Kaid Benfield Archive


Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008

Kaid Benfield

Posted May 14, 2008 at 6:59PM



LA Uncovered #7 (Robert Rauschenberg)

Robert Rauschenberg was my favorite artist, certainly my favorite of those that have been well known.  I paid a small – well, actually, not so small – fortune for a signed screenprint of his LA Uncovered #7, image above, which hangs in my living room.  It's my favorite.  I have another of his works hanging in my office, and several framed posters that I hang or not, depending on whim and what else I want to show.  He died this week at 82.

Immensely prolific and varied, RR’s work graced eight covers of Time magazine and is represented in just about every important international collection of fine art.  He may still be best known for his pioneering and whimsical “combines” of found objects juxtaposed in striking ways.  To me, those look a little dated now, and I prefer the softer and more sophisticated edges RR found in his later work, especially the collaborations with his print publisher, Gemini G.E.L.  He never stopped using found objects and endlessly creative ways of juxtaposing them, though.

Occasionally RR created pieces of extraordinary delicacy by using soft fabric instead of canvas or paper as his medium.  I remember an incredible show at the Metropolitan Museum in the late 80s or early 90s that featured large scale silky fabric hangings.  I can’t find images on the web to link to, but here and here are some cousins of what I remember from that show. 

My appreciation of RR has nothing at all to do with his social consciousness or environmentalism (I pretty much hate preachy art and music, not that his fits that description) but I would be remiss if I didn’t point to RR’s exceptional dedication to our cause.  He was an environmentalist before I was, doing the very first Earth Day poster in 1970 as well as additional ones in later years (see here and here).  There were also special exhibits of his environment-themed work

Every major news medium has a story commemorating him today.  The best tributes I found, though, were this one, from a fan like me (including a link to a Charlie Rose interview with RR that I’m looking forward to), and this one, featuring comments from his own friends.  The latter includes a wonderful little anecdote:

“Milton Esterow, editor and publisher of ARTnews, knew Rauschenberg well.

“Esterow remembers years ago talking with Rauschenberg about a U.S. senator who was asked if he collects art. The senator said he was just a fledgling collector and he liked Rauschenberg’s work.

“’He should have started early,’ Rauschenberg replied. ‘I was cheap then.’”


I wanted to fill this post with images and examples of RR's work, but that would have sent NRDC's copyright hawks (and I do appreciate them) into a frenzy.  So I'm just including the one I paid for fair and square, along with the plug for the publisher.  :)  Thanks to Barbara for introducing me to this man's work long, long ago, and to Lana for the very cool volume of his work, which I continue to treasure.