Rauschenberg and Warhol: A two-way street
Posted by Leslie on November 12, 2008 - 12:13pm
Categories: On the Walls

The first floor has been reinstalled with The Collection and Then Some, and there are some great juxtapositions of works. For instance, Robert Rauschenberg’s Whistle Stop (Spread), 1977 makes its debut in the new building across from Andy Warhol’s Twenty-Five Colored Marilyns, 1962. Though visually distinct, there are some interesting links between the two artists. Warhol credits Rauschenberg’s innovative combines of the 1950s with paving the way for his own inclusion of everyday objects in his Pop Art works of the 1960s.

Rauschenberg’s Whistle Stop has a particularly interesting background with the Museum. It was commissioned by the Modern (then known as the Fort Worth Art Museum) in 1976 and speaks to Rauschenberg’s Texas connection. Born in Port Arthur, TX in 1925, the artist decided to utilize the commission to make a work dedicated to his father and hometown. A “whistle stop” is a small-town railroad station where the trains only stop if the light is flashing. The work’s actual flashing red light adds a level of animation to the piece. The inclusion of other nontraditional elements, such as real swinging doors and about fifty reproductions of photographs, newsprint, comics, diagrams, and maps, relate this to Rauschenberg’s combines – his assemblages comprised of found objects begun in the mid-1950s. In reaction to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, Rauschenberg wanted to use immediately recognizable objects from everyday life. Some of the various associations generated by the disparate objects seem to relate to small-town life or to his father’s personal interests like hunting, but many are completely open-ended and create different associations for individual viewers.  

Rauschenberg’s use of common materials paved the way for the Pop Art movement with which Andy Warhol was associated. Warhol has stated that Rauschenberg’s use of everyday objects in the combines made it possible for him to include things like soup cans and publicity photographs of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe in his own work. But the influence was not a one-way street; in fact, it was Warhol who taught Rauschenberg the technique of photosilkscreening. Considering the influential back-and-forth exchange of information and ideas between the two artists, it is very interesting to see their work hanging across from one another. Warhol seems cool and ironic, while Rauschenberg seems earnest and even sentimental, but both demand viewers contemplate the role of everyday objects and images in the context of the art museum.