Bed is one of Robert Rauschenberg's first Combines, works in which he affixed cast-off items, such as tires or old furniture, to a traditional support. Here he framed a well-worn pillow, sheet, and quilt, scribbled on them with pencil, and splashed them with paint in a style reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism. These bedclothes, legend has it, were Rauschenberg’s own, and the work is thus as personal as a self-portrait, or more so. "Painting relates to both art and life," Rauschenberg said. "(I try to act in that gap between the two.)"
Gallery label from 2011.
Bed is one of Rauschenberg's first Combines, his own term for his technique of attaching cast–off items, such as rubber tires or old furniture, to a traditional support. In this case he framed a well–worn pillow, sheet, and quilt, scribbled them with pencil, and splashed them with paint, in a style derived from Abstract Expressionism. In mocking the seriousness of that ambitious art, Rauschenberg predicted an attitude more widespread among later generations of artists—the Pop artists, for example, who also appreciated Rauschenberg's relish for everyday objects.
Legend has it that the bedclothes in Bed are Rauschenberg's own, pressed into use when he lacked the money to buy a canvas. Since the artist himself probably slept under this very sheet and quilt, Bed is as personal as a self-portrait, or more so—a quality consistent with Rauschenberg's statement, "Painting relates to both art and life. . . . (I try to act in that gap between the two)." Although the materials here come from a bed, and are arranged like one, Rauschenberg has hung them on the wall, like a work of art. So the bed loses its function, but not its associations with sleep, dreams, illness, sex—the most intimate moments in life. Critics have also projected onto the fluid-drenched fabric connotations of violence and morbidity.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 207.
Robert Rauschenberg is widely regarded as a predecessor of the Pop artists, because of his incorporation of the stuff of everyday life—including anything that caught his imagination, from rubber tires to light bulbs—into his wide-ranging work. In many of his works, like Bed, he merged elements of postwar abstract painting with found objects.
Bed is one of Rauschenberg’s first combines, a term he coined to describe the works resulting from his technique of attaching found objects to a traditional canvas support. In this work, however, there is no canvas. The artist took a well-worn pillow, sheet, and quilt, scribbled on them with pencil, splashed them with paint in a style similar to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, and hung the entire ensemble on the wall.
The story goes that Rauschenberg used his own bedding to make Bed, because he could not afford to buy a new canvas. “It was very simply put together, because I actually had nothing to paint on,” he reflected years later, in 2006. “Except it was summertime, it was hot, so I didn’t need the quilt. So the quilt was, I thought, abstracted. But it wasn’t abstracted enough, so that no matter what I did to it, it kept saying, ‘I’m a bed.’ So, finally I gave in and I gave it a pillow.”
Hung on the wall like a traditional painting, his bed becomes a sort of intimate self-portrait consistent with his assertion that “painting relates to both art and life…I try to act in that gap between the two.”