cover image Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History

Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History

Edited by Sara Sinclair, with Peter Bearman and Mary Marshall Clark. Columbia Univ, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-231-19276-7

Sinclair, a project manager at the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, expertly traces the life of innovative and charismatic artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008). In this insightful collection of interviews with relatives, collaborators, friends, lovers, and critics, Sinclair shows how Rauschenberg’s intense social life helped form and develop the contemporary art world. Everything was a collaboration for Rauschenberg and his milieu, from partying to creating art. Participants such as musician Laurie Anderson, art dealer Arne Glimcher, dancer Deborah Hay, and choreographer Yvonne Rainer describe the artist’s formative years, as well as the budding 1950s–60s New York art scene (on attending Rauschenberg’s first show at Castelli Gallery in 1955, Rainer said, “I nearly rolled on the ground with laughter”), the collaborations redefining boundaries of visual and performance arts (Rauschenberg often worked with choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage), and the relationship of SoHo’s art scene with Rauschenberg’s famous compound at 381 Lafayette Street. The narrative follows his move to Captiva, Fla., in the 1970s, as well as the commercialization of contemporary art (“Through a historic lens... [Rauschenberg] didn’t sell well at all,” says Susan Davidson, Guggenheim Museum curator). The informative and entertaining voices of this solid work are as idiosyncratic as the artist himself. This is an excellent history for fans of Rauschenberg and mid-20th-century art. [em](Aug.) [/em]