Robert Rauschenberg Reading Dante
In 1958, Robert Rauschenberg decided to illustrate Dante’s Inferno, a project that would take him two full years and leaving New York for Florida to complete. It was a bizarre endeavor, seemingly out of place when placed next to his material-heavy sculptures and his austere white paintings from the early ’50s. The Dante project, however, would have a profound effect on Rauschenberg’s career, acting as a transition between his combine paintings and his more photographic silkscreens. The drawings were also timely, receiving key critical support in Milan’s Metro which contributed to Rauschenberg’s famous win of the Grand Prix at the 1964 Venice Biennial.
Since then, the Dante drawings have been displayed rarely and written about even less. The few approaches to the drawings are either iconographical readings focused on Rauschenberg’s homosexuality or theoretical readings dependent on postmodern paradigms to provide meaning. Over the years, much valuable information about the project has fallen away, prohibiting a clear vision of what is actually happening in the drawings: a dynamic formal display associated with both Rauschenberg’s previous work and the social climate of the late ’50s. This thesis seeks to offer an alternative to those readings of the drawings which fall into theoretical camps tied to overly specific and therefore limiting ideologies. It reveals important formal and historical considerations that tie the drawings to influences that are sometimes surprising or lost. I will discuss Rauschenberg’s 1953 trip to Rome that edified the theme of travel and the serial accumulation of experience in Rauschenberg’s work, concepts he continues to explore to this day. Furthermore, I will add Cy Twombly and Michael Sonnabend to the list of influences thought to inform the drawings. These influences complicate the postmodern theoretical relationship between the drawings and the photographic condition of art and expand the interpretation of queer theorists who see the drawings as the personal reaction of Rauschenberg to his crumbling relationship with Johns.
Upon completing a BA in Psychology at the University of Dallas, Ed Schad worked as a missionary in Kenya for one year. Returning to the U.S. and moving to Chicago, he worked as a curatorial intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art and has presented papers at conferences at the University of Oregon and in San Diego. In May 2005, he curated Touch at the Higher Gallery in Chicago.
Thesis Advisor: David Raskin, Assistant Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Thesis Reader: Lisa Wainwright, Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Dean of Graduate Studies
Charles Stuckey, Adjunct Associate Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism