If you’ve ever studied Andy Warhol, you’ve seen whispers of Robert Rauschenberg, who allegedly once remarked to Warhol in the iconic pop artist’s studio that his now-famous silk-screened Coca-Cola bottles were reminiscent of a piece he’d completed five years earlier.
The two pieces are admittedly similar. Historians and critics have always referred to the two artists as contemporaries, even while Warhol gained the immense fame that Rauschenberg never seemed to envy.
In Englewood, Rauschenberg’s art stands alone, neither in the shadow nor outshining the work of the modern art of others who he inspired and was inspired by. The Museum of Outdoor Arts is featuring an extensive look at the Texas-born artist through mid-June.
Rauschenberg’s art is crisp, layered, and most of all, modern. A fresh look at a piece nearly always reveals some new element. Even MOA staffers say a month after installation they’re still always discovering some new aspect to appreciate in “Reflections and Ruminations,” the collection of art that spans the artist’s career from 1968 until 2008, when Rauschenberg died.
The exhibit, which has taken nearly five years to develop, highlights Rauschenberg’s vibrant “combine style,” which was often completed with the help of collaborations with other creatives, like Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky on a set of lithographs in the late 1970s. They’re included in the exhibit.
Working with Voznesensky was just the beginning of cultural collaborations. Later, Rauscenberg developed the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange — ROCI, which he pronounced “Rocky,” like his pet turtle — where he traveled all over the world with an exhibit that was meant to be a “cultural exchange” program. At the time it finished, in 1991 in Washington D.C., it was among the most extensive global art undertakings ever seen.
While MOA has gone beyond its moniker of only featuring outdoor art, like last year’s interactive, Meow Wolf-like Natura Obscura, Tim Vacca, director of programs at the museum, said the Rauschenberg exhibit echos the playfulness and experimental energy that has always been core to MOA’s existence.
Rauschenberg made prints, paintings and sculptures. He worked with poets and designed costumes.
“You couldn’t put him in a box,” Vacca said.
The impressive collection MOA is featuring is no coincidence. Museum director Cynthia Madden Leitner first met the artist on Captiva Island, Florida. Her parents, longtime residents of the state, introduced the two. Decades later her dad offered pieces from his own collection for the exhibit.
The similarities between Rauschenberg and MOA weren’t lost on Madden Leitner.
“It’s an honor to host the largest public exhibition of Rauschenberg works ever to be shown in Colorado. Rauschenberg was reputed for his working style of producing art with all types of artists from every discipline,” she said. “For the past 28 years, MOA’s Design and Build program has continued to model his example of collaboration. The program was built upon the criteria of intern groups —with an array of talents —that are charged with creating thematic exhibitions, public space environments, and performance production, together.”
In true MOA and Rauschenberg fashion, the museum is collaborating with partners and the community throughout the exhibit with talks, workshops and demonstrations. A complete list of events can be found at www.moaonline.org.