Found Object, Mixed Media, Construction with solvent transfer, acrylic, and collage
53 х 52.5 х 26 in. cm.
This 1981 sculpture, which comes from Robert Rauschenberg's "Kabal American Zephyr" series, merges a mast-like wooden beam with a rusty handcart. These austere, industrial components form an aggressively contemporary take on the motif of the Tree of Life, a mystical symbol in the Kabbalah tradition. The work's title, which references the nineteenth-century motorized bicycle called the American Zephyr, reinforces this tension between industrial materiality and metaphor. The interior of the handcart is decorated with a collage of bright colors and patterns, as well as an illustrated protractor and a horseshoe. Displaying both the technical skill and conceptual inventiveness for which Rauschenberg was renowned, "Tree of Life Prune (Kabal American Zephyr)" is a mature work from one of the twentieth century's leading artists.
Robert Rauschenberg (b. Milton Ernest Rauschenberg, 1925-2008) was a postwar American painter, sculptor, printmaker, photographer, and mixed media artist whose enormously varied body of work persistently combined compositional rigor with an irreverent, improvisatory spirit. Over the course of his career, Rauschenberg was called by turns a Minimalist, a Conceptualist, a neo-Dadaist, and a forerunner of Pop; however, he moved restlessly between genres and styles, defying easy categorization. Rauschenberg’s innovative use of found objects and materials was particularly influential on his contemporaries. After beginning his career as a medical technician in the Navy, Rauschenberg saw a show at the Huntington Art Gallery in San Diego, where he was stationed, and turned his ambitions towards art. After World War II, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute and then the Académie Julian in Paris; he then studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina under Josef Albers and at the Art Students League of New York. Apart from the Minimalist paintings and “Combine” assemblages that brought him to fame in the 1950s and ‘60s, Rauschenberg also made innovative contributions to photography and printmaking (most notably with silhouette negatives and transfer drawing); designed sets and costumes for theater and dance productions; and was a co-founder of Experiments in Art and Technology, a nonprofit organization facilitating collaboration between artists and scientists. During his lifetime, he received international acclaim as a major American artist and exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1981); the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (1997); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (2005), among many others. Rauschenberg was awarded the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and the National Medal of Arts in 1993. He died on Captiva Island, FL in 2008.
Selected Public Collections:
Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
Tate Modern, London, England
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY