Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg defied tradition to reshape 20th century art

  • Article by: STAFF and WIRE REPORTS
  • Updated: May 13, 2008 - 11:17 PM

Robert Rauschenberg, who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died Monday of heart failure at his home on Captiva Island, Fla. He was 82.

His work gave new meaning to sculpture. "Canyon," for instance, consisted of a stuffed bald eagle attached to a canvas. And "Monogram" was a stuffed Angora goat girdled by a tire atop a painted panel.

Rauschenberg, who defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style, had a long association with Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Starting in 1961, his work was included in 14 Walker shows spanning 40 years. The museum owns an important early painting by him, "Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp) 1960," as well as more than 130 prints, books and other works.

For the opening of the Walker's 1971 building, Rauschenberg was among several artists commissioned to create "New Works for New Spaces," as the show was called. He contributed a cubistic sculpture made of cardboard. Early in his career he also designed sets for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which performed at the Walker.

"He just seemed eternally young," said former Walker director Martin Friedman, who commissioned the 1971 work. "He was a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, taking the brush work of expressionism and then doing subversive things, incorporating photographs, turning a mattress into a canvas and gluing things on."

Milton Ernest Rauschenberg was born Oct. 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas, a refinery town where "it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting," he said. (In adulthood he renamed himself Robert.) His family lived so frugally that his mother, Dora, made him shirts out of fabric scraps. She once made herself a skirt from the back of the suit that her brother was buried in. She didn't want the material to go to waste.

But it shaped his art. A decade or so later he made history with his own assemblages of scraps and ready-mades. No American artist, Jasper Johns once said, invented more than Rauschenberg. He loved making something out of nothing.

Staff writer Mary Abbe and the New York Times contributed to this report.

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