Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends


Robert Rauschenberg with Toby Fitch, Harold Hodges and Billy Klüver. Oracle. 1962-1965

Robert Rauschenberg with Toby Fitch, Harold Hodges and Billy Klüver. Oracle, 1962–65. Five-part found-metal assemblage with five concealed remote-controlled radios: exhaust pipe on metal axle and pushcart wheels; automobile door on wheeled typewriter table, with crushed metal; ventilation duct, water, and concealed showerhead in washtub on wheels, with chain, wire basket, and metal lid on wheels; constructed staircase control unit housing automobile tire and batteries and other electronic components on wheels; and wooden window frame with ventilation duct on wood support with wheels. Technical upgrades were made by the engineers Per Biorn and Ted Dillenkofer in 1997. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Schlumberger

Leah Dickerman: Oracle is a work that came out of a collaboration with Billy Klüver, a Swedish engineer working with Bell Labs. Klüver and Rauschenberg went to the junk yard, and put together this five-part, found-metal assemblage sculpture. And they fitted this sculpture with cutting-edge wireless transistor circuitry that was being developed at Bell Labs at the time. These sculptural elements would pull sound from the radio waves; some static, some voices, some bits of song into a fragmented image of the contemporary sound world.

Julie Martin collaborated with Rauschenberg and Klüver.

Julie Martin: The idea was to have five radios in one of the pieces. And then their sound would be broadcast to amplifiers and speakers in the other four pieces. And it was just very difficult. There was too much interference. Billy and Harold Hodges worked for several years on systems. Finally, there developed on the market a crystal-controlled FM transmitter which they could use to transmit the sound from the control console to the other pieces.

Leah Dickerman: Bell Labs was the place where transistor technology was being developed. And of course, transistors are the foundation block for the digital world that we know today. Rauschenberg saw technology as part of the adventure of contemporary life, and he always wanted to integrate the most cutting-edge, the most avant-garde technology.

Julie Martin: And Billy always said that as you walked among the pieces, it felt like you were walking down the street on, say, the Lower East Side on a summer day when the windows are open, and you hear snatches of radios coming from different places.

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