Robert Rauschenberg, Quiet House—Black Mountain, 1949, printed ca. 1990
Robert Rauschenberg, Quiet House—Black Mountain, 1949, printed ca. 1990; gelatin silver print, 20 in. x 16 in. (50.8 cm x 40.64 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Overview

A restrained study of contrasting zones of sunlight and shadow, Robert Rauschenberg’s Quiet House—Black Mountain (1949) signals the importance photography held for the artist at the dawn of his career. As its title suggests, this picture was taken at Black Mountain College, where Rauschenberg studied in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, the college represents a remarkable chapter in American progressive education, and remains renowned for its distinguished faculty and alumni in the arts. Rauschenberg’s tenure there coincided with what is generally understood as the most dynamic period in the school’s twenty-four-year existence—and, more broadly, as a defining moment in the history of the postwar American avant-garde. It was at Black Mountain, for example, that Rauschenberg began lasting collaborative relationships with visiting faculty members John Cage (1912–1992) and Merce Cunningham (1919–2009). Quiet House—Black Mountain, however, highlights the influence of other places and people the artist encountered while attending the famed school.

A small stone building designed and constructed in 1942 by alumnus Alex Reed, the Quiet House was conceived as a memorial for the late son of Black Mountain co-founder and faculty member Theodore Dreier. By 1948, the year Rauschenberg arrived at the rural campus, the Quiet House was a much cherished space for meditation and ceremonial use. Hazel Larsen Archer (1921–2001), the instructor with whom Rauschenberg first studied photography, frequently made images of the structure during her tenure at the school. Evocative of solitude or perhaps contemplation, Rauschenberg’s Quiet House—Black Mountain resonates with his mentor’s treatment of this beloved site.

One of Rauschenberg’s earliest photographs, this carefully composed picture suggests a pupil’s studied exploration of form, light, and shadow. Yet it also recalls the emphasis on line, form, light, and darkness in the black-and-white photographic abstractions of Aaron Siskind (1903–1991) and Harry Callahan (1912–1999), who Rauschenberg would come to know—and, in Siskind’s case, befriend—when they taught at Black Mountain during summer 1951. Engaging what Siskind famously described as “the drama of objects,” Rauschenberg would continue to examine the tension between the characteristics of an actual object and its photographic representation in later works. The image of a chair swathed in raking sunlight seems to have presented a particularly compelling study, reappearing in the Combine Pilgrim (1960), the multimedia installation Soundings (1968), and as both a silkscreened image and an actual chair in his Big D Eclipse (Shiner) (1990).

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Quiet House—Black Mountain
Artist name
Robert Rauschenberg
Date created
1949, printed ca. 1990
Classification
photograph
Medium
gelatin silver print
Dimensions
20 in. x 16 in. (50.8 cm x 40.64 cm)
Date acquired
1998
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
Copyright
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.301
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

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