Robert Rauschenberg is one of the most important visual artists of the second half of the twentieth century. In Random Order, Branden Joseph examines Rauschenberg's work in the context of the American neo-avant-garde. One of the foundations of his study is Rauschenberg's professional relationship with experimental composer John Cage. From the moment of their encounter at Black Mountain College in 1952, Joseph argues, Rauschenberg and Cage initiated a new avant-garde project, one that approached the idea of difference t in terms of negation but as a positive force. Claiming that Rauschenberg's work cant be understood solely from the standpoint of the Frankfurt School -- whose theories have dominated discussions of avant-garde and neo-avant-garde aesthetics -- Joseph turns to the theoretical positions of Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida. Rauschenberg's neo-avant-garde was t a simple repetition of earlier avant-garde movements, Joseph shows, but a series of practices that opposed the rise of postwar spectacle, commodification, and mass conformity. Beginning with the White Paintings, Joseph examines Rauschenberg's artistic development from 1951 to 1971. He looks at the black paintings, Red Paintings, Elemental Paintings and Elemental Sculptures, Combines and Combine paintings, transfer drawings and silkscreens, performances, and explorations in art and techlogy. Joseph's study t only offers new interpretations of Rauschenberg's work, but also deepens our understanding of the entire neo-avant-garde project.
Branden W. Joseph is Frank Gallipoli Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and an editor of the journal Grey Room (MIT Press).