Robert Rauschenberg was an American artist whose innovative and experimental work, particularly his Combines, would change the way art was perceived. His early work, along with that of Jasper Johns, was sometimes called Neo-Dada since it was created with found objects. They hoped to erase the gap between art and life.
Rauschenberg grew up in Texas and briefly studied pharmacology before realizing it wasn’t for him. After he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II he studied fashion design at the Kansas City Art Institute, and the Académie Julian in Paris. At Black Mountain College in North Carolina, he met avant-garde composer John Cage whose experimentation with music inspired Rauschenberg to think of art in a completely different way. The two became collaborators and life-long friends.
He moved to New York City in 1949 and married Susan Weil in 1950. They had met in Paris at the Académie Julian and had studied and created art together since that time. They designed window displays, which he would later do with Jasper Johns when his marriage broke up after just a few years. His lovers and partners were men for the rest of his life. Rauschenberg’s work evolved from incorporating found material to investigating new technology and new ways to use it. He founded Experiments in Art and Technology with Bell Laboratories scientist Billy Klüver, to bring artists and engineers together. This non-profit would help push the boundaries of both fields.
Andy Warhol’s silkscreens intrigued Rauschenberg and he began to work in this medium, using his own photos combined with other material. He would often design posters for his own exhibits. Rauschenberg also worked with choreographers Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, designing lighting, costumes, and sets. He collaborated with Cunningham and John Cage and would work with dancers his entire career. He was awarded the International Grand Prize in Painting at the 32nd Venice Biennale while he was in the Italian city with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Rauschenberg’s work broke the boundaries of what an artist could and couldn’t do, sometimes bridging sculpture, painting, and theatre. With his intellectual curiosity and sometimes audacity, he opened the door for many different forms of art to flourish.