On the occasion of his birthday we remember the late Robert Rauschenberg, shown here in his studio. The juxtaposition of different media he used and their interplay comprise Rauschenberg’s chief interests, and throughout his career, his works have been marked by a sense of experimentation and chance.
We can, however, wonder for a moment why the goat girdled with its tire is somehow a magical object, rather than, say, only a dumb idea. Harold Rosenberg speaks of the contemporary artwork as “anxious,” as wondering: Am I a masterpiece or simply a pile of junk? […] What precisely is it in the coming together of goat and tire that is magical? It’s not the surprise of seeing the goat attired, although that’s part of it. One might say, for example, that the tire contests the goat, contradicts the goat, as a mode of being, even that the tire reproaches the goat, in some sense. On the simplest punning level, the goat is tired. Or that the unfortunate tire has been caught by the goat, which has been fishing in the Hudson—goats eat anything, as everyone knows—or that the goat is being consumed by the tire; it’s outside, after all, mechanization takes command. Or that the goateed goat is protesting the fatigue of its friend, the tire, by wearing it as a sort of STRIKE button. Or that two contrasting models of infinity are being presented, tires and goats both being infinitely reproducible, the first depending on the good fortunes of the B.F. Goodrich company and the second on the copulatory enthusiasm of goats—parallel production lines suddenly met. And so on. What is magical about the object is that it at once invites and resists interpretation. Its artistic worth is measurable by the degree to which it remains, after interpretation, vital—no interpretation or cardiopulmonary push-pull can exhaust or empty it.