It is now well known that Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns showed at the eighth International Exhibition of Surrealism (EROS) at the galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris in 1959-60 during the period before Neo-Dada became a settled term in art criticism and before art history consigned the art of Rauschenberg and Johns to a lineage that was Duchampian rather than Surrealist. This paper demonstrates that this was only one example of several Surrealist display contexts for Rauschenberg’s signature work Bed (1955) that are currently absent from the major exhibition histories of the artist’s oeuvre. It also reveals that Rauschenberg’s Combines were the subject of multiple Surrealist interpretations from that year at EROS and elsewhere until 1969, which have equally been lost to art history. Yet the ‘Surrealist Rauschenberg’ has distinct similarities to the postmodern version of the artist that was being incubated by Leo Steinberg across precisely that period and has become a standard reading. It will be argued that consideration of the long history of Surrealism, still resisted by art history, not only informs our understanding of the early display history of Rauschenberg’s art, but also impacts and augments the critical reception that followed and remains with us.
Gavin Parkinson is Professor of European Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London and was editor of the Ashgate and Routledge series Studies in Surrealism. He has published numerous essays and articles, mainly on Surrealism. His books are Enchanted Ground: André Breton, Modernism and the Surrealist Appraisal of Fin-de-Siècle Painting (Bloomsbury 2018), Futures of Surrealism (YUP 2015), Surrealism, Art and Modern Science (YUP 2008), The Duchamp Book (Tate Publishing 2008) and the edited collection Surrealism, Science Fiction and Comics (LUP 2015). His book Robert Rauschenberg and Surrealism: Art History, ‘Sensibility’ and War in the 1960s is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2023.
Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld)
The Centre for American Art is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art