Mary Lynn Kotz discusses her book "Rauschenberg, Art and Life"
BROADCAST: Oct. 29, 1991 | DURATION: 00:48:57
In Mary Lynn Kotz's book, "Rauschenberg, Art and Life," Kotz recounts the works and story of 20th century art pioneer Robert Rauschenberg. They survey his career beginning in Port Arthur, TX, discussing his Depression-era upbringing which caused him to reuse and salvage virtually any object and transform it into art, his studies in Paris, made possible by the G.I. Bill, and Black Mountain College, his creation of the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange and the wide range of global works that resulted, and they admire many of his famous works as depicted in Kotz's book. The original broadcast began with an excerpt of fellow Port Arthur resident, Janis Joplin, singing "Me and Bobby McGee," along with a snippet of a piano piece by John Cage, who is discussed in the conversation.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel [Content removed, see catalog record] There you have it. There's a fusion there, a segue from Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee", "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." And John Cage. And you wonder what's the connection? The connection is Robert Rauschenberg who's from Port Arthur, Texas where Joplin came from and the rest as they say is history and a wild sort artistically and as far as life is concerned one of the most provocative contemporary painters but printmaker, designer, what have you. We come to that and it happens that there's an Abrams, and Abrams publishes very beautiful art books and the most recent one is by Mary Lynn Kotz and it's Rauschenberg. It's a study of Robert Rauschenberg with a lot of the works illustrated here very stunningly too. But mostly it's a story too, a story. It's a remark--Mary Lynn Kotz and Nick Kotz her husband, excellent investigative journalist, were guests before, the story of George Wiley who was organizer of welfare people, give you an idea of the range in which they're interested. So we come to Rauschenberg today, Mary Lynn, and I slipped these two pieces of music in and they more or less are the two parts of his life aren't they
Mary Lynn Kotz Well they illustrate Rauschenberg the artist and Rauschenberg the man. The title of my book is "Rauschenberg: Art and Life," and that is where Rauschenberg fits into American art history. He said early on that "art and life neither can be created. I try to fit into the gap between the two." Rauschenberg is about freedom. I'm very touched when I hear the Bob--When I hear "Bobby McGee." I'm very touched when I hear John Cage because the freedom of inventiveness, the freedom of expression, is what Rauschenberg his life and his art have been about and he has made that part of his mission.
Studs Terkel He's one of the survivors of the of the beginnings in a sense of the what we call abstract expressionism, that all new movement of Jackson Pollock and de Kooning and the others. But he's the one who's around and about.
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes. Bob Rauschenberg was very, very influential. He took abstract expressionism to a place where it had not been before and bridged the gap for a new movement. Some say that he was the papa of pop art. So he put the subject, he put the object back into art. He had us looking at things at familiar objects, at old tires, at ladders, at Coca-Cola bottles. When he first began working with real object people said some people said, What do you see in junk? He said, I feel sorry for people who are surrounded by objects all of their lives and can't see them as beautiful.
Studs Terkel Well he saw that some--Now they have to go back to the beginning. These objects, you talk about these prosaic commonplace junky objects, say we used automobile tire or a raggedy bedspread or something, you know or a Coca-Cola bottle. We go back to beginnings how Port Arthur, Texas where he came from is one of those towns. It's a blue collar town, the pollution is heavy, the oil, the poverty is big. So this, and objects.
Mary Lynn Kotz It's this, this oil refinery town and on the Gulf of Mexico and Texas is where Bob Rauschenberg grew up. Art was not in his world. His father was a telephone power company lineman with a third grade education. He was surrounded by the objects of life. There was beauty there in the marshes and in the bayside natural area. He grew up loving and still loves nature and wildlife and how nature and wildlife intersects with the objects that he saw, the old chickens in his backyard during the Depression with never throwing anything away always being able to use something--
Studs Terkel Wait, wait. You see the thing is he saw the object in which others saw ugliness. He saw the beauty which others--Or something--Like Janis Joplin he had to get away from that rotten lousy town. And in a sense it was that the air was polluted, the stink was heavy, the smoke was heavy and the work was tough and rough. At the same time he, Rauschenberg, saw something else.
