Posts Tagged ‘Robert Rauschenberg’

2017 Photographs: When a Self-Portrait Appropriates Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing”

Saturday, January 6th, 2018


The 2017 Robert Rauschenberg restrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends) included a notorious early work entitled Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). As explained in information supplied on the museum wall, Rauschenberg’s idea was to test “whether a drawing could be created out of erasing.”

Here are my initial photos of the piece and related wall text.


Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, MOMA, June 15, 2017, 3:37:08 PM



As I waited to get a closer, one-on-one encounter with the picture itself, I began to see why capturing a clean shot of the erasing — a clean shot at nothing — was impossible. The frame’s glazing reflected objects elsewhere in the room, such as a display case in the middle of the gallery, a red EXIT sign on the opposite wall, and visitors as they came and went. Viewers who halted directly in front of the drawing were met with reflections of themselves. They became part of the artwork. This phenomenon, while probably not in Rauschenberg’s plan for this particular piece, is satisfyingly consistent with the participatory element of his artistic practice.*

So I like to think Rauschenberg would have welcomed me occupying his picture, briefly, as a ghost-like silhouette:


Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, MOMA, June 15, 2017 at 3:38:30 PM


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* For example, Rauschenberg’s 1951 White Paintings and their subsequent incarnations were meant to be receptive surfaces registering light and shadow effects generated within their surrounding space — including shadows of viewers. Numerous times the artist included mirrors and other reflective materials in his Combines, Spreads, and other series, to the same end.


“Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003” by Roberto Bolaño

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

This collection of non-fiction pieces is a treasure-trove for anyone who has read Bolaño’s fiction and who came away smitten by the author’s vibrant, mercurial, poetic voice.

Some elements of Bolaño’s novels and stories — their settings, aspects of their storylines, their narrators or chief protagonists, and their spirit of inquiry — are grounded in autobiography. This is especially true of the novels, “The Savage Detectives” and “Antwerp.” Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, who has assembled the 125 pieces found in “Between Parentheses,” addresses this subject in his helpful Introduction to the book: “This volume amounts to something like a personal cartography of Roberto Bolano and comes closest, of everything he wrote, to being a kind of fragmented ‘autobiography’.”

Stated more broadly, there was, for Bolaño, no bright line between fiction and non-fiction.

What this means is that seasoned readers of this author will comfortably enter and enjoy the world of these essays, speeches, newspaper columns, travel articles, and other occasional pieces. If the reader perceives anything different it is that here the voice they have come to expect — opinionated (“plagiarists deserve to be hanged in the public square”), argumentative (a writer friend praises John Irving, but this is “an enthusiasm that I don’t share”), passionate (his love for his soon-to-be-orphaned son shines bright), and a bit of a rapscallion (“one of the best ways to steal . . . I had learned from an Edgar Allen Poe story”) — is even closer to the essence of “I, Roberto Bolano.”

In a piece from 1999, the autodidact Bolaño declares: “I’m much happier reading than writing.” His admiration is clear whenever he’s able to mention that this friend or that acquaintance “has read everything.” As for the scope of his own reading and interests generally, this is demonstrated by a nine-page Index that completes “Between Parentheses.” The Index contains the names of over 600 persons, including musicians, filmmakers, and artists. But mostly there are authors, among whom is a strong contingent of Americans Bolaño read with critical fervor.

These pieces were written during the period after he had been diagnosed with a fatal liver disease that in 2003 would take his life. It is no surprise, then, that a theme he returns to time and time again is the question of what constitutes a well-lived life. When describing someone’s accomplishments, for example, if he wants to impart his ultimate compliment he will write, “. . . and he was also a good man.” (George Orwell is one such man.) His critical gaze does not spare himself, his foibles and his imperfect works. In contrast, politics holds little appeal (although there are a few columns about the situation in his native Chile). When, in the final piece in the book, he is asked by an interviewer what things bore him, he answers: “The empty discourse of the Left. I take for granted the empty discourse of the Right.”

We learn that “By Night in Chile” was originally titled, “Storms of Shit.” He tells us we should consider “The Savage Detectives” to be “a response, one of many, to `Huckleberry Finn’.” At one point he declares: “Everything I’ve written is a love letter or a farewell letter to my own generation, those of us who were born in the 1950s.”

There’s his easy humor too. Attending a poetry reading, Bolaño notices the auditorium is “filled up with freaks who seemed to have just escaped from a mental asylum, which incidentally is the best audience a poet can hope for.”

