How Robert Rauschenberg ‘Erased the Rules’

An odd piece of art that features an ox with a tire wrapped around it. The piece, titled "Monogram," is by Robert Rauschenberg.

“Monogram” by Robert Rauschenberg.
Photo credit: j-No via Flickr CC.

During his life, artist Robert Rauschenberg worked in a variety of mediums, including everything from photography to vats of mud. The SFMOMA exhibit “Erasing the Rules” gives a retrospective of Rauschenberg’s work and includes more than 150 pieces.

The exhibit, which runs from November 18, 2017 to March 25, 2018, is made possible by a variety of donors and supporters, including Thomas Weisel and Janet Barnes, Carl and Lyman Casey, and many more.

For such a large exhibit, that level of support makes sense. The vast number of pieces includes prints, sculptures, paintings, and Combines (works combining painting and sculpture).

Rauschenberg is known for his history of experimentation and collaborative processes, which often broke down barriers between mediums (not to mention between cultural and social stances).

According to SFMOMA director Neal Benezra, Rauschenberg was the original “disruptor,” using art in ways that had never been thought of before. Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” for example, is literally that: an erased drawing originally done by Willem de Kooning. Rauschenberg said in an interview with SFMOMA that he had a hard time at first convincing de Kooning to do a drawing that would later be erased. de Kooning finally gave in, though—promising he’d make it as hard as he could to erase the drawing. “It took me about a month,” Rauschenberg said, noting that he used so many erasers, he lost count.

Ultimately, Rauschenberg’s work is about the intersection of conceptual art (the idea) and the formal (the specific goals relating to tone, color, and detail). The exhibit highlights this, displaying the progression of Rauschenberg’s work over the years and how he grappled with these ideas.

Thematically, his work was actually quite personal on multiple levels. Some works are reactions to the events of the day: “Retroactive I” (1964), for example, deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Others are far more personal: friends and lovers frequently show up as subjects, and many curators interpret “coded references” to Rauschenberg’s life as a gay man.

“Erasing the Rules” can be seen at SFMOMA 10AM-5PM Fridays through Tuesdays and 10AM-9PM Thursdays. Tickets are $19-$25. Visitors ages 18 and younger are free.

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