Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925, Port Arthur, Texas; d. 2008, Captiva Island, Florida) was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor, photographer and performance artist. An iconoclast, Rauschenberg blurred the traditional divisions between different media. In his iconic ‘Combine’ sculptures, he marries painting with found objects such as street signs, animals and bedding. Rauschenberg played a critical role in the reaction against Abstract Expressionism. Along with his close friend Jasper Johns, his work was described as ‘Neo-Dada’. Their concern was to operate in the gap between art and life; to bring experimentation and chance into their work. Marcel Duchamp guided the small group of artists to which Rauschenberg belonged, and which also included composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. A habitual collaborator, Rauschenberg, with Cage, would design the sets and costumes for Cunningham’s dance company. From 1970 until his death, Rauschenberg lived and worked on Captiva Island in Florida where he experimented with solvent-transfer processes, photography and fabrics. He was engaged with ecological concerns and supporting young artists.
Rauschenberg began studying art in 1947 at the Kansas City Art Institute. He then attended Académie Julian in Paris (1948) and Black Mountain College (1949) where he studied under Josef Albers. His first solo exhibition was at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, in 1951. Since then, Rauschenberg’s work has been exhibited extensively. In 1952–1953 he visited Europe and North Africa with Cy Twombly, sparking a life of extensive travelling. Rauschenberg’s first retrospective was organized by the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1963. The following year he was awarded the Grand Prize for painting at the 1964 Venice Biennale. The last major retrospective of Rauschenberg’s work was held between 1997 and 1999, shown at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Guggenheim Museum Soho, New York, touring to The Menil Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum Ludwig, Cologne and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. A major show of ‘Combines’ was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2005); travelling to Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2007). In 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp (travelling to Barbican Art Gallery, London in 2013). Rauschenberg has received numerous awards and honours; he was elected Honorary Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2000.Read more