His free spirit is everywhere. In speeches and essays ostensibly devoted to a specific subject, he wanders off path, pursuing diversions that lead to further diversions, which then are interrupted by a confessional revelation, or an informal bit of chat. The reader wonders, is this explained by a discovery Bolaño made as a youthful soccer player, now revealed to us — that he was “left-footed but right-handed”?

The aphoristic bent so characteristic of his fiction is on constant display: “Writers write with their hands and their eyes.” “Crime seems to be the symbol of the twentieth century.” “Literature is basically a dangerous undertaking.” “Books are the only homeland of the true writer.” He speaks of the impact of “fate — or chance, that even fiercer beast.” Every few pages a striking declaration stopped me short, such as this biographically-grounding insight capping his interpretative essay on “Huckleberry Finn”: “Twain was always prepared to die. That’s the only way to understand his humor.”

It occurs to me that it might be said that Bolaño, like the American visual artist Robert Rauschenberg, found himself most productive, most freely communicative, when operating in the gap between art and life. There’s a good chance you’ll discover, while reading “Between Parentheses,” that this interstitial volume gives as much pleasure as anything else you’ve read by this author.

About this book as physical object:  It is compact but not small, feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold. The book is signature-bound, a traditional bookbinding method that has the practical effect of allowing the opened book to stay flat for your perusal, rather than springing shut. (Your hands don’t have to fight this book; it will likely survive use without warping.) The impression I come away with is that the editor and publisher meant for it to become a permanent addition to your library — a plan Bolaño, who was covetous of his personal collection of books, surely would be pleased with. There is no dust jacket, however. Using the same design approach it applied to “Antwerp,” the publisher, New Directions, has chosen to emboss the title, author, translator (the consistently excellent Natasha Wimmer), and other information on the front and back covers, this time using a striking, iridescent raspberry color on a black ground. In addition to the helpful Index, the editor has supplied an 11-page Sources section, with explanatory notes (Bolaño had filed copies of most of the original texts on his computer).


An alternative version of this review appears on Amazon, here.

“Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960” by William Boyd

Friday, May 13th, 2011



The mail brought me a catalog for an exhibition of paintings by Jack Roth (1927-2004) opening this month at Spanierman Modern, in New York. Roth “worked his way through the major developments in postwar American art, from Abstract Expressionism, through Pop, and ultimately through Color Field abstraction,” yet today his work is largely forgotten. The catalog contains a well written essay — essentially a concise critical biography — by Thomas McCormick. It can be read (for free) here. As portrayed by McCormick, the artist had a strong personality, led a colorful life, and left a significant body of work (stored in a rural onion barn!). On the basis of the catalog’s reproductions, I’d say the large and colorful paintings of his final years are impressive, and they deserve to be rediscovered.

By chance, my learning about Jack Roth coincided with my reading a new hardback edition of British novelist’s William Boyd’s invented artist biography, “Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960,” featuring a similarly forgotten (as he never existed) postwar artist.  Initially published in 1998 as a lark by the author in cahoots with friends David Bowie, John Richardson and Gore Vidal, this was a spoof intended to entrap and embarrass art world cognoscenti. And in fact the short-lived scam caused a minor commotion, as recounted here. But now, in 2011, what does this book offer us?

Not so much.

In book form, the text of the monograph, which originally appeared as an article in an art magazine, manages to occupy a mere 38 pages. More than half of those pages display only a few lines each. On those meager pages the remaining space is filled with fuzzy photographs or art reproductions. The total word count is less than 8,000, and the average reader can get through it in about half an hour. Is this the book’s saving grace?


Boyd relays the life story of Nat Tate with no joy and little finesse. It struck me as a shallow exercise, a paint-by-numbers effort. Of course Tate had a pinched childhood, his father disappearing before his birth (Roth’s father died when he was four). Of course Tate’s nascent talent is discovered by a discerning few (as was Roth’s). Of course he brushes up against an idiosyncratic mentor (Hans Hofmann, at his summer school in Provincetown; in Roth’s case is was Clyfford Still). Of course he hobnobs with the art pack at the Cedar Tavern; drinks too much; suffers and dies young, a suicide. What disappointed me is that in telling this tale Boyd displays little interest in granting the reader any relief from the dull proceedings. He dots his portrait with few details, and there’s not much fun in the game of Where was this item cribbed from? (E.g., Tate’s omnipresent bottle of Jack Daniels, borrowed from de Kooning and Rauschenberg). The fictional suicide of Tate failed to move me, while McCormick’s simple description of Roth’s end did:

“In the early 1990’s, Jack Roth began to suffer early onset Alzheimer’s disease and in 1992, he retired from teaching. He had great plans to keep working and wanted to study cellular biology. The disease slowly progressed, and one day he announced to his wife that he just could not paint anymore. She recalls that. true to form, he never complained. Roth became completely debilitated toward the end of his life and died in a care facility in March of 2004, just shy of his 78th birthday.”

