Praise is one thing he never had from his parents. He tells how, after earning acclaim as an artist, he went home for a visit, and one night after supper his father asked to have a talk with him. Rauschenberg puts on a heavy Texas twang as he imitates his father saying, “Now if you ever wondered why me and your mother didn’t want you to be an artist, well, we were wrong.” As Rauschenberg awaited what he envisioned as a dramatic movie moment—the emotional father-son rapprochement—he remembers his father adding, “You know what? We never knew you could sell that shit.”
His mother, who died this year well into her 90s, never did come around to his style of work either. Once, when a hurricane was headed for her home in Lafayette, Louisiana, she hoarded up the windows with paintings Rauschenberg had stored in her garage. The real punchline: When he asked her which way she faced them on the living room’s picture window, she told him, “I turned ‘em inside. You think I want the neighbors to know what you do?”
Rauschenberg ends each story with a burst of laughter. “All ego in me somehow—between my father, my mother and Albers—it’s just disappeared,” he says.
That absence of ego is perhaps what has made the artist fearless. “He is not afraid of making a lot of work,” Glimcher says. The question of whether it’s good, he adds, “doesn’t really come to him. It’s work; it’s part of the process of living.”
Today Rauschenberg isn’t just an artist; he’s practically a conglomerate. He has a studio on Captiva and a warehouse and staff in New York. He also has a foundation, which last spring promised to donate more than 100 major works to the Guggenheim Museum, provided the proposed new Guggenheim in New York is built.
He’s finished the work for his new show, called “Apogamy Pods.” The paintings, on irregularly shaped canvases, are named for a type of reproduction that occurs without contact fertilization. Rauschenberg’s goal was to keep the parts of the painting from relating to one another, so, for example, a pencil line is used to separate, not to connect, images. The canvases are largely blank, in stark contrast to the busy Synapsis Shuffle.
Glimcher says he expects the show to be “astonishing,” but he doesn’t expect everyone to get it. “Very often the toughest work is the best,” he says. “But that can’t be seen at the time, because the artist’s perception is in advance of the public’s.”
Whatever the reception at the opening, the one certainty is that Rauschenberg will be back making more art the next day. He’s already antsy, in fact. He mentions the possibility of doing a music project, and he’s begun a series called “Ruminations”—using old photos of his parents, Johns painting a flag and Well pregnant with Christopher—now hanging in a room off the kitchen. Photography is his favorite part of work. “I’ve always said that I’m more a reporter than I am a painter,” he says.