Is it art? Of course it is! Me and Robert Rauschenberg’s Goat
You might have noticed that Robert Rauschenberg’s Goat has been doing the rounds in the UK press recently. It’s coming to London, to the Tate Modern, as part of the first major retrospective of the American artist’s work since his death in 2008.
Whilst all the inevitable ‘Is it art?’ debates get ready to kick in, I’d just like to take a moment to say, ‘Yes! It is art!’ And more than that, it’s actually my favourite piece of art from my childhood. It’s obviously an artwork that will raise the curiosity of a kid, and yet will make clear that art is not onlyfigurative paintings, but can be anything. Even a goat.
This important principle is something I’m reminded of every day when I look through the’latest’ page on Artfinder. Art isn’t just painting, isn’t just figurative — art is everything that is created with artistic purpose.
I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in Stockholm with Moderna Museet, one of the best modern art museums in the world, and in a family with art-loving parents (my father is a graduate of Konstfack, the major college of arts, crafts and design in Sweden).
Moderna Museet has had a tremendous impact on my art interest. It was founded at the end of the 50s, but really took off when the amazing Pontus Hultén took the helm in 1960. In a brilliant move he hosted the exhibition “Önskemuseet” (The Dream Museum) in the winter of 1963–64 (the year I was born). It was an exhibition with borrowed works that Pontus Hultén thought a great modern art museum ought to have, and in a miraculous move the government agreed and offered him a one-off allocation of five million kronor to buy them. Suddenly, the museum collection could expand into one of the best of its kind in western Europe.
But Pontus did not stop there. One year later he acquired Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” (the Goat) — which I still remember seeing hanging on to the coattails of my father — and in 1967 he staged the exhibition “She” (with Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely and P.O. Ultvedt), where visitors entered through a giant vagina, followed by Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition in Europe in 1968.
In 1974 Pontus Hultén moved on to head modern art at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and even though the 60s might still be considered a legendary decade for modern art in Stockholm, Moderna Museet has had some brilliant directors since, most recently Lars Nittve (who moved on to run M+ in Hong Kong) followed by Daniel Birnbaum (who curated the Biennale di Venezia in 2003).
The museum has played a significant role throughout my life. This is where I discovered and fell in love with Turner’s work (especially the late paintings of Venice), and this is where I fell in love with my wife back in 1988, as we ended up having hours of one-on-one time as we waited in line for an incredibly popular Picasso exhibition. Much later, when living in New York, I became a patron of the museum through the The American Friends of the Moderna Museet, and had the privilege of getting to know both Lars Nittve and Daniel Birnbaum.
But back to Rauschenberg’s Goat. It was the perfect work to introduce me to modern art and in many ways it is responsible for creating my lifelong interest in art. So I’m now very much looking forward to seeing the work in London, as it seems to be following me around the world (it was part of a Rauschenberg exhibition at MoMA when I lived in New York). It will be like meeting an old friend again.
Hero Image: Monogram 1955–59 by Robert Rauschenberg. c. Tate Modern. Purchase 1965 with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet.
Other images: c. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.