Disappointingly, Boyd does not illuminate any really new aspect of the New York art scene of the 1950’s; he offers no psychological insights beyond clichés, no fine descriptions of places and incidents.With the exception of a quick cutaway moment when he inserts a funny parody of a Frank O’Hara poem (it spotlights the abstract expressionist circle, and its opening line asks, “What if we hadn’t had such great names?”), Boyd’s prose is uninspired, serviceable at best. Something of equivalent quality could have been concocted by any of several thousand other writers, after a minimal amount of research. All of which is to say this is a plausible biography but it’s not very good. (By the way, how many would agree with Boyd’s assessment that “the three great pillars of twentieth-century painting” are Picasso, Matisse and . . . Braque? And how many would consider Boyd’s talent at describing Tate’s paintings to be on par with the creativity of Michael Cunningham in summoning up the works of fictional artists in “By Nightfall“?)

Some might argue Boyd was compelled to write flatly in order to disguise his tongue-in-cheek designs. I’m not convinced: after all, by the time Boyd was conceiving Nat Tate, biographers had long since given themselves permission to use novelistic techniques to energize non-fiction. Biography is not inherently dull.

What the purchaser of “Nat Tate” is left with is a souvenir of a practical joke, a remnant of a hoax that once caught some people unawares. What is the appeal of such a thing? Is anyone today interested in reading Konrad Kujau’s fake diaries of Adolph Hitler? Does this false artifact have any continuing hold over contemporary imagination and thinking? Isn’t it telling that virtually all reviews of the book discuss it as an art world event, and say little if anything about it as a reading experience?

Buy this book if you want an object to talk about, a conversation piece.

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An abbreviated version of this review appears on Amazon, here.


“By Night in Chile” by Roberto Bolano

Sunday, March 28th, 2010



“By Night in Chile” takes the form of a deathbed confession delivered by a Chilean priest, poet and conservative literary critic, Fr. Urrutia. The book’s principal challenge to the uninitiated reader is that it is set in a time, place, culture and political atmosphere unknown to all but a few American readers. An understanding of all the foreign details of the story, and a familiarity with the real life figures who pop up in the priest’s stream of memories (Pablo Neruda, Ernst Junger, General Pinochet, Marta Harnecker) are useful, without doubt. But such foreknowledge is not essential to an immediate enjoyment of the book, so long as you are the kind of reader who takes greater delight in experiencing a literary tour de force that draws you toward a readily understandable moral, a simple truth.

“By Night in Chile” is a bravura performance by Bolaño in which the author has found a distinct way to enwrap and deliver each recollection, each story within a story, each aside, each shift in time, each gruesome discovery, and each blow to the soul, that passes through the dying priest’s sometimes clear, sometimes feverish, mind. One reviewer cites as a defining characteristic of the book, this constant outpouring of side-stories, little morsels, poetry masked by prose. Some readers may find this “meandering” style off-putting, but others of us appreciate the strategy as Bolaño’s signature mode. For us it is an ever-surprising joy. I think the generative force of Bolaño’s communicative charm is the practice and spirit of an all-night “bull session” conducted in college dorms and in fact wherever the intellectually curious are assembled in strange new quarters for purposes of undergoing mind-altering training. If you are of a mindset or personality that typically avoided invitations to join in such sessions, you should avoid “By Night in Chile.”

According to available biographical details, Bolaño life was bohemian — peripatetic, but immersed in the social lives of other poets, painters, musicians, actors. One imagines him as a great talker and a great listener. In a moment of fantasy — never to be fulfilled, alas — I imagine a chance meeting of Roberto Bolaño and the painter/collagist Robert Rauschenberg. What amazing things would have flowed forth had those two spent an afternoon interviewing each other. In my dream I imagine hidden microphones and cameras capturing the sparkling flow of dialog, an outpouring which turns heavenward after I bring to the gentlemen a bottle of Jack Daniels, for RR, and a drug of his choice, for RB.

