Rauschenberg, Looking Long and Thinking Hard

Kristine Stiles

During an interview with Robert Rauschenberg and his dealer Leo Castelli in 1977, the writer and impresario Barbaralee Diamonstein read aloud Rauschenberg’s famous 1959 statement from the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition catalogue for Sixteen Americans: “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)”1 Diamonstein’s slow, dramatic reading perhaps reflected her respect for the definitive role that the twenty-one-word statement had on art and its histories. By 1977, Rauschenberg’s “act in the gap” had become a maxim for experimental art, from assemblage, happenings, Fluxus, body and process art to art and technology in the 1960s, and from performance and installation to pluralism in the 1970s. Rauschenberg’s appropriated imagery, combined with photography and painting, would soon also be recognized as the antecedent for visual aspects of postmodernism, especially neo-expressionist painting in the 1980s;2 and his worldwide travels and insistence on collaboration and interactivity would inform “relational aesthetics” in the 1990s and collectivity in the 2000s.3 But, following her recitation, Diamonstein just looked at him.

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