which he incorporated discarded materials and mundane objects to explore the intersection of art and life. “I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world,” he said. In 1964 he became the first American to win the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale. The 1/4 Mile or Two Furlong Piece (1981–98), a cumulative artwork, embodies his spirit of eclecticism, comprising a retrospective overview of his many discrete periods, including painting, fabric collage, sculptural components made from cardboard and scrap metal, as well as a variety of image transfer and printing methods.

American, 1925-2008, Port Arthur, Texas, based in New York and Captiva Island, Florida