Literature has been enriched by the confessional form. Think of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” Camus’ “The Fall.” The confession is a hospitable device for an author interested in psychological exploration and revelation. A man unspools a story of some evil he witnessed or participated in, a sin that weighs upon him, a sin he now owns up to or, alternatively, seeks to justify. His speech ends with a request, express or implied, for the listener (the reader) to understand, to expiate. And yet, while the framework of “By Night in Chile” borrows from this tradition, the book is frustrating as a confession. Perhaps it is as much of a confession as the present era allows. The state of Fr. Urrutia’s soul at the close of his tale is, at least to me, uncertain. That uncertainty led me to trace my steps back to the beginning of the book, where I found the priest’s opening statement of purpose.

Then I understood this is a deeply religious tale, a profoundly moral story. The dying priest, who hoped he could convince himself he had committed no crimes, is by his own reckoning guilty of sins of omission. It is on page one that he reveals a simple credo. The reader, when first encountering these words, may dismiss them as a bromidic utterance, jejune, self-congratulatory. But when read a second time, after curling back from the novel’s end, the words shine clear:

“One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that includes one’s words and silences, yes, one’s silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them . . . so one must be very careful with one’s silences.”

[Note: A slightly altered version of my review appears on Amazon here.  Superior reviews are found here and here.]


Rauschenberg’s “Signs” – An Appreciation

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

This is the first piece of art I bought.  It’s a silkscreen print created by Robert Rauschenberg.  He titled it “Signs.”



Rauschenberg conceived of “Signs” as a summation of the 1960s.  The piece was an aborted commission for a magazine cover. Rauschenberg released the work in June, 1970, through his gallery affiliation, Castelli Graphics, in an edition of 250 signed impressions. 

The 60s had turned Rauschenberg into a politically engaged artist, and he probably welcomed the challenge of coming to terms with a decade of seering experiences.  Exercising his natural affinity for collage, he would try to make sense out of an explosive arc of events that most observers felt defied all sense.  Raushenberg said the print “was conceived to remind us of love, terror, violence of the last ten years.  Danger lies in forgetting.”

I see “Signs” as an achievement at once topical and timeless.  Topical, obviously, since the artist has brought together a dozen immediately recognizable 60’s images — photos that were then still fresh with pain and joy.  Topical in a slightly broader manner as well, since the picture serves to encapulate the baby boomer generation’s creation myth.  But timeless also, thanks to the artist’s genius in re-fashioning stark images into something whole, something coherent, something aspiring to the redemptive.  

“Signs” belies the rap too often laid on Rauschenberg — that he surrendered to an aesthetic of “messiness.”  I was surprised to find such trash talk being repeated by the perceptive Louis Menand in his recent essay on Donald Barthelme, a modernist author who, Menand argues, boldly borrowed Rauschenberg’s collage approach, and with it made a notable contribution to literature.  (The article, “Saved From Drowning; Barthelme Reconsidered,” appeared in the February 23, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, available online here.) 

Distinguishing Rauschenberg’s methods from those of previous collagists, Menand makes the following assertions:  “[T]raditional collage arranges fragments into a form, and Rauschenberg’s collages are not organized in any ordinarily legible manner.   …  Most of Rauschenberg’s work … has no center.  Form, in the conventional sense of a hierarchical order, is one of the things he is trying to eliminate.”  Menand sees Rauschenberg’s signature work as embracing “the  illogic . . . the apparent absurdity . . . the arbitrary juxtapositions of radically disparate materials.” 

My purpose in this post is not to quibble with Menand’s characterizationHis article focuses on style, not on the decipherment of any particular work of visual art.  And who can deny that “messiness”  nicely recapitulates the ’60s decade itself. 

Rather, my purpose is to celebrate Rauschenberg’s triumph over formlessness when constructing “Signs.”  I want to praise his decision not to echo chaos or succumb to absurdity. I want to show how he chose instead to commandeer art’s arsenal against entropy.

