Robert Rauschenberg’s death last week brought out a range of obituaries, memories and a few vituperations.
The New York Times gives us a broad overview of the artist’s life and significance; as far as the art goes, Michael Kimmelman suggests it was “something fugitive, exquisite and secret.”
The Washington Post had more conflicting feelings. Blake Gopnik used to love Rauschenberg but now worries that the combines “don’t look as great as they once did.” Now, the works seem “a touch inchoate and bombastic–like overblown, Americanized versions of European assemblages that tighter focus and a less portentous tone.”
Roger Kimball, to no one’s shock, lets loose calling the artist, “the golden dustman.” Though he doesn’t mean it to be, it works better as a compliment.
Jed Perl, in the New Republic, blames Rauschenberg for Damian Hirst, Jeff Koons and Mike Kelley: “so far as his work is concerned, it has from beginning to end been nothing but bad news.”
In Slate, Jake Shafer shares some personal memories and complains that the obits are too nice.
Also in Slate, the story most worth reading on Rauschenberg is Jim Lewis’s essay. Describing the artist as having lived “the perfect life,” Lewis quotes Rauschenberg as fretting that death would mean “something interesting is going to happen and I’m going to miss it.” But in the process, Lewis makes the best case for the meaning of Rauschenberg’s work and life. He points out that Rauschenberg made surprisingly few important works for a great artist — “the drops from the sprinkler landed where they would.”
And that about sums it up. However you value Rauschenberg’s many works, his life and artistic legacy will remain invaluable.