Tate Modern welcomes 'extraordinary' Robert Rauschenberg goat

Monogram, 1955-59, will be highlight of first major retrospective of American artist’s work since his death in 2008

The stuffed Angora goat bound to a tyre and carefully positioned on a canvas along with a tennis ball and shoe heel is usually housed in a Swedish museum.

It is considered something of a landmark work of art, an important painting-sculpture hybrid by the influential American artist Robert Rauschenberg, which is why Tate Modern is so delighted to be borrowing it for a major retrospective.

The gallery announced on Thursday that the goat, called Monogram, 1955-59, would be coming to the UK for the first time in more than 50 years, lent by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm where it is something of a star.

Frances Morris, the director of Tate Modern, called it an “extraordinary work” and said the gallery was “hugely indebted” for the loan of something considered very fragile which rarely travels. “It is increasingly difficult to get museums and collectors to release precious works for exhibitions such as this,” she said.

The goat will be a highlight of the Rauschenberg show, organised with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is the first major retrospective of the artist since his death in 2008.

Tate hopes to show visitors the range of Rauschenberg’s output and how, over a period of 60 years, he was a pioneer in painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, performance and stage design.

An X-ray image of Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram, 1955-59, by Magnus Martensson
An X-ray image of Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram, 1955-59, by Magnus Martensson, which will feature in the Tate Modern show. Photograph: Swedish National Heritage Board/PA

Rauschenberg is an artist who may delight and annoy audiences in equal measure. When people visit Tate Modern and are irritated by a work of art “their child could have done”, the chances are Rauschenberg did something like it first.

The retrospective will include sculptures made from Shredded Wheat boxes from the early 1970s; a drawing by Willem de Kooning that Rauschenberg erased and then framed in 1953; and his white paintings, which were only completed as art works when a viewer cast their shadow on them.

Years before Tracey Emin created My Bed, Rauschenberg made Bed, 1955, his pillow and blanket stretched like a canvas and covered with abstract pencil drawings and paint.

The show’s curator, Achim Borchardt-Hume, said they had been working on the show for three years. “Every conversation I’ve had with an artist when I’ve said I’m working on Rauschenberg ... every artist lights up. It doesn’t matter if they are a senior generation, younger artists, art students, there is something about his work that seems to really connect.”

Monogram is an important work and the Tate Modern show will feature a display documenting its history; how Rauschenberg found and bought his goat for $15 from a thrift store, then the years it took for him to position it to his liking.

Flag, 1954, by Robert Rauschenberg.
Flag, 1954, by Robert Rauschenberg. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Borchardt-Hume admitted it was a “baffling” object but “a truly extraordinary thing when you see it in the flesh”.

The show will also explore Rauschenberg’s early experiments in performance with the choreographer Merce Cunningham and the composer John Cage.

It will be the most comprehensive survey of the Texas-born artist’s work in 20 years, opening in London in December before transferring in May 2017 to MoMA in New York.

Morris said the show felt timely. “Rauschenberg is one of those artists who, in the decade after the second world war, truly transformed the nature of artistic practice, smashing through the boundaries of different media.”

• Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern from 1 December to 2 April 2017.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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