Photos of the Artists As Young Men: Robert Rauschenberg’s portraits of his extraordinary friends.


(clockwise) Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg

From the very beginning of his mad, ecstatic, always-experimenting career, Robert Rauschenberg was looking
at photographs. His hungry eye absorbed them; then they reappeared in his paintings, sculptures, and prints, and especially in his combines—the new form he invented, neither painting nor sculpture but a visual-material manifestation of abstract poetry. Rauschenberg appropriated photos from books, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, other artists, art-history books, anyplace. He cut them up, used them whole, pieced them back together, whatever. Given his fecundity—and a spate of pesky copyright cases brought against him—it’s no surprise to learn he also took pictures himself. Lots of them.

Yet there are surprises to be found in Robert Rauschenberg: Photographs: 1949–1962, an exhibition and book of 167 images from the years in which the artist invented his point-and-shoot style. Rauschenberg turns out to have been a natural, breezily brilliant with the camera, never more so than when shooting his circle of artist friends. We see Cy Twombly in Rome, dwarfed by an enormous Roman sculpture; a handsome Jasper Johns in his studio in 1955 next to his masterpiece Flag; an otherworldly Merce Cunningham crouched tigerlike in a motion until then unseen. These are closely observed windows into the nascent postwar art world. (The self-portraits of Rauschenberg—he was dashingly handsome, a young rake—with his work are no less revelatory.) There are images of grazing horses, landscapes, furniture, you name it.

He was good enough, even at the beginning, to have been taken seriously by Edward Steichen, who put one of Rauschenberg’s photographs in a MoMA show in 1951. Life ran a series of them the same year. Even after other work began to dominate his career, Rauschenberg once remarked, “I’ve never stopped being a photographer.” These pictures make Rauschenberg’s fearless eye come to new life.

Robert Rauschenberg: Photographs 1949–1962
D.A.P., $75.

Projected photos on view at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space, 455 W. 19th St., NYC, through October 3.

About the author

Jerry Saltz
Jerry Saltz is the Senior Art Critic for New York Magazine. Formerly the senior art critic for The Village Voice, Saltz has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism three times. He served as a judge in the 2010 Bravo series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.

6 Comments

  1. Blondie says:

    ‘look v goood
    Great eye – especially for the days of simple point and shoot
    Yesss a natural

    Reply
  2. Ps says:

    I love the chook
    Little ‘chooklegs

    Reply
  3. PsS says:

    DOnt eat the chook or ur a smook

    ‘stupid mean obnoxious omnivorous killer

    Xxx hugs n kisses world

    Reply
  4. Jerry says:

    R u on holidays
    It’s been awhile?

    Hope u are okay

    Reply
  5. Jerry says:

    Please write

    Reply
  6. Denis says:

    Would it be interesting to create an editorial, photographic exhibition about known Artists as old men?

    ….” with age, life and art become one ” … as someone well known once said.

    Reply

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