How did he do this?  Through compositional devices,  juxtapositions,  reconciliations, and slights of hand that are deft, resonant, poignant, and funny.  Logic, not illogic, informs this work of art.  It’s there for all to see:

Tripartite form:   I think even on first encounter the viewer senses both stability and energy in “Signs.”  A feeling of stability derives chiefly from Rauschenberg’s reliance on a structure of three vertical segments nestled in a rectangular confinement.  Up the left side we see a moon-walking Buzz Aldrin claiming a large chunk of space in the frame; above and behind Aldrin is a four-man Army jeep, and above and behind that is a candlelight peace vigil.  The right side is topped with another black-and-white photo, this one of students attending an anti-war teach-in (the left and right corners are nicely balanced).  Below this the artist has positioned a professional photo portrait of a visionary-looking John F. Kennedy, tucked beneath which are a few stills from the Zapruder film that captured JFK’s assassination.  Sandwiched between left and right flanks are puzzle pieces that rise like a totem pole.  Starting from the base, this central composition comprises five elements: (1) the body of Martin Luther King as he lay in state at the U.S. Capitol; (2) a fallen victim of an urban riot; (3) two Vietnam soldiers flanking and supporting a wounded comrade; (4) Bobby Kennedy in earnest oration; and (5) Janis Joplin in wild performance.  The five stations of this central vertical segment are strengthened by an overlapping and interweaving of its parts:  for example, two arms, one begging, one blessing, reach over MLK; RFK’s hand slices through the Vietnam scene, in a call to halt the bloodshed.

Hierarchical order:   This piece most definitely has a “center.”  The central totem is a well-ordered pillar of life, a hierarchy of energy, a flow of life force.  It begins in silence with a photo of MLK in his coffin, his blood stilled by death.  It steps up to the bloodied man fallen in an urban riot.  It rises next to a trio of troops, wounded, bleary, yet upright.  It climbs to catch Robert Kennedy in the middle of an impassioned but controlled speech.  It crescendos with the ecstatic singing of Janis Joplin.  Think of it also as a fountain of youth —  all of its featured players are young (MLK, 39; RFK, 42; Joplin, 27) —  but one tinged with irony.  Only a few months after Rauschenberg completed his composition and released it to the world, Janis Joplin, his friend and fellow escapee from Port Arthur, Texas, died of a drug overdose.  With that death, the vector of the totemic form was altered.  No longer an unstoppable upward force, it now circles back on itself.  It has become a circle of life. 

Cohesion through repeated motifs:  With the possible exception of eyes, the human organ or appendage most crucial to an artist is, I would argue, the hand.  “Signs” is largely a composite portrait, which means it is all about faces.  But to my eyes it is the hands in “Signs” that resonate most strongly.  Notice how Rauschenberg emphasizes their physical meaning while also teasing out their symbolic importance.  A hand may choose to grip a bayoneted rifle to control others, or hold a candle in a hopeful prayer, or grasp a tool of communication (a microphone) to express freedom.  A hand’s fingers may splay to signify peace or extend to confer a blessing over the dead.  Our pride in seeing the iconic image of an American astronaut standing on the lunar surface is tempered when we realize that the sole visible hand of Buzz Aldrin is, in fact, not visible at all.  The hand is protected, swaddled like a mummy, rendered uncommunicative, unlike the vulnerable but expressive hands of earthlings here below.  As for the “face” of America’s technological triumph, it too is so denatured by protective gear as to become literally a “faceless” achievement.  

Unifying  light:  The strong sun and shadow on Buzz Aldin’s space suit blend seamlessly with the other wholly disparate components of the assemblage.  Rauschenberg achieves compositional coherence by making two tears in the material, at the top and right edges, to reveal a white underlayer.  We “read” this exposure as the source of bright light unifying all parts of the composition.  In addition to its formal function, the light poignantly supplies a sacred nimbus around the late RFK’s head.  It may remind us of a painfully ironic fact:  in the 1960’s, men of heart were extinguished, one after another, by head wounds. 

Meaning through color, direction, and tilt:   To begin with the most obvious color cliche, Janis Joplin is red hot.  Then, in the upper left corner’s overlapped images, note how the intense color of the guards gives way to calmer gray tints of a time-hallowed prayer for peace.  Consider also the way in which the dull unlit eyes of the vehicle’s headlights are shamed by the insistent glow of lit candles.  See how the quartet of uniformed men looks left (symbolically toward the past), their eyes shrouded from view, while the lone female representative of the vigil crowd turns her face rightward to meet the future.   If you stare at “Signs” long enough may experience a mild case of vertigo, as there appears to be no pure vertical line anywhere in the composition, no steadying plumb line straight down to the earth.  With the possible exception of the central image of wounded troops, every component is tilted slightly, as if confounding gravity and the comfort of rest.  This floating quality is consistent with Rauschenberg’s practice, in art works he called “combines,” of eschewing a sense of up or down.  In “Signs,” I think these off-kilter notes lend energy and flow to the work.  This is an appropriate way to express a dynamic, unstable period.

