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Robert Rauschenberg

Open Score (background)

Open Score brought together two of Robert Rauschenberg’s concerns in the 1960s: technology and performance. These concerns led him to collaborate during this period with the artists (particularly those of the Judson Dance Theater) and some of the engineers involved in 9 Evenings, making Rauschenberg one of the key figures to participate in this event. In a follow-up to the festival, Rauschenberg would become one of the founding members of E.A.T (Experiments in Art and Technology) (1).

Interested as he was in sound and movement, as well as in viewers’ interactions with artworks (from the late 1950s on), Rauschenberg integrated technological elements into his works. Thus Broadcast, a “combine painting” from 1959, included three radios whose stations viewers could change at will. In 1960, Rauschenberg met Billy Klüver while the two were working on Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York. This marked the beginning of a prolific collaboration that was to culminate in Oracle (1962-1965). (2) For this work, Klüver enlisted the assistance of two other engineers who were also involved in 9 Evenings, Per Biorn and Harold Hodges.

If we consider that, in a general manner, Rauschenberg’s art practice possessed a performance component (3) then his participation in actual performances becomes an important aspect of his work. One of his first performance experiences was with John Cage’s Untitled Event, which took place at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952. In this piece, some of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings were hung from a ceiling, where they served as backdrops for cast shadows. These paintings would be echoed in the screens of Open Score (1966), which carried infrared images of a crowd that came out onto the blacked-out stage of the New York Armory during the second and ninth of the 9 Evenings. Moreover, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Rauschenberg did lighting, sets and costumes for Merce Cunningham’s dance pieces, the music for which was often composed by John Cage and performed by David Tudor. Alex Hay was Rauschenberg’s assistant at the time.

In 1963, Rauschenberg went to the Judson Dance Theater to work as a lighting technician and, occasionally, as a dancer. From 1963 to 1967, he staged and interpreted his own performances, which attributed equal weight to the performer and various elements of the set. Microphones were frequently used to amplify the sounds produced by the costumes and other accessories — Linoleum (April 1966) is a case in point. Billy Klüver generally oversaw the technical aspects. We find the same treatment of sound in Open Score, which used an FM transmitter and contact microphone fitted to the handles of two tennis racquets to amplify the sound of a ball hitting the strings. In developing his performances, Rauschenberg generally worked from the characteristics of the venue. At the time 9 Evenings took place, the premises of the New York Armory were being used not for art shows, but for tennis matches. So, in Open Score, the site is diverted from its usual purpose.

Clarisse Bardiot © 2006 FDL

(1) Founded in 1966 by Billy Klüver, Fred Waldhauer, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman, E.A.T. was a non-profit organization active mainly during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Its mandate was to bring together art, science and industry around projects that would draw upon the knowledge and skills of each sector.

(2) For a detailed account of this collaboration, see Billy Klüver and Julie Martin, “Working With Rauschenberg” in Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective (New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1998).

(3) “Rauschenberg’s art is performative.” See Nancy Spector, “Rauschenberg and Performance, 1963-1967: A ‘Poetry of Infinite Possibilities’,” ibid., p.228.