Mary Lynn Kotz Rauschenberg had to get away with it--Get away from it too. And he gave back what Janis Joplin gave back, which was a sense of the art in their lives. What he had in common with John Cage was the same thing; it was the freedom of inventiveness, the freedom to use ordinary as objects. As John Cage's uses ordinary sounds to make us aware of the beauty of the new music--
Studs Terkel And sometimes silence.
Mary Lynn Kotz And silence which of course was inspired by one of Rauschenberg first paintings, the white painting of 19--Of the early 1950s. This is a totally white canvas.
Studs Terkel I should point out that as we're talking Mary Lynn Kotz and I, on the table as a copy of the book. One of the--Abrams is known for publishing those quite marvelous art books where a text, and the text here are supplied by Mary Lynn Kotz and the subject is Robert Rauschenberg. And throughout your writings interspersed with some of the illustrations that are quite stunning. The painting you describe--The very cover. We'll come back and forth, we'll make this very easy as far as conversation goes. Go back to that town, how he became the artist. What happened to art in the world at the time. But the very cover. The cover is "Pneumonia Lisa." He does variations on "Mona Lisa." And your first reaction is Andy Warhol and the Campbell's Soup cans. No that's not it though. It's something--Why don't you describe the--
Mary Lynn Kotz "Pneumonia Lisa" is a wink at art history. It's a four piece ceramic painting that he made in Japan with a special process of high fired ceramic art. It has Japanese characters and scenes interspersed with the the face of the Mona Lisa. It is part of his, Rauschenberg's latest most I think unique experience, The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, in which he goes into a country, he calls them sensitive areas of the world, and he works with the artists and artisans in that country and the writers to discover what is unique and what is universal about that culture and to come back and distill them into a Rauschenberg view of what that culture is about. His goal is to introduce the world to itself by taking this material to from one culture to another from one city to another. He's done it in 13 countries now. And to say this is your world, this is my freedom of expression.
Studs Terkel In fact he has this group, does he not? We'll come, we, of course the very opening of the book has a visit to the Yellow Mountain area of China. Jingxian.
Mary Lynn Kotz This--
Studs Terkel But before we should point out that he has a [crew?], he has, he's sponsoring something called ROCI: The Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange.
Mary Lynn Kotz This is the project from which "Pneumonia Lisa" and about 250 other works of art and that have sprung. He has financed it himself to the tune of about seven million dollars and his goal is to offer an exchange of ideas between peoples and cultures which can open doors for artists to communicate with other artists of the world. Studs he says he's almost given up on the politicians.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Mary Lynn Kotz He think it's up to the artists to communicate.
Studs Terkel Yeah, this is the aspect of it that's attracted a number of people. The fact that he says it's time for the artist and the poets maybe save the world since the political guys turned out to be less than they presume to be. Oh no they don't really, they are what they are. But he wants to, this is point. So he travels to various countries with--Now this experience in China and this area where paper, we know that paper was invented in China. Why don't you describe this.
Mary Lynn Kotz Well after a period of two years trying to get into the country Rauschenberg and his young group of assistants was, and collaborators, was able to get into the ancient papermill the oldest papermill in the world and Jingxian because he wanted to work with this paper to create art out of the paper and this of course was the seminal experience for ROCI when he discovered people in China who were not able to go from one village to another without a passport. People who did not know what was happening in the next village much less what was happening in the rest of the world and he felt that art and the communication he had without language with the artists and artisans was such an effective vehicle of communication. He was able to cut images from the propaganda posters that he saw and working with the artisans in the paper mail fuse those images into the paper itself. And it came out as a beautiful series called "7 Characters" of works with Chinese paper in which Rauschenberg's images spoke to the beauty of contemporary and old China. I'm told that now after this great exhibition in Beijing in which millions of people came that art in China was now taught as art before Rauschenberg and art after Rauschenberg.
Studs Terkel Means it's altered somewhat.
Mary Lynn Kotz It--
Studs Terkel But by the way what he did here as I read your script your text, in Jingxian where the paper--It's the place where paper is made.
Mary Lynn Kotz The paper, where paper was born.
Studs Terkel Where paper was born. That, what's exciting is that not only did he do it, they did it.
Mary Lynn Kotz Exactly
Studs Terkel That is the people themselves as collaborators, these Chinese working people who did this, craftsmen, others. That it was their work as well as his.
