What Would Rauschenberg Do?


I was lucky enough to visit Tampa, Florida over the weekend. Every time I visit a city, I seek out the art museums. At the Tampa Museum of Art* we saw a sample from a huge collection of work that was “Made in Tampa” at the prestigious “Graphicstudio” at University of South Florida. Graphicstudio is a residency program founded in 1968 with an impressive roster of visiting artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Judy Chicago, Alex Katz, and Ellen Lupton.

Rauschenberg was at Graphicstudio in the early 70s. At the exhibit, we saw half a dozen lithographs of his that incorporate found objects like paper bags or cardboard boxes as in the print above. I love these pieces: the simplicity, the limited color palettes, the composition on the page, and the use of found objects that reference consumption. All of it. And as I search for themes to explore in my own work, I’m tempted to straight up copy this work. Just to learn how to do it. Copying the masters is a tried and true method for artistic skill building.

But on the content side, I know I can’t copy this work from the 70s. Paper bags, cardboard boxes, and print media still have meaning, but that meaning has shifted in the last 40 years. Though it might be fun to play with that shifting and slap some amazon logos on the shopping bags or replace the cardboard boxes with drones.

Or it might be fun to figure out what found objects and media speak to the world today.  Or even play a game, “What Would Rauschenberg Do-2018 edition.”

*HT to the exhibit design team at Tampa Museum of Art. Each exhibit was well-paced with playful references between some of the pieces. For example, they’d place a 3rd-century vase near a 1907 photograph of a vase with an entirely different surface treatment but nearly the exact same profile. We noticed!