"Art can change the world."(1)
Robert Rauschenberg Barge (Barcaza), 1962–63
Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 203 x 980 cm.
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, with additional funds contributed by Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum; the International Director’s Council and Executive Committee members: Eli Broad, Elaine Terner Cooper, Ronnie Heyman, J. Tomilson Hill, Dakis Joannou, Barbara Lane, Robert Mnuchin, Peter Norton, Thomas Walther, and Ginny Williams; Ulla Dreyfus-Best, Norma and Joseph Saul Philanthropic Fund, Elizabeth Rea, Eli Broad, Dakis Joannou, Peter Norton, Peter Lawson-Johnston. Michael Wettach, Peter Littman, Tiqui Atencio, Bruce and Janet Karatz, Giulia Ghirardi Pagliai, 1997
Robert Rauschenberg (b. Port Arthur, Texas, 1925; d. Captiva Island, Florida, 2008) was one of the most prolific contemporary American artists. He worked for nearly sixty years creating artworks in various mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, performance, and printmaking. Rauschenberg’s paintings incorporated techniques far beyond the use of paint, such as screenprinting, collaging, transferring, and imprinting. He also used a wide array of materials in his paintings, from canvas, board, and fabric to sheet metal, Plexiglas, plaster, and paper. (2)
Rauschenberg’s use of recognizable popular imagery and commercial techniques led critics to identify him with other artists working in a similar way, such as Andy Warhol (b. Pittsburgh, 1928; d. 1987, New York). Although Rauschenberg’s works were more gestural and handmade than the works of these contemporaries, he was still considered an artist of the Pop art movement.
In the late 1950s, Rauschenberg coined the term Combines, in reference to his series of works that mixed objects and abstract painting, blurring the line between painting and sculpture. In his Combines he incorporated newsprint and three-dimensional objects, such as a stuffed eagle and goat, street signs, or a quilt and pillow. By 1962, he switched from found objects to found images, and began screenprinting to his paintings images culled from newspapers and magazines.
Barge (1962–63) is a single canvas measuring nearly 10 meters across. Rauschenberg created it during a 24-hour period, and it is the largest of the series of 79 screenprint paintings the artist made from 1962 to 1964. This monumental monochrome work incorporates many different themes related to the urban environment, space exploration and flight, modes of transportation, and examples from art history. Although it looks abstract from a distance, if you look closely, recognizable imagery appears.
The screenprinting technique, new to Rauschenberg at the time, allowed him to evolve from his earlier direct-transfer method, incorporating images from newspapers and magazines (including ads, photographs, maps, and comics) into his drawings and paintings. With this practice, Rauschenberg could photographically enlarge found imagery on the screenprints. This process freed him from the scale restrictions of his earlier transfer techniques and allowed him to easily reuse images in varied contexts.
1. “Vision and Mission,” Rauschenberg Foundation.
2. “Biography,” Rauschenberg Foundation.
Observe the painting with your students and make a list of the images that students can recognize. Read the list aloud. What relationships can they find among these images? An art critic once said that Barge tells the story of life in the United States. (1) What do students think about that statement? What kind of story might Barge be telling about the country?
Encourage your students to research what was happening in the United States in the 1960s, and create a time line listing major historical events. Compare the information in the time line with the imagery in Barge. Discuss how the artist reflected these events in his work.
Consider the color used in this painting. Why do you think Rauschenberg chose to paint Barge in black, white, and gray? Parts of the work are hand-painted, others are collage-like, and some images are introduced by the artist by screenprinting. Can students identify, and recognize the differences between, each of these processes? Do students think there is a criterion that he applies to select the method or technique of each image or section? Explain.
1. Jill Johnston. “The World Outside His Window,” Art in America (April 1992), p. 120.