Robert Rauschenberg, the man who once said he wanted to act in the gap between art and life, has departed this life, dying on Monday at the age of 82 in his home on the island of Captiva, off Florida’s Gulf coast. There are few things that the men and women who run the culture industry enjoy more than shedding some tears over the passing of a bohemian bad boy who lived a full life, and in the next few weeks, there will be many salutes to Rauschenberg and his times. We will see him as a student at Black Mountain College, in the hardscrabble downtown New York days of the 1950s, and winning a Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1964. While the truth is that a lot of people who loved Pop Art never thought Rauschenberg was anywhere near as important as Johns or Warhol, for some years there was a general agreement that he was America’s unofficial avant-garde ambassador-at-large, spreading the anything-can-be-art Dadaist gospel to the four corners of the earth, teaching people all over the world that, by god, you too can make a collage, you too can act in the gap between art and life. The only trouble with all of this was that there never has been a gap between art and life. There is art. There is life. For all I know, Rauschenberg’s has been a life well lived. As for his art, it stank in the 1950s and it doesn’t look any better today.
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