Surface versus depth:  In their original condition, the dozen photos that Rauschenberg selected to fill the rectangle differed in their objectively measurable proportions, lighting sources, coloration, and focus, and many other inherent qualities — not to mention differences in the sensibilities of a dozen different photographers responsible for the images. There is every reason for the assemblage to fly off in all directions beyond the frame.  Yet somehow the pieces settle into position, inviting the viewer to proceed with decipherment.  One thing that locks the parts into place is a bit of legerdemain, namely, the appearance of a round, clear glass paperweight on the flattened surface plane, just to the right of Joplin’s microphone.  Its clever purpose is to arrest fugitive movement.  We also notice a scraped trail, yellow in color, leading up to the paperweight’s current resting place, suggesting that the weight recently migrated diagonally from a position atop the fallen riot victim, stopping atop Janis’s tossed hair — hair the large convex lens magnifies and swirls into a psychedelic hallucination.

Generosity of details:  After all these years there are parts of “Signs” that newly intrigue me.  I’ve mentioned the intricate interweaving of imagery in the central “totem” which required careful scissoring of figures; why then is the JFK photo the only one with a sharp right angled corner left intact?  Why no contouring, no integration of that photo?  And is that a snippet of a Lichtenstein pop art painting under the President’s nose?  What is the meaning of  the eleven blue dots in the lower right corner, traditionally the location for the creator’s signature?  Bullet holes?  Is it fair to say the decade was “signed” by gun violence?  

Irony and humor:   Ironic visual juxtapositions abound in Rauschenberg’s work.  Here, in the upper left a military jeep purports to escort a trailing “CONVOY,” while the only group that’s “FOLLOWING” is a peace vigil in repose.  Also on display is tongue-in-cheek ribaldry.  Note how RFK’s mouth, at a moment formed into a suckling shape, approaches Joplin’s breast.  The rectangle’s black border can sturdily contain every image, except for two forces that pierce the top margin: the thrust of a bayonet (does its violation of the skin of the piece account for the drops next to RFK’s hand?) and the force, like rising red molten lava, of a volcanic Janis Joplin.  In a final flourish, the artist asserts his dominance: small block letter initials — R.R. — resting on the bottom margin, are so powerful that their strength can lift up, and playfully tilt, a hero astronaut.


“Signs,” screenprint (silkscreen, silk screen, screen print) in colors, 1970, signed in pencil, numbered [my impression is numbered 40/250] and dated, lower right, on wove paper, published by Castelli Graphics, New York, 35 1/4 by 26 5/8 inches; 895 by 677 mm.  Purchased from Makler Gallery, Philadelphia,  March, 1977.  I first saw the work not at a gallery but at a museum exhibition, the 1976 Rauschenberg retrospective exhibition staged at the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Art (now the National Museum of American Art) in Washington, DC.  One room in the show was devoted to prints, one of which was “Signs.”  I was so bowled over by its power that I vowed to acquire an impression of the print, at whatever sacrifice it took.


UPDATE 06-14-2009:  Today I came across a blog posting that provides additional background on the genesis of “Signs,” including key details that I believe had not previously been published.  According to an article posted on on July 21, 2008, entitled “Rauschenberg – part 1,” the work was initially commission by Time magazine:

“’Signs,’ 1970, was originally created as an illustration for a Time magazine cover that would herald the 1970s. Rauschenberg felt, however, that the 1970s was really a continuation of the 1960s and inserted images of Janis Joplin, Martin Luther King, the moon landing, and the Kennedy Assassination. The cover was rejected by the Time Magazine editors who wanted to look forward to hopefully better times than the tumultuous 60s. Leo Castelli (Rauschenberg’s dealer at the time) stepped in and published a photosilkscreen edition of the collage.”

I’m struck by the joy expressed by Rauschenberg enthusiasts, as in this essay by John Haber on the occasion of the Rauschenberg retrospective in NYC over a decade ago:   Can any other recent artist match him?