Rauschenberg Loan Bank Program

The first installation of loans from the Rauschenberg Loan Bank Program is currently on view.  We recently sat down with Kelly Baum, Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, to discuss how the Museum became involved with the Rauschenberg Foundation's new initiative.

Robert Rauschenberg, Plank (Scenarios), 2003. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Art ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

What inspired you to apply for the Rauschenberg Loan Bank Program?

We didn’t actually apply for it. The Rauschenberg Foundation came to us via a Princeton undergrad named Bernard Lagrange, who works at the Foundation. The Foundation had recently launched the Loan Bank Program, and they were looking for two or three museums to serve as pilots. Bernard suggested they approach us, so it was luck in a way. Last April, I talked with their director, Christy MacLear, and I told her that we were absolutely interested. Christy wants museums to help the Foundation shape the Loan Bank Program—they want to know what will be most useful to us. Since we’re a teaching museum, I thought why not speak to faculty and introduce them to Christy and other Foundation staff members. So really, in essence, our collaboration with the Foundation was developed in consultation not only with the Museum’s director, but also with a range of faculty members, including Hal Foster from art and archaeology, Eduardo Cadava and Jeff Dolven from English, Susan Marshall from dance, and Joe Scanlan from the visual arts program.

The first featured collaboration is with Susan Marshall, artistic director and choreographer at the Lewis Center. Is this the first time you’ve worked with Susan?

Yes, I had not met Susan before. Together with Susan and the remaining faculty members we developed this model: the Loan Bank Program will last three to four years, and every six months—every time we rotate the modern and contemporary galleries—we will borrow a new suite of works from the Foundation, somewhere between two and four pieces. These works will be selected in consultation with a faculty member and will be designed to support a class or a program. In the first set of conversations with faculty last spring, we realized that there was already a program on the books for spring 2013 with a strong relationship to Rauschenberg: a dance program staged by a member of the former Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Rauschenberg, of course, was a close friend and collaborator of the great choreographer Merce Cunningham: between the years 1954 and 1964, he served as Cunningham’s artistic advisor, designing props, sets, backdrops, and costumes for his performances. In fact, some of Rauschenberg’s most important work was produced for Cunningham’s pieces. For the next set of loans, I’ll reach out to the core group of faculty I met with last year and ask about upcoming classes or programs that might be enlivened by loans from the Foundation.

In looking at the checklist for this first set of loans, it appears that most of the pieces are photographs.

Yes, Bernard suggested these. He also chose the painting Plank (Scenarios) (2003) because it served as the basis for the backdrop that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company used in XOVER, first performed in 2007.We are also including a suite of six photo collages that are made from photographs that Rauschenberg took of the Cunningham dancers. Each collage is a stack of three photographs. All of the selections relate to Rauschenberg’s collaboration with Cunningham and to dance in general.

Do the photographs feature Plank in the background, or are they of a different performance?

No, those aren’t related to XOVER. They’re from a series of photographs taken by Rauchenberg in 1964 during rehearsals for Nocturnes, a dance choreographed by Cunningham with costumes and decor by  Rauschenberg that was first performed in 1956. Thanks to the Merce Cunningham Trust, we do have photographs of Cunningham dancers performing in front of the backdrop that Plank inspired.

When you were selecting pieces from our collection to complement the Rauschenberg loans in the upcoming installation, what were the concepts or themes that you had in mind?

I wanted to select works of art from the period during and after Rauschenberg and Cunningham’s first and most important series of collaborations, so most of the works that will be on view in Marquand Mather are
from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. But I also was interested in aesthetic parallels. Rauschenberg is known for his contributions to collage and assemblage, but he is also known for his experimental approach to abstraction, as witnessed by Plank, where large fields of blank canvas—areas reminiscent of a monochrome—are punctuated by found images that have been cropped, decontextualized, and recombined. With all this in mind, I selected works that address issues around collage and assemblage but also around abstraction. I also selected works by two of Rauschenberg’s and Cunningham’s closest friends and collaborators: visual artist Jasper Johns and composer and visual artist John Cage. I tried to vary the installation, too, so that montages and assemblages hang near or next to abstract prints and paintings. I hope to underscore thematic, compositional, and formal parallelsbetween these different pieces.


Thumbnail: Self Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg with “Navigator (1962)", ca.1962. Copyright: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.