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Rauschenberg TRIB_96.247.19_019Robert Rauschenberg, Human Rights (Tribute 21), 1994; offset lithograph, 27 in. x 41 in. (68.58 cm x 104.14 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Felissimo; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Felissimo

The idea for this post was sparked by a recent conversation with Jason Landry, owner of Panopticon Gallery in Boston, MA and author of the newly published book, Instant Connections. The conversation involved the popular notion of an artist as one dimensional a “Painter,” a “Photographer,” a “Multi-Media Artist”, etc. Robert Rauschenberg is frequently labeled as a “Painter.” However, his own photographs were a prominent influence in his artistic development, and he used photography extensively in his work:

In May 20, 2001, The Baltimore Museum of Art organized an exhibition of Rauschenberg’s work, Robert Rauschenberg Combines: Painting + Sculpture.  In the Essay accompanying the exhibition, Helen Molesworth, the BMA Curator of Contemporary Art wrote,

In 1954 Rauschenberg began to break down the rigidly held barriers between the mediums of painting and sculpture by combining both mediums into one work of art. He started by collaging photographs, newsprint, and other forms of photographic reproductions into his paintings.”

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ( SFMOMA ), a major repository of Rauschenberg’s work, writes,

Often described as the first postmodern artist, Robert Rauschenberg was a protean innovator whose work in painting, photography, sculpture, performance, and printmaking helped establish the ongoing concerns of contemporary art. SFMOMA’s extensive holdings of works by the artist serve as an anchor for the museum’s ongoing exploration of postwar art and are the subject of a special compendium of research, the Rauschenberg Research Project.


Rauschenberg POSTCARD_98.307

About the Self Portrait, in a specially commissioned SFMOA essay, Postcard Self-Portrait, Black Mountain (II) by Branden W. Joseph wrote,

The photograph’s tour de force is its verticalization of the studio floor, which comes to resemble an abstract block of gray. Those few feet closest to the viewer lack focus (likely on account of the camera being placed on or very near to the floor), which only resolves in a narrow band just below the bottommost mattress, where one can make out what appear to be dust motes. A washy expanse of smudging, including possible traces of fingerprints, lightly stains the emulsion in the photograph’s lower quadrant, lending the floor an additionally contradictory character, for it reads not only as both horizontal and vertical but also as both hard as cement and ever so slightly atmospheric, even liquid. Cover the top portion of the image and one could be looking at a reflection on shallow water…

Joseph goes on to say,

In actuality, however, Rauschenberg played a bit more daringly with the spatial effects engendered by photography, pressing photographs (and fine art reproductions) into service as markers of perspectival illusionism so as to pit them against the Combines’ otherwise flatbed expanses (not unlike the manner in which he utilized the actual openings he sometimes incorporated into such works). Note, for example, the sense of depth evoked by the banquet scene in the bottom right corner of Hazard (1957, fig. 3), which Rauschenberg juxtaposed with a similar photographic group portrait to its left, wherein the perspectival illusion has been undermined (in precisely the manner Steinberg describes) by means of a translucent scumble of white paint.

Rauschenberg Hazard

Robert Rauschenberg, Hazard, 1957 (detail). Oil, newspaper clippings, paper, plaster, and wood on canvas, 84 1/2 x 37 3/4 in. (214.5 x 95.6 cm). Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
On January 31, 1014,The International Center of Photography opened its exhibition, “What is Photograph?” “which  explores the range of creative experimentation that has occurred in photography since the 1970s.” (Be sure to check out the slideshow.)
As the announcement of the exhibition states,
Artists around the globe have been experimenting with and redrawing the boundaries of traditional photography for decades,” said ICP Curator Carol Squiers, who organized the exhibit. “Although digital photography seems to have made analog obsolete, artists continue to make works that are photographic objects, using both old technologies and new, crisscrossing boundaries and blending techniques.”
 The announcement continues,
This major exhibition brings together 21 emerging and established artists who have reconsidered and reinvented the role of light, color, composition, materiality, and the subject in the art of photography. In the process, they have also confronted an unexpected revolution in the medium with the rise of digital technology, which has resulted in imaginative reexaminations of the art of analog photography, the new world of digital images, and the hybrid creations of both systems as they come together.
Rauschenberg would be pleased, but perhaps somewhat dismayed that the debate about “What is Photography” seems to go on, over and over, from generation to generation…



In July, 2013 the SFMOMA issued a Press Release “Museum’s First Online Collection Catalogue Serves as Defining Resource on Rauschenberg’s Early Work, Providing Deep Insights into Artist’s Process.”

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) published its first online collection catalogue, the Rauschenberg Research Project, which features nearly 90 works by artist Robert Rauschenberg that are part of the museum’s permanent collection. Accessed through SFMOMA’s website, the online catalogue presents a seamless blend of rigorous scholarship and multimedia resources drawn from new, existing, and related materials, taking full advantage of the breadth and accessibility of its online format. The Rauschenberg Research Project comprises the largest research effort the museum has ever devoted to a single artist with more than 500 images, videos, and research materials assembled for the project; the publication’s print equivalent would have totaled over 600 pages.

The Rauschenberg Research Project provides free worldwide access to a wealth of scholarly research and documentation relating to artworks by Robert Rauschenberg in SFMOMA’s permanent collection. The museum’s holdings span the artist’s career from 1949 to 1998 and include Combines, sculptures, paintings, photographs, and prints and other works on paper. A rich range of materials surrounds the featured works, including newly commissioned essays, numerous images, interview footage, artist’s statements, conservation reports, and archival materials, which together provide new insights into the artist’s work. These resources may be accessed through the orientation points below. The Rauschenberg Research Project was produced by SFMOMA under the auspices of the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative, with the support of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

You can now download hi-resolution Rauschenberg images for Free! from SFMOMA- New Robert Rauschenberg Digital Collection Lets You Download Free High-Res Images of the Artist’s Work.


Open Culture


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