I’m not alone! It’s not just me! In the introduction to the catalogue for her 2008-9 show, “Robert Rauschenberg | Travelling 70-76,” curator Mirta D’Argenzio wrote:
His favorite means of self-expression were always inclusive of change, travel, and collaboration. He seems from the very beginning, paraphrasing words of his own, to have committed his entire activity to the task of defining an ever more ample concept of collaboration, always in a state of becoming, that nearly made it possible to do away with the very notion of subjective behavior on the part of the artist,
Rauschenberg made a decisive contribution to superseding the notion of the individuality of the author: a notion very much emphasized by modernism, and then virtually discarded by post-modernist thought. His absolute freedom in this respect found expression from the very beginning in the intersubjective approach that permitted him– from his first works with Susan Weil, and then in his relationship with Cy Twombly, and immediately thereafter with Jasper Johns– to set up a true short circuit that questioned the modus operandi of western art and the very concept of the individuality of the author. This attitude, however, was in any case to lead him to preserve a specific identity that found paradoxical reinforcement in its own self-negation.
In the discussion for Paper Monument’s Social Medium anthology Sunday, I tried to make this exact point about Rauschenberg’s collaborative works, especially in the earliest days of his career. And here it is/was, right there in 2008. 2009. In an Neapolitan exhibition catalogue about works from the early 70s, when Rauschenberg was traveling the world and absorbing influences and materials and references.
D’Argenzio goes on
Rauschenberg insisted: “Ideas are not real estate.” And then he continued: ” “In collaboration one can accept the fact that someone else can be so sympathetic and in tune with what you’re doing that through this they move into depths which might not be obvious if that person had been working alone in a studio with the door shut…I think part of our uniqueness is the fact that we are ill-equipped.
Except that this is a quote from a 1974 interview with Rauschenberg about printmaking. Prints are inherently collaborative and technically contingent, and foundries are always good about namechecking. But that is not anything like questioning the concept of authorship. If anything, it’s auteurist. As Walter Hopps saw it in the catalogue for the 1999 retrospective, “in collaborations, Rauschenberg simultaneously functions as composer, orchestra conductor, and first violinist.”
Rauschenberg and Johns might have been hoping to question the modernist notion of authorship when they hid a flag painting behind the door of a work that was first known as, Construction with J.J. Flag. But when faced with the decision, rather than short circuit their individual careers, they ended up pulling the plug. It was self-negation as self-preservation. [h/t @andrewrusseth, whose tweet about that real estate quote set me on this hunt.]
Buy Robert Rauschenberg. Travelling ’70-’76 [amazon]