Contemporary Art, 1960s–present

Pop Art

Who was Robert Rauschenberg?

Robert Rauschenberg (1925—2008), along with Jasper Johns, his close friend, occasional lover, and business partner, was one of the most influential artists in pop art, and he is credited with leading art away from abstract expressionism. He is particularly famous for erasing a De Kooning drawing and then framing the empty page in a work he called Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953). This bold and challenging act brings attention to the looming question for many mid-twentieth-century artists— what kind of art could possibly follow abstract expressionism?

Starting in the 1950s, Rauschenberg began what are known as “combines,” paintings that incorporated found objects and images such as newsprint and photographs—even trash from the streets of New York, including stuffed animals, electronics, and architectural forms. One of his most famous paintings (and earliest combines) is Bed, a mixed media work from 1955 that frames a paint-splattered quilt, sheet, and a used pillow (upon which Rauschenberg drew in pencil). The work is considered by some to be autobiographical and comments on the connection between art and everyday life. Rauschenberg’s Persimmon (1965) uses not trash, but an image of Peter Paul Rubens’s seventeenth-century painting Venus at Her Toilet, in which the ancient goddess of love looks out at the viewer by way of a mirror, creating a visual riddle found in painting throughout art history. With this work, Rauschenberg is able to grapple with the history of art through his contemporary combines.

Jasper Johns said that his series of flag paintings, including Three Flags (1958), was inspired by a dream and an attempt to use a familiar image in a new and surprising way. (Art courtesy The Bridgeman Art Library, © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)


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