After enrolling at Kansas City Art Institute, Robert Rauschenberg (Port Arthur, 1925-Captiva, 2008), in 1948 Rauschenberg began attending the courses taught by Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College, where he met John Cage. In 1952 they both took part in the happening Theater Piece No. 1, for which he made White Paintings, monochromatic paintings hung from the beams of the ceiling. After returning from a long trip which he had taken with Cy Twombly, during which they visited Naples and Alberto Burri’s studio in Rome, in 1954 the artist made his first Combine Paintings, in which heterogeneous and extra-pictorial materials – ropes, blades, rags, jars, pillows, beds, closets, street signs – are included in the work as banal elements that hark back to everyday reality. Unlike the ideas on which Pop Art is based, Rauschenberg’s New Dada language does not emphasize mass culture, but rather removes everyday objects within a context of references that adhere to reality. Rauschenberg’s frequent collaborations with artists such as Jasper Johns, John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham allow him to continually combine media and language, in accordance with Cage’s revolutionary idea of a return to a “zero degree” of art, which coincides with the obviousness of what is real.
Between 1971 and 1972, for the series entitled Cardboards, the artist included pieces of found cardboard in his works, not as a support but as the material itself, shown at face value as a discarded element, thereby maintaining its true nature and fragility. Soon afterwards the artist makes Hoarfrost (“Brina”), 1974-1976, whose title refers to Dante’s Inferno, which Rauschenberg had illustrated between 1958 and 1960 using the transfer-drawing technique: one of these works, Untitled (Hoarfrost), 1974, which is part of the collection, represents the explosion of a nuclear bomb. The artist used lithographic tusche to transfer the images to works made from silk, cotton, and chiffon, with no stretcher: having observed traces of newsprint on the cloths used to clean lithographic stones, the artist creates works with different layers of fabric on which he overlaps ethereal and delicate images, regardless of their intrinsic content.
Rauschenberg first showed in Naples at the Modern Art Agency in 1974, where he presented a series of collages. In 1987, again with Lucio Amelio, he realizes Neapolitan Gluts, sculptures and assemblages produced in the city, and one of his works joins the collection Terrae Motus. On the occasion of the artist’s period in Naples, he improvised the scenery for Set & Reset, using broken parts to replace the scenes that he had signed and that were meant for Trisha Brown’s ballet for Teatro di San Carlo, which never arrived from New York. In 2008 the Madre hosted the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg. Travelling ’70-’76, exhibiting the series Cardboards, Venetians, Early Egyptians, Hoarfrosts e Jammers, which the artist made during his trips to Italy, France, Jerusalem and India.