What About Bob?: Remembering Robert Rauschenberg

Yesterday would have been Robert Rauschenberg‘s 83rd birthday, and New York’s Guggenheim Museum is celebrating with a photographic tribute to the artist, who died in May of heart failure. The presentation is the only public component of a series of Rauschenberg tribute events (including an art star-studded afternoon of remembrances at the Museum of Modern Art this Sunday), and the Guggenheim is a fitting venue. “Bob particularly loved this building,” said senior curator Susan Davidson at a press briefing this morning. “He engaged with its spiralness, the activity of it.”

On view through November 5, the tribute exhibition includes personal images selected by Rauschenberg’s family and highlighting important moments of his life and career. Here is Bob in Venice, scrutinizing a 1973 Warhol silkscreen; there he is, about ten years later, standing with Warhol himself (and a fedora-topped Joseph Beuys, who looks up to no good) in Berlin. In another shot, Bob takes on the Amazon River—in a canoe.

Many of the photos chronicle the artist at work and play in his Captiva Island studio (where pineapples and spiky succulents were apparently omnipresent). And he excelled at celebrating: sharing a toast with Leo Castelli and Illeana Sonnabend, holding up his newborn son like a trophy, or kicking up the heels of his snakeskin cowboy boots (he was, after all, a Texan) at an opening in Rome. Whether experimenting with sheet metal, paint, or Merce Cunningham, Rauschenberg regards the camera with a face that seems lit from within, his puckish grin suggesting a fresh, wonderful discovery.

To make the whole thing more Rauschenbergian, the Guggenheim is inviting visitors to contribute their own Rauschenberg-related photos, encounters, remembrances, or other relevant anecdotes. The collective memories will be posted on the gallery’s “muse wall,” opposite a photo of one of the artist’s own. Noted Davidson, “Collaborative activity was something that was very near to Bob’s heart.”