Off the Wall A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg

Calvin Tomkins




Trade Paperback

352 Pages


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Calvin Tomkins first discovered the work of Robert Rauschenberg in the late 1950s, when he began to look seriously at contemporary art. While gazing at Rauschenberg's painting Double Feature, Tomkins felt compelled to make some kind of literal connection to the work, and it is in that sprit that "for the last forty years it's been [his] ambition to write about contemporary art not as a critic or a judge, but as a participant." Tomkins has spent many of those years writing about Robert Rauschenberg, whom he rapidly came to see as "one of the most inventive and influential artists of his generation." So it seemed natural to make Rauschenberg the focus of Off the Wall, which deals with the radical changes that have made advanced visual art such a powerful force in the world.

Off the Wall chronicles the astonishingly creative period of the 1950s and 1960s, a high point in American art. In his collaborations with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and as a pivotal figure linking abstract expressionism and pop art, Rauschenberg was part of a revolution during which artists moved art off the walls of museums and galleries and into the center of the social scene. Rauschenberg's vitally important and productive career spans this revolution, reaching beyond it to the present day. Tomkins features the artists and the art world surrounding Rauschenberg—from Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning to Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol, together with dealers Betty Parsons, and Leo Castelli, and the patron Peggy Guggenheim—portraying the inventive accomplishments of one of America's most original and inspiring artists.


Praise for Off the Wall

"I commend Calvin Tomkins, as Bernard Berenson did Vasari, for 'being a singularly warm, generous, and appreciative critic.'"—The New York Times Book Review

"As chronicler of the avant-garde for The New Yorker, Calvin Tomkins has specialized in rendering the esoteric doings of artists comprehensible."—The Washington Post Book World

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Venice, 1964

More than once during the chaotic week before the opening, Alan Solomon, the United States Commissioner for the 1964 Venice Biennale, had the distinct impression that too many people were trying in too many languages to tell him what to do. Some of them, like Alice Denney, his outspoken Vice-Commissioner, thought he was being too aggressive, too demanding. Leo Castelli seemed to think he was not being aggressive enough. Castelli's New York gallery represented both Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, which gave him a certain leverage. All the same it was
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  • Calvin Tomkins

  • Calvin Tomkins, a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1960, has written more than a dozen books, including the bestseller Living Well Is the Best Revenge, Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Bride and the Bachelors, and his highly acclaimed biography Duchamp. He lives in New York City with his wife Dodie Kazanjian.