In 1999, Menil Collection curator Walter Hopps and SFMOMA Director David A. Ross interviewed Rauschenberg in the SFMOMA galleries during an exhibition featuring fourteen major works by the artist that the museum had recently acquired. Hopps had organized the 1976 and 1998 retrospectives of Rauschenberg’s work. In this excerpt from the video footage, Hopps, Ross, and Rauschenberg discuss the process of making Collection and its retroactive titling—the work was untitled until 1976. Gary Garrels, then SFMOMA’s chief curator, and Peter Samis, then associate curator of education, also participate in the interview. A transcript of the full interview is available on the Related Information page. A transcript of this excerpt is available below.
Robert Rauschenberg discusses Collection at SFMOMA, May 6, 1999
Excerpt from Robert Rauschenberg, video interview by David A. Ross, Walter Hopps, Gary Garrels, and Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 6, 1999. Unpublished transcript at the SFMOMA Research Library and Archives, N 6537 .R27 A35 1999a.
ROSS: Let’s talk about Collection a little bit, because this is obviously a major work that’s been in this museum’s collection since nineteen-seventy—
ROSS: ’2. And so this really forms the locus of what’s now our Rauschenberg collection. But Collection didn’t start its life off with that title; Collection started off with no title, it was an untitled work, as I understand it.
RAUSCHENBERG: It did?
HOPPS: Yes. You christened it.
ROSS: You titled it in—
HOPPS: In ’76. In ’75 or ’6, when we were putting that retrospective together, I raised the issue with Bob that there were several really extraordinary Combines, this one owned here in San Francisco, that were just untitled, and how did he feel about giving them names? And you thought, Well, OK, let’s. And he did a couple or three. One is called Levee. It used to be an untitled painting that Agnes Saalfield had, Aggie Gund. Now—
RAUSCHENBERG: I don’t like untitled paintings—
HOPPS: I know.
RAUSCHENBERG: ’Cause I like language so much.
HOPPS: I know. So when he came to this one, we were at the National Collection of Fine Art and I was very touched that he called it Collection. Which it is, literally, a wonderful accumulation of little artworks inside his own artwork. You know, we’ve got a Renoir. And this, I’m not sure if this is a Van Gogh; I think so.
RAUSCHENBERG: It is.
HOPPS: A little Persian painting here. Over here, we have some—something called Tammy, some comic strip art. More funny paper here, photographs from the newspapers. I love this work. It truly is— makes its point of art being a collection of elements of art.
ROSS: But it seems to be also—
RAUSCHENBERG: You know how this here—you know how this one started?
RAUSCHENBERG: I was— I was trying to break from the Red Paintings. And so I went out and bought some taffeta or nylon or whatever this is. And so this— this is an all red painting. I mean, red panel. This is a yellow panel. And that’s a blue panel. So I thought that was— you know, like, would scare me enough to get into color.
HOPPS: It’s a good Poussin combination anyway.
RAUSCHENBERG: Right, but it doesn’t look like it now.
RAUSCHENBERG: But I mean, I’d ha— I’d have to tell you this story to— for you to ever know that, you know? ’Cause I immediately mixed ’em up. [laughs]
SAMIS: Because before this, you were working on the Gold Paintings, the Red Paintings, the dirt paintings, the monochromes, and then you did Yoicks.
RAUSCHENBERG: I did the Red—I did the Red series right after the black and whites. Because… The— the— Both of them were recognized as— as— as—as a resistance to art. And they weren’t. And—
ROSS: This is how they were being critically received, or…
ROSS: …received by your peers, as well? How did your—
RAUSCHENBERG: Oh, my peers weren’t paying any attention to me. I was just a clown. Harmless. That’s why I got ahead of ’em. [they laugh]
ROSS: Nice position—nice position to work at.
GARRELS: So Bob, as you kept working on this, though, did you work on a single pan—there are three panels here.
RAUSCHENBERG: No, they were put together.
GARRELS: Yeah. And so then did you start working, like from one corner to another, or just kind of all over? Or how do you—
HOPPS: All over.
RAUSCHENBERG: Just kind of all over. I mean, anything you did there ruined what was here, and—
HOPPS: He works additively.
RAUSCHENBERG: You just clean—keep cleaning up your mess. [laughs]
ROSS: I— in this— in this work, you also, you know, begin to bring in newspapers with provocative headlines, dealing with real social conditions and situations, very, you know, lighthearted kind of popular cartoons, and then reproductions of classical, serious, modern art [inaudible; Rauschenberg over Ross]
RAUSCHENBERG: Well, all of this is part of our misinformation.
HOPPS: Done, by the way, as little things on fabric for children. These—these are not high-end reproductions of these artworks. They’re very nice sort of low-end reproductions, which is nice, in terms of the work too.
SAMIS: Another thing that starts here is that you actually start using a brush and dripping and painting, in a way that you weren’t doing in the— in the first room, in the [inaudible].
HOPPS: Well, and the Red Painting’s very much painted, Peter.
HOPPS: They are truly painted. And many layers.
ROSS: And what—and tell me about the function of this— the oculus here, this little, this eye, the mirror hidden under the gauze of the— of the—
RAUSCHENBERG: That’s— that’s just its breath. I mean, at the same time that, that— in many of the Combine pieces, that, that, that— there were mirrors. And that— that was to bring in the— the traffic in the room and— and— and— and just to make a change. Just to recognize that you saw something.
ROSS: To bring the viewer into the work.
RAUSCHENBERG: So you—Yeah.