Mary Lynn Kotz And that is, that is the whole essence of the artistic experience in in ROCI, that he is able to work with ancient techniques with new young artisans with the artistic outpouring of countries that have not had artistic exposure, not to the Western world, and--
Studs Terkel And also he goes to places sometimes he's criticized in the beginning. But later on they realize, like Pinochet's Chile. Say why are you're going there? You're helping Pinochet. His whole point is exactly the opposite. It's to get to meet the artists and writers there who, the great many who of course are protesting.
Mary Lynn Kotz The art that came from from Chile is quite interesting. It pays homage to the Church. Well they, of course the Church in Pinochet's Chile was the one place where the artists and dissenters felt that they could go for a haven of safety. And one of the most wonderful pieces which was shown at the National Gallery of Art in the great ROCI show this past summer was the man-made sculpture, this, in the shape of a crucifix which was wearing a priest's vestment. That was Rauschenberg's homage to the Church.
Studs Terkel Interesting. I look at one here, "Copperhead-Bite" . This is Chile. It's Pinochet. It's abstract of course at the same time it jumps at you in a certain way, you know there's a double entendre here as you point out that something poisonous and it is about the Pinochet aspect.
Mary Lynn Kotz But at the same time it's also about Chile and it is printed on a on a sheet of copper. Copper is the mainstay of the Chilean economy. There are layers and layers and layers of meaning. This show spent the summer at the National Gallery of Art, kind of the culmination of it's being shown in China and Chile and Mexico and Berlin and Moscow, Tibet, all over the world. Rauschenberg found Tibet to be his spiritual home--
Studs Terkel Through it I noticed something. He takes something indigenous like the paper of China and working with the Chinese craftsmen there and making it theirs. We're talking to Mary Lynn Kotz and it's her, well it's not biography, it's her life her life of Robert Rauschenberg. But it can join to the, his works. Illustrated in color. Incredible as they jump at you. And the variety of work he does, we'll come to that, the different materials he uses, whether it be oil or whether it be fabric or steel or found objects or anything. And Abrams are the publishers. Abrams are known for their fine art works published and it's a beauty. Mary Lynn Kotz and her book on Rauschenberg, this illustrated with his works. "Art and Life." Like Tosca, you know she has that aria you know before she stabs that rat, Scarpia, she sings "Vissi d'arte"--
Mary Lynn Kotz "Vissi d'arte."
Studs Terkel About art and life and it's his art and life. We're talking about how he visits different countries. Part of this project called ROCI the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange--
Mary Lynn Kotz Overseas Culture Interchange.
Studs Terkel Which the poets have to, and the writers and artists have to speak out maybe and take hold. And so in Venezuela how, finds, he finds pigment from the various something there?
Studs Terkel There's a berry. Onoto.
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes. When when Rauschenberg went to Caracas he went to Venezuela because Venezuela was the oldest democracy in South America and he wanted to to make that connection and the the artist and the the art supporters in Caracas said, Why do you want to go into the jungles? What possible culture can you find from the jungles? Well he visited the tribesmen along the Amazon and he found a wonderful pigment that the Panare Indians used to decorate their bodies. And it was called the onoto bean. And he brought that pigment back and made his paintings with it. He took also a snare. These these tribesmen hunt boar and they have a wonderful net snare that they use to trap the boar. He brought that net back and used it in his painting.
Studs Terkel So he works kind of as an anthropologist to say, or an archaeologist as well as an artist.
Mary Lynn Kotz Right, an archaeologist of the present he calls himself.
Studs Terkel Oh he does call himself that?
Mary Lynn Kotz Yeah.
Studs Terkel An archaeologist of the present.
Mary Lynn Kotz With his tongue in cheek of course.
Studs Terkel But he, see, we'll have to come back to the beginning again. What made this guy do what he does and be as adventurous and daring and innovative as he is. Anything, you know in a way he's like Whitman is to words, he is to painting. Nothing alien to me. [At least?] nothing human alien. Nothing, nothing alien to me.
