Retrospect of Rauschenberg and Combinatorial Art

When doing the readings I felt compelled to write about Rauschenberg and the hybridity of his “collage”- like paintings and sculptures. It’s thanks to him that many Americans began to think that all art can be a combination of virtually any item. “It is largely, if not exclusively, thanks to Robert Rauschenberg that Americans since the 1950’s have come to think that art can be made out of anything, exist anywhere, last forever or just for a moment and serve almost any purpose or no purpose at all except to suggest that the stuff of life and the stuff of art are ultimately one and the same” (Kimmelman). Combinatorial art, appropriation, “low sources” to “high art,” real objects, and pop culture, all play a role in how pop art came to be the style of the 1960s-1980s.

Three works of his that particularly stood out to me were his, “Statue of Liberty” (1983), “Signs” (1970), and “Spring Clearance” (1961). Pop art it embodied in these three works within appropriation and combinatorial art. In all three photos you see that they aren’t items that you might think go together. For example, in “Signs,” you see JFK and an astronaut, but also Martin Luther King Jr., military officials, a group of people throwing up the peace sign, etc. It’s a combination of many people and movements that represent the time period. “Statue of Liberty,” combines different perspectives and close-ups of the statue itself (from the dress to the crown, etc.). “Spring Clearance” is more of a statement of the chaos in my opinion, of what spring clearance is like. You can make out a mixture of concrete items within the organized chaos of the painting.




“Statue of Liberty”







“Spring Clearance”


Slight appropriation is at times used within pop art in order to create something newer to the times that models previous work – many individuals have tried to capture the beauty of the statue of liberty or the profile of JFK. Rauschenberg took everyday peoples, places, landmarks, etc. and made them his own, making it seem as if he took a few pictures and put them together, rearranging the pieces.

Furthermore, many artists in this time period used basic items in their new pop art work. Like Rauschenberg used buttons, regular people, tires, animals, etc., so did other artists of the time period. By creating art with normal items that we see in everyday life, we promote these “low sources” into “high art.” For example, in Rauschenberg’s “Spring Clearance,” there are various low source items within the painting, as in many of his sculptures and other pop art creations.  I think this arrangement of discrete elements makes the art more relatable. It’s a mix of emotions that use real life events, objects, people, and basic items that adds meaning. Everyone looking at this art experiences many of these things on a day to day basis, or has experienced the event that is being portrayed within the painting. Pop art through Rauschenberg portrays real objects as things not the representation of them. It allows the audience to appreciate and see the beauty in the combinations and mixtures of simple items we see frequently. “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirror or Coke bottles are ugly, because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

Hamilton also suggests that, “It [pop art] must entail a deconstructing of the mediated image-word bite that hails us from magazines, billboards, television, and now computers too. These artworks make us think; deconstructing them allows us to see the pop culture, social, political, and technological happenings of the time, that takes us away from TV, computers, etc.

Pop art came to be the style of the 1960s-1980s within Rauschenberg’s contribution of combinatorial art, appropriation, “low sources” to “high art,” real objects, and pop culture. These can all be mixed together in order to effectively create a popular art form.

Relating pop art of the 60s – 80s (as well as many other eras of art), other than Rauschenberg, a place in today’s society brings them all together and appropriates the appropriated. “Grounds for Sculpture” is a place in Trenton, NJ that showcases many paintings and sculptures of various artists. “Grounds For Sculpture was established in 1992 to promote an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture for all people…”

(Find the Grounds for Sculpture website here: Grounds for Sculpture)

The reason I find this place compelling and related to this week’s readings, is because of something Warhol said: “Pop art took the inside and put it outside, took the outside and put it inside.” Within the 42 acres of this place that is available for the public to walk around and physically experience many eras of sculptures and paintings of art, which embodies the realism and inside/outside theory that Warhol emphasized. Even though it doesn’t focus on Rauschenberg’s work, I think this is worth mentioning, since it takes real art and puts it in a setting that is relatable to every day humans. Many sculptures remind me of Manet’s paintings, who was credited with starting part of the movement of modern art, leading to the topic of discussion: pop art.

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Hal Foster, “On the First Pop Age,” New Left Review 19, January-February 2003.

Interview with Foster on the main ideas in his recent book, The First Pop Age (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011)

Martin Irvine, Dialogism and the Cultural Encyclopedia through Pop and Appropriation Art(presentation) (also for class discussion)

Michael Kimmelman, “Art Out of Anything,” Review of Robert Rauschenberg, Combines, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times, 12.23.2005.

“Mission.” Grounds For Sculpture. N.p., 2005. Web. 24 Feb. 2014. <>.