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Pop artists absorbed and borrowed from popular culture, challenging notions of originality and what it means to be an artist.


Robert Rauschenberg
(American, 1925–2008)

1955. Oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet on wood supports, 75 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 8" (191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm)

Bed is one of Rauschenberg’s first “combines,” the artist’s term for his technique of attaching found objects, such as tires or old furniture, to a traditional canvas support. In this work, he took a well-worn pillow, sheet, and quilt, scribbled on them with pencil, and splashed them with paint in a style similar to that of Abstract Expressionist “drip” painter Jackson Pollock.

Legend has it that these are Rauschenberg’s own pillow and blanket, which he used when he could not afford to buy a new canvas. Hung on the wall like a traditional painting, his bed, still made, becomes a sort of intimate self-portrait consistent with  Rauschenberg’s assertion that “painting relates to both art and life…[and] I try to act in that gap between the two.”

Rosetta Brooks. 2008. Rosetta Brooks Interviews Robert Rauschenberg. Retrieved August 27, 2012 from

One who applies paint to canvas, wood, paper, or another support to produce a picture.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.

A representation of oneself made by oneself.

An object—often utilitarian, manufactured, or naturally occurring—that was not originally designed for an artistic purpose, but has been repurposed in an artistic context.

The technique of affixing cast-off items to a traditional support, like a canvas.

The dominant artistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the first to place New York City at the forefront of international modern art. The associated artists developed greatly varying stylistic approaches, but shared a commitment to an abstract art that powerfully expresses personal convictions and profound human values. They championed bold, gestural abstraction in all mediums, particularly large painted canvases.

A Pioneer of Pop
Many art historians consider Rauschenberg a predecessor of Pop, who laid the groundwork for a fully-fledged Pop art movement in the 1960s. Like many of his combines, Bed (1955) contains elements of both postwar abstract painting and everyday found materials.

The Element of Surprise
For Rauschenberg, the combines were about discovery and chance: “I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.”1


SLIDESHOW: See snapshots of Rauschenberg’s artwork in the MoMA galleries. Share your photos to this Flickr set by tagging them “Rauschenberg MoMA”

Take a Closer Look Click or tap on the highlighted details.


Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008)