Mary Lynn Kotz Art can be made out of anything. He said if art can be made out of a piece of cloth, wood, nails, and canvas, it can be made out of a pair of socks. I'm paraphrasing him here, he says--
Studs Terkel Now he was somewhere after Port Arthur. [Well let's?]--How he became an artist, so we start that. It's a religious family and he's taken a ministry.
Mary Lynn Kotz Right, he wanted to be a preacher--
Studs Terkel Mmm.
Mary Lynn Kotz But he, his, I think his first rebellion was when his preacher in Port Arthur, Texas told him that he absolutely could not dance but he knew he had, Rauschenberg knew he had talent for dancing and so he just said well you know the church is not it. But he felt all of his life that he's had a sense of mission and he truly is a very spiritual artist. He has a spiritual search. He found his escape from Port Arthur, Texas was in the Navy. He, art was not in their world; drawing was something that was not particularly valued but in the Navy he had really two epiphanies. One was that he came to understand the horror of war and he spent his life thereafter as an anti-war activist. He worked in a neuro-psychiatric ward hospital in which he took care of young men whose minds had been destroyed by bombs or bullets and that was a very very deep experience for him. At the same time he went on leave one day and he went down to the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California where he saw "The Blue Boy."
Studs Terkel Gainsborough's "Blue Boy"?
Mary Lynn Kotz Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," this wonderful thing. He realized that somebody had painted that. He said he never realized before that you never thought about it. That was something he'd see on the back of playing cards. So he went--
Studs Terkel Oh he saw, of course, so he saw "Blue Boy," one of the most--
Mary Lynn Kotz He saw "The Blue Boy."
Studs Terkel Widely of all paintings ever in the back of playing cards.
Mary Lynn Kotz Right.
Studs Terkel He didn't know a guy painted that.
Mary Lynn Kotz He said, I could do that. So he he bought himself some oils and he started painting portraits of other sailors. And after the war he was working in California and a young woman convinced him that he had talent that he should go and study art which he'd always kind of wanted to do so he went to the Kansas City Art Institute on the G.I. Bill--
Studs Terkel [But?] after World War Two, you know the G.I.s, New Deal days and afterwards, had a [dough?], [left? lift?] a mortgage to buy a house and helped pay the mortgage or go to school. This is a question of government subsidy, big government that the boys talk about that's so bad saved their butts during the Depression, you know. And but here it is. Were it not for the G.I. Bill, Rauschenberg might not have become an artist.
Mary Lynn Kotz It opened the door for education--
Studs Terkel Had to get my sermon in.
Mary Lynn Kotz For so many, so many young Americans. Rauschenberg being one because it enabled him to go not only to the Kansas City Art Institute but to the Academie Julien in Paris. He decided that that he should study art in Paris. He got to Paris he discovered that he had arrived 25 years too late for what he needed and he discovered through also through the G.I. Bill and through meeting a young woman in Paris, Black Mountain College [unintelligible]
Studs Terkel [Before?], in Paris, [while there?] there was an incident I think worth recounting of how he worked imagination. He also began to realize that Paris, something where shifting. Paris was no longer to be the center of art. And in fact he'd played a role in New York becoming. But before that, how he became how he worked with different objects. Earlier we described any object. It was a circle of young artists. Among them was Susan Weil who became his wife who shared his visions. But there was a girl there, friend there was going to go to the Paris Opera, didn't have a dress. Now describe that because that's a telling story.
Mary Lynn Kotz She had one, one ticket among them to the Paris Opera. They could only afford one ticket. So they gave this girl the ticket and she was so thrilled. But she had nothing to wear. So they all lived in this rooming house and they took a bedspread off the bed. And Bob Rauschenberg went out and stole some ivy from the Bois de Boulogne and they stitched the ivy into the bedspread and gave it to her as a costume to wear. They went to the Galleries Lafayette and got some ribbon and Bob interspersed the the ivy with the ribbon and it became a beautiful cloak that she wore to the Paris Opera. And people stopped her on the street and said, Who designed this beautiful garment? And she said, Rauschenberg.
Studs Terkel But now that tells a lot, see. That story that anecdote is a very revealing one. That tells us about imagination and that comes to the core of his vision, of his work, that anything no matter how commonplace it might be, can contribute to something beautiful.
Mary Lynn Kotz Indeed.
Studs Terkel And that, here's the perfect case. He makes a stole out of this raggedy spread and a ribbon and a bit of ivy.
