Reviewed April 2014
Craig Bunch, Assistant Librarian
McNay Art Museum
craig.bunch@mcnayart.org

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With the Rauschenberg Research Project, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) makes freely available online its impressive Rauschenberg collectionin “… newly commissioned essays, 

numerous images, interview footage, artist’s statements, conservation reports, and archival materials, which together provide new insights into the artist’s work.” The project was produced by the museum “… under the auspices of the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative, with the support of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.” Distinguished contributors listed on the home page wrote—in most cases—one or more of the lengthy essays attached to selected artworks.

Rauschenberg_Research_Project_3Eighty-eight of Rauschenberg’s works dating from 1949 to 1997 are currently documented. Of this total, thirty are from the Stoned Moon series (1969-1970) and twenty-two are from the Tribute 21 series (1994), while another six represent the Chow Bag series (1977). Images of all eighty-eight, arranged chronologically, are easily viewable at a glance by scrolling down the home page.For this reviewer, the experience was far more satisfying on a laptop than on a Windows Phone (due primarily to the former’s much larger images, text, and screen size). The website is accessible without the need for an account or special software. Downloads of low-resolution images suitable for PowerPoint presentations are allowed for educational purposes.

Documentation attached to a somewhat randomly selected artwork will give an idea of the Rauschenberg Research Project’s coverage. Susan Davidson’s essay of several thousand words gives an overview of the artist’s early career before honing in on Mother of God (ca. 1950). In addition, there are six views of the artwork, one museum file, and one “commentary + interview.” The “commentary + interview” is a twelve-minute video of Rauschenberg discussing Mother of Godwith Walter Hopps and David A. Ross in 1999; this links to a transcript of both the full 1999 interview and this twelve-minute excerpt.

Some artworks, such as the celebrated Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), have more documentation; many, especially in the aforementioned Stoned Moon, Tribute 21, and Chow Bag series, have less. “Ownership, exhibition, and publication histories as well as a record of marks and inscriptions may be found on the Overview page for each artwork, except in the case of prints, whose exhibition histories have not been documented” according to the User Guide and confirmed by this reviewer.

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The images, essays, museum files, and transcripts would not be out of place in an unusually well-documented collection or exhibition catalogue. The Rauschenberg Research Project may well be most useful to those without easy access to rich Rauschenberg resources in local museums and libraries. Christine Choi, SFMOMA’s Assistant Manager of Communications, e-mailed me that “…the idea is for documentation to grow as our holdings/research increase.” This is a decided advantage over print. So are the videos. Another reason to celebrate the Rauschenberg Research Project is the void it should help to fill while SFMOMA is closed for three years of renovation. The Related Information page links to documents from SFMOMA and from “around the Internet” (including the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Archive of American Art’s 1965 oral history, and the Black Mountain College Project). A link to the extensive Rauschenberg images and supporting data provided by the Museum of Modern Art in New York would fit well here.