Robert RauschenbergAmerican (Port Arthur, Texas, 1925 - 2008, Captiva, Florida)
In this study of muscular grace and delicate gesture, Robert Rauschenberg captures the contemplative poise of dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009). The two first met in October 1951 during Rauschenberg’s solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. The following summer, Rauschenberg and Cunningham, along with Cunningham’s partner, composer John Cage (1912–1992), reunited at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, where both Cage and Cunningham taught. That August, the three collaborated on an unscripted event created by Cage that has become legendary in its importance to postwar performance art and is commonly understood as the first “Happening.” The untitled presentation (later named Theater Piece #1) incorporated improvised and unsynchronized movement, music, spoken word, visual art, and projections. Cage played piano; Cunningham danced; and Rauschenberg, whose White Paintings were hung from the auditorium ceiling, played phonograph records. This innovative collaboration deeply impacted Cunningham, who continued to investigate these compositional strategies as he formed his Merce Cunningham Dance Company in summer 1953.
This portrait of Cunningham crouched before the camera, deep in concentration as he gazes ahead and slightly to his left, likewise dates to 1953, when the dancer and choreographer—who had previously enjoyed critical acclaim as a soloist in Martha Graham’s (1894–1991) dance company—had begun to fully assert his own style. Rauschenberg, Cunningham, and Cage continued to collaborate in the early years of the company, with Cage providing musical direction and Rauschenberg designing costumes and set pieces and occasionally joining in the performances. Rauschenberg went on to work with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Judson Dance Theater, and the Trisha Brown Dance Company, among others, and also staged performances of his own. In 1964, he toured with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as lighting, set, and costume designer.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchased from Douglas Elliott Gallery, San Francisco, 1983
Rauschenberg: Photographs, Douglas Elliott Gallery, San Francisco, September 13–October 28, 1983.
Facets of the Collection: Portraits of Artists, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 9, 1984–March 24, 1985.
Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., June 15–August 11, 1991. Traveled to: The Menil Collection, Houston, September 27, 1991–January 5, 1992; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, February 8–April 19, 1992; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 14–August 16, 1992; Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, October 24, 1992–January 24, 1993.
Black Mountain College: Una aventura americana, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, October 28, 2002–January 13, 2003.
This listing is complete as of June 1, 2014.
Rauschenberg Fotografia (Florence: Archivi Alinari, 1981), n.p. (ill.).
Rauschenberg Photographe (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Editions Herscher, 1981), n.p. (ill.).
Robert Rauschenberg Photographs (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), n.p. (ill.).
Van Deren Coke, Facets of the Collection: Portraits of Artists (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1984), 22 (ill.), 31.
Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s (Houston: Houston Fine Art Press, 1991), 62, 73 (ill.). Traveled to all venues.
———, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s (Houston: Menil Foundation, 1991), 16, 33 Produced for the Menil presentation only.
Christos M. Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal, eds., American Art in the 20th Century: Paintings and Sculpture, 1913–1993 (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1993), 97 (ill.).
Richard Gruber, Robert Rauschenberg: Through the Lens (Kansas City: University of Missouri, 1997), 13.
Vincent Katz, ed., Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 157 (ill.).
Jerry Saltz, “Photos of the Artists as Young Men,” New York Magazine, September 11, 2011, (ill.). Accessed June 23, 2013. http://nymag.com/arts/art/features/rauschenberg-photographs-2011-9/.
This listing is complete as of June 1, 2014.
Recto: Lower left margin, inscribed in black ink by the artist’s studio assistant Bradley Jeffries: “MERCE, 1952 #2”; after inscription, signed in black ink by the artist: “RAUSCHENBERG”
Note: This photograph was inscribed in the 1980s. Inscribed date does not conform to recent research by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which dates the photograph to 1953.