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Robert Rauschenberg: Combines

Exhibition dates: December 20, 2005 – April 2, 2006
Exhibition location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
Press preview: Monday, December 19, 10:00 a.m.– noon

Some of the most daring and influential works by one of America's great modern artists – Robert Rauschenberg – will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 20. Robert Rauschenberg: Combines takes a rare and comprehensive look at the three-dimensional works that Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) terms combines. The exhibition, which will include approximately 65 objects created between 1954 and 1964, is the first to focus exclusively on this significant body of work. Robert Rauschenberg: Combines remains on view through April 2, 2006, before continuing on an international tour through 2007.

The selection of wall-hung and freestanding combines in the exhibition highlights Rauschenberg's iconic, best-known work, as well as some of his rarely seen or unknown objects. In these works, Rauschenberg reinvented collage, changing it from its role as a medium that presses quotidian materials to serve illusion into something very different: a process that undermines both illusion and the idea that a work of art has unitary meaning.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Jane and Robert Carroll.

The exhibition was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, stated: "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines looks at this legendary American master at a particular moment in his career – a moment that signaled a revolution in the history of American art. All subsequent artists who have toyed with or rejected narrative, questioned the notion that art had to present a window onto a more orderly world than our own, or added a new sensitivity toward the grid in modern art, may trace their inspiration to Mr. Rauschenberg's combines."

Rauschenberg's enthusiasm for found materials and his rejection of the angst of the Abstract Expressionists, whose work dominated the avant-garde in American art in the early part of the 1950s, led him to search for a new means of expression. He found his signature style by embracing non-traditional materials while always demonstrating rigor and concern for formal composition.

Among the earliest combines in the exhibition will be Collection (1954, San Francisco Museum of Art), a large freestanding combine that the artist constructed from a series of vertical wooden panels. Also from that year, Pink Door (1954, Erich Marx Collection, Hamburger Bahnof Museum, Berlin), a delicate yet vibrant work rarely shown in the United States, will help introduce the audience to Rauschenberg's unique approach to painting and sculpture.

Another early freestanding combine, Untitled (Man with White Shoes) (1955, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), comprises both art historical elements such as collaged surfaces and photographs, as well as personal mementos such as newspaper clippings about the artist's family and a pair of his white shoes. Interweaving recollections of his family and his own artistic history, this iconic work provides an intimate lens onto Rauschenberg's past while resisting a straightforward biography.

One of the more restrained and elegant works is Levee (1955, private collection). To the right of a rectangle of woven fabric with a landscape image, the artist has fixed a reproduction of an early 16th-century drawing of Princess Elizabeth of Saxony by Lucas Cranach. The princess' high, rounded forehead echoes the geometry of concentric circles in the printed diagram of a clock to her left. Both princess and clock evoke two of Rauschenberg's favorite subjects, past time and the passing of time.

The equally understated Untitled (ca. 1955, Stefan T. Edlis Collection, Chicago) pushes gently into the viewer's space, as strings from a small parachute dangle a foot below the canvas perimeter. A man's sock fixed to the canvas suggests the movement of a falling body and brings to mind the mythical character Icarus.

Other exhibition highlights include Factum I (1957, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) and Factum II (1957, The Museum of Modern Art). This pair of paintings reflects the artist's wry attempt to make two identical pictures, in order to test the boundaries of painting and to call into question the spontaneity that had characterized Abstract Expressionism. Although comprised of the same collage elements and similar stroke of paint, they are nonetheless subtly distinct from one another and announce the deliberate choices involved in the artist's creative process.

Bold canonical works will also be on view, such as Monogram (1955-59, Moderna Museet, Stockholm), which displays a paint-daubed angora goat, girded by an automobile tire and mounted on a kind of pasture seeded with urban debris as well as Canyon (1959, Sonnabend Collection), in which an American bald eagle perches on a cardboard box nest, "feathered" by a pillow hanging below. The bird appears to fly out of the canvas into the space of the viewer.

In contrast to the subtle paintings of the mid-1950s that show the artist's frequent drift from syncopated grid compositions to nearly monochrome canvases, there will be a selection of "letter" combines. Works such as Talisman (1958, Des Moines Art Center) and Magician (1959, Sonnabend Collection) incorporate truncated words made from collage printed letters. These combines and other "letter" works are not intended to be read, per se, but rather exist as both image and text.

The exhibition concludes with Gold Standard (1964, private collection), a freestanding combine that the artist originally created for the performance "Twenty Questions to Bob Rauschenberg" in Tokyo in 1964. Comprised of a large gold folding Japanese screen, Gold Standard incorporates materials found in earlier works, for example shoes, clocks, and road signs.

Robert Rauschenberg: Combines begins its international tour at the Metropolitan and then travels to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (May 14 –September 4, 2006); the Pompidou Center, Paris (October 4, 2006 – January 8, 2007); and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (February 4 – April 29, 2007).

Paul Schimmel, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition. Nan Rosenthal, Senior Consultant to the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition at the Metropolitan. Installation design in New York is by Dan Kershaw; graphic design is by Barbara Weiss; and lighting design is by Clint Ross Coller and Rich Lichte, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Design Department.

An exhibition catalogue, co-published by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Steidl Verlag, will be available in hardcover ($75) and paperback editions. This comprehensive, fully illustrated publication is edited by Paul Schimmel and Lisa Mark of The Museum of Contemporary Art, and will include contributions by Thomas Crow, Branden Joseph, Paul Schimmel, and Charles Stuckey.

A variety of education programs for adults, families, and students will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, including two Sundays at the Met, lectures, a film series, gallery talks, a program for high-school students entitled "Pictures Made Out of the Real World," and programs targeting young children. All of these programs will place Rauschenberg's combines within the broader context of American modern art. Offsite programs in schools, community centers, libraries and other venues throughout the New York metropolitan area are also planned.

The exhibition will also be featured on the Museum's website (www.metmuseum.org).

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