Mary Lynn Kotz And let's take the thread then to Black Mountain College he goes to study under the great Josef Albers who was an extraordinary disciplinarian. Albers taught color, and he taught drawing, and Rauschenberg felt that he never could please Albers in any of this but there was one course Albert taught that--Albers taught--that Rauschenberg felt was a lot of fun [in?]. Rauschenberg and Susan Weil had the detail of collecting--
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible]
Mary Lynn Kotz His wife--But they had the detail of collecting the trash. You know, at Black Mountain College which was a very small but very influential institute and institution in American culture. It was a democratic institution in which work and study were interspersed and everybody had chores so Bob and Susan collected the trash. They made art out of the trash. One of Albers' classes was a class in materials and he sent all of his students out into the countryside to pick up different kind of materials to study them: the weight, the texture, the three-dimensionality of objects because his idea was that if you paint or draw you have to know these things. And so this carried over into Rauschenberg's and Susan's art. Some of the other students thought they were just being silly when they made their art out of the trash and objects. They were having fun but at the same time this thread of using the ordinary, of making do, this Depres sion era thought of making do with with what you have became central to Bob's art.
Studs Terkel That's very funny, Depression phrase, Depression idea, making do. And out of making do we have Bob Rauschenberg's works today. Many [results?], the million too. There's an irony attached to all this, of course. I'm thinking about some of the patrons, the very wealthy ones who buy with something which a guy was using "making do" the ordinary thing which I think is [a little twist here?]. It's over and beyond writings in the book here. So we'll have to continue with Mary Lynn Kotz and her fascinating, more than that, revealing study of an artist today, Rauschenberg, a very influential one. And the book of Mary Lynn Kotz is, her writings and working, you, you kind of followed him around and about for about five years or so.
Mary Lynn Kotz I did. I spent, when I began the book I had no idea that Rauschenberg had been so prolific.
Studs Terkel And then of course that's it, as revealed here in the book the illustrations and the photographs of him at work and the colleagues in the country but also his works themselves. Abrams the publishers. Black Mountain College where he, Rauschenberg the student, went after Paris. We know this was also a school of much innovation and influence in literature , painting, music. John Cage was there too. That, but also the the new critics the [whole?]. But also artists of the '30s. Ben Shahn was teaching and he once saw some Rauschenberg's works. Rauschenberg and his friend Jasper Johns.
Mary Lynn Kotz Well Jasper Johns was not at Black Mountain. That came later.
Studs Terkel No, but he saw the work of--
Mary Lynn Kotz But Rauschenberg was a student at Black Mountain and Ben Shahn and Robert Motherwell were both teaching there. And as I was researching Black Mountain College I was amused and interested to know that they that Ben Shahn and Motherwell, of course Motherwell being the abstract expressionist and Ben Shahn being the social realist, had two groups of ideas about art, two groups of students who almost separated themselves into camps and Rauschenberg was a student of Motherwell's, but one day Ben Shahn came by and said, I would like to see your art. So Susan and Bob were so excited and they cleaned up their little apartment and put out their paintings and Ben Shahn came by with his children and he looked at them and he turned to the children and he said, Now this is an example of what is going on in New York. He said, I want you to learn what not to do.
Studs Terkel Yeah. The irony there--
Mary Lynn Kotz Which of course crushed Bob and Susan--
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. Of course there was, see this was a complete leap and a change from what could, what representational school of the '30s, of Jack Levine and Ben Shahn. But the fact that the irony is that these new artists agreed politically, socially, in every way with the others. You see, it was in the form.
Mary Lynn Kotz And I think that Rauschenberg ' s famous silkscreen print called "Signs," and which, which he did it in 1969 was with Janis, an image of Janis Joplin, of John Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of vehicles from the, military vehicles from the Vietnam War with an astronaut on it; that was as powerful a social message as Ben Johnson--as Ben Shahn's painting.
Studs Terkel In its own way. By the way there's the American aspect of Rauschenberg. Still coming back to home; reflections [and what?]. We have him traveling all over the world and using the indigenous materials to make his pigment or the white paint or whatever was used from the soil, from the area there. And, but there's still home. "Whistle Stop," you have one called "Whistle Stop" is a great example of an America as seen through his eyes, isn't it?
Mary Lynn Kotz "Whistle Stop" is in the Fort Worth Contemporary Art--
Mary Lynn Kotz It's a collage. Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art. It's called a spread. It is a painting in which he has used images that to him refer to Texas to Port Arthur to the America the American experience that he had while growing up and of course "Whistle Stop" is the, is, there's a little train lantern on it.
Studs Terkel [That's the center?].
Mary Lynn Kotz "Whistle Stop" was Port Arthur.
Studs Terkel Was--
Mary Lynn Kotz It, the painting was presented to the museum in memory of his father who did work on a little railway.
Studs Terkel As I look at the illustration of "Whistle Stop" here, the panels, it's a collage in a variety of panels and the center is this red lantern.
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes.
Studs Terkel And we know it's a railroad stop. Trains are passing through this town near the Gulf, not too far from the Gulf, and you have that and then you have [animals?] running through and you have a frame house. Oh by the way there's another painting about, with the light shines like it's a house frame. And I thought of Hopper for some reason. [And so and?] the light. A shaft of light. [I was thinking of it?]
Mary Lynn Kotz Well you know that when Rauschenberg in the '60s took art off the wall and out into the room so to speak, one of the things that caused such excitement was his use of light. He connected with the 20th century in that when other artists painted light into their paintings Rauschenberg simply plugged his in and he had many paintings that use actual electric lights or lights that are battery powered. It's--
Studs Terkel Oh he'd do that? By the, that;s the use? [Excuse me?]. Found objects, a piece of material, a hunk of furniture, whatever it might be in connection with the fabric of some sort and painting, and oil. Anything goes if it comprises a certain vision that he may have.
Mary Lynn Kotz Well these , these objects that he called have a name. They first were known as combines in the 1950s when he when Rauschenberg first brought art off the wall and into the room--
Studs Terkel Oh was that the word that were used? The combines?
Mary Lynn Kotz Combines, yes. Because he invented the word as Calder invented mobiles and Duchamp invented ready-mades, combines were something new that combined sculpture, painting, collage in a way that equaled something else.
Studs Terkel Course it's a great word. Combine is the word in farm life.
Studs Terkel The combine does the work of the tractor and a variety of other things and it's very--A farmer I can't live without a combine. It's a tremendous investment. So it's funny though the combine that Rauschenberg use serves the same purposes as a farmer's combine. It does a million and a half things.
Mary Lynn Kotz One of his most famous columbines is called "Monogram" and it is a stuffed Angora goat wearing a black automobile tire around its middle. It's a great contrast in textures and that's a combine. Another is called "Bed."
Studs Terkel Oh yeah, we've got to find that.
Mary Lynn Kotz It's his old North Carolina quilt. One day he totally ran out of money to buy canvas and so he started--He had the imperative to paint. He works all the time. He just never stops. And when he began painting on his quilt, it didn't work. It was still a quilt and he painted and he painted and he painted. Finally he added a pillow and he added a piece of a sheet and it became "Bed." It's a mythic piece that's now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But it was a combine of paint of objects of--
Studs Terkel This is not too removed from what you he years ago in Paris when he made that stole for that young student to go to the Paris Opera. That from a piece of a raggedy spread and a ribbon and ivy. And here he took a pillow and [unintelligible] and [unintelligible]. And also the tire figureds big in his life, the automobile tire. Somebody, he was in hog heaven. I just , I'm just casually flipping pages and his "Hog Heaven," a tire an actual tire is in the work, that is also--
Mary Lynn Kotz He likes that shape. He uses the tire throughout his career. He says when he needs something of that shape. But he also once said that tires were very important to him because they were the only way you could get out of Port Arthur.
Studs Terkel That's the phrase I reading just as you were saying it. [reading] "Tires symbolize the means for getting from one place to another in a state that covers such vast spaces." Talking about Texas now. "And for getting out of Port Arthur" [laughter]. By the way, I wtill want to stick with "Whistle Stop" because that to me is one of the most, of the metaphor for America he [has it?]. Its panels, even a piece of newspaper has a picture of a young woman; he says it could be his mother as a young woman. That's part of-- In this panel of many--
Studs Terkel The center as being the lantern.
Mary Lynn Kotz Leo Castelli who is his longtime art dealer in York told me that you have to take time to read a Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg doesn't give you a roadmap to his images but they each of them mean something to him. He doesn't tell you much about why he put those images in there; he wants you the viewer to make your own assumptions. He likes to make it hard for us. hHe wants us to have our own experience with his work. Nevertheless the images he use mean a lot to him.
Studs Terkel I put on "Whistle Stop," autobiography. [Unintelligible] [here's? his?] mother [adored?], they lived, they were very poor of course and so she made do, did many things, also made dresses for other women. [reading] "[Dora?] Rosenberg who had learned to sew because--" his mother [this is?] "as a girl she'd had to wear too many hand-me-downs." This is reading your text, Mary Lynn Kotz. "Made everyone's clothes. Bob Rauschenberg remembers she was famous--" here's the part, "in Port Arthur for arranging her paper patterns on the fabric so tightly that not an inch of cloth was wasted. And he says, that's where I learned collage." So that's interesting.
Mary Lynn Kotz And that's where he learned salvage. Bob Rauschenberg's studio in Captiva, Florida is an amazing place. It is filled with odds and ends of things, objects, fabrics, pieces of old automobiles, pieces of signs, things that he finds that he's going to use someday. And he does; they wind up in his art in one way or another. There are, and he still laughs about the Depression childhood; he never throws anything away. One of his more recent series is one in the '80s called "Salvage" in which he he began photographing. He came down the East Coast in a 1936 Ford and he was photographing cities in black and white; "In and Out of Cities" [sic] which became a series. Well from the photographs he then had silk screens made because he wanted to use those photographs to silkscreen costumes for the Trisha Brown Dance Company. So he had black and white photographs silkscreened onto the costumes. Well as he was silkscreening them he noticed that the linen mat below the silk became quite beautiful because the images, the ink bled right through the silk and onto the mats below so he used those; he began a new series called "Salvage" from that. He used those images and then he added paint the way he had painted over his silkscreen images in the 1960s when he was experimenting with alongside Andy Warhol. So he he uses one series and that leads and the materials from that series lead to an idea that leads to another series. And he's, he has a great economy of not only putting his images on canvas but of putting his materials to use in other, and his images to use in other--
Studs Terkel I was thinking of something else, you mentioned Trisha Brown Dance Company. See you think of Rauschenberg you think of motion too.
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes.
Studs Terkel Dance. Course he knew and worked with Merce Cunningham and John Cage and space is a big aspect of theirs. Space. And so here again this is in his work too, isn't it?
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes.
Mary Lynn Kotz Rauschenberg was in the very first Happening. Remember the happenings of--
Studs Terkel Yeah, I [heard?].
Mary Lynn Kotz The '50s and '60s? Well Bob was in the very first happening with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in which you know words and music and art were all presented together as a performance. So performance art became one of Rauschenberg's--
Studs Terkel So the word--Now I know where the word performance art comes from. I never could figure that one out. I thought performance is a performance, but performance as a combination of different aspects to it.
Mary Lynn Kotz Indeed, that was still yet another combine of Rauschenberg's.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Mary Lynn Kotz and the book her book is "Rauschenberg: His Life and Art" and it's a Abrams book which of course tells you that it's a beautiful book. Of course illustrations. Art books are primarily their repertoire in books and it's your text and understanding of Rauschenberg and his work that makes it so exciting a work. And so we think of Rauschenberg and the different materials he works, but also scope, scale. Being from Texas must play a role, he was--Wasn't one of the biggest one ever?
Mary Lynn Kotz The biggest painting in the world. It's called "The 1/4 Mile Piece." It opened in the the new Wallace Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At last count it was 790 feet long and still growing. I called it this, his State of the Universe message; indeed that's how I got involved with Rauschenberg from the very beginning when I wrote an article in "Art News" called the "State of the Universe Message."
Studs Terkel Oh, this came about, your interest in Rauschenberg because of the piece you wrote for "Art News"?
Mary Lynn Kotz Yes. And then I was asked by our publisher to write the book.
Studs Terkel I know. I just, I just found it. The piece I said reminded me of Edward Hopper, a shaft of light. It's called "Quiet House" and it's a photograph--Oh I forgot, it's photography, it's designing, it's print making, it's everything.
Mary Lynn Kotz Art in technology.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Mary Lynn Kotz Rauschenberg has been such an an innovator. He is I believe the most one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He is known in Europe as the man who symbolized the shift of the capital in the art world from Paris to New York. His innovations are legendary. You're talking about this photograph called "Quiet House."
Studs Terkel "Quiet House" and there's a shaft, there are two chairs simple chairs straw seats upright facing us against a wall. Quiet wall I'd say. And two shafts of white light slit through it.
Mary Lynn Kotz This is a very beautiful photograph from "Quiet House at Black Mountain College." It is on exhibition at a show of Rauschenberg work in the 1950s, that is in the Menil Collection at this moment in Houston. It began at the Corcoran in Washington that will be in Chicago in next February.
Studs Terkel Oh, there will be an exhibition--Earliest.
Mary Lynn Kotz Of the earliest, Rauschenberg's earliest work. And this this year at Rauschenberg's sixty-fifth, the sixty-fifth year of his life it's almost like a Rauschenberg renaissance. There was a big exhibition at the Whitney, the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, and then this moving exhibition. I think it's a wonderful American story of a person from an ordinary background who achieves extraordinary things and at 65 has a new chapter in his life and a new--
Studs Terkel Now he tries all sorts of experiments and I must admit that I get lost, I am, because once I was in Sweden, I was there for a book, anyway I was in Stockholm. At that time a party of artists, fans, and beautiful people flew in [you know?] for Rauschenberg's exhibition in a castle and by some mistake I was invited there too. So I saw it and I couldn't [unintelligible]. It was it was mud. It was, I wish I could figure it out. It was mud that was bubbling. It was hot mud that was bubbling--
Mary Lynn Kotz It was called--
Studs Terkel And people were observing it with some sense of awe. And I was observing it with a sense of some bewilderment.
Mary Lynn Kotz It was called "Mud Muse."
Studs Terkel Yeah that was, yeah that was it.
Mary Lynn Kotz It was made for an exhibition for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art which one of Rauschenberg's very dearest notions, the marriage of art and technology, could be could be illustrated.
Mary Lynn Kotz So "Mud Muse" was supposed to respond to the noise and and the weight of the viewers in the room. In other words when you walked by that portion of the big trough or tray of bubbling mud, the bubbles would appear and the sounds would appear and you had actually created that. Now that was a very difficult feat of technology in those days. But the mud meant a lot to Rauschenberg because he felt the just the elemental pull of of the earth. He was talking about the earth itself, about, here the most basic element on the planet and he's so deeply committed to trying to preserve the environment. The most basic element on the planet what we came out of the mud we play with the mud we we love the mud as children. And what is so basic is mud to be married to the most innovative at that time of our technologies: the ability to of science to respond with motion to sound as the viewer walks by.
Studs Terkel Mary Lynn, that's a great explanation. It's a great explanation but all I know is [Thommy Berggren?] an actor and I saw that and we looked and we looked and we looked and then we said, Let's have a drink. [Laughter]. In any event we know that Rauschenberg is provocative and inventive and not everything that he does or that he seeks to do may be comprehensible to people or for that matter has to be. I don't know. That moment I must admit was one that escaped me. But the fact that he has changed the way we look at things and influenced art and the [world?] critics [stand?] and works in other countries with this group called the Rauschenberg Overseas--
Mary Lynn Kotz Culture Interchange.
Studs Terkel Culture Interchange--
Mary Lynn Kotz ROCI.
Studs Terkel Is terribly important and very moving. And so is the book.
Studs Terkel Very revealing. This by way of thanking you very much. It's simply called "Rauschenberg" and it's an Abrams book--
Mary Lynn Kotz "Rauschenberg: Art and Life."
Studs Terkel And the subtitle "Art and Life." And Abrams the publisher , Mary Lynn Kotz the author of it. Thank you very much.
Mary Lynn Kotz Thank you so much.
Studs Terkel And now where we end is where we began. We end with with Janet [sic] Joplin of his hometown Port Arthur. And that phrase, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," which is I imagine his credo too, into Cage and a Prepared Piano. [content removed, see catalog record]