Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rauschenberg’s legacy

Robert Rauschenberg, one of America’s most prominent and prolific visual artists of the post-war period, died Tuesday. He was 82.

Much is sure to be written in the coming days and weeks about the work, meaning the artistic work, of Rauschenberg—and that attention is much deserved. But there will likely be much less said of his political work, which, though perhaps less transformational than his art, is certainly worthy of some praise, as well.

As the New York Times obituary mentions in passing, Robert Rauschenberg was not only an artist, but also a patron of the arts, an advocate for arts education, and a longtime supporter of (mostly) Democrats and Democratic causes.

In fact, the notice of his death during this political season had me curiously looking about the web for whom Rauschenberg had supported this cycle, and here I found a small surprise. Though Rauschenberg had supported many individuals (along with some PACs) in years past—mostly in his adopted home states of Florida and New York—in 2008, the artist had put his money behind only one candidate: Democrat Scott Kleeb of Nebraska.

And it wasn’t just a little money. Rauschenberg gave the legal maximum to Kleeb—for both the primary and the general.

Scott Kleeb is seeking the Senate seat now held by Republican Chuck Hagel, who is not running for reelection, and yesterday, only handful of hours after Rauschenberg’s death, Kleeb took the first big step, winning the Nebraska Democratic primary over a much older and wealthier (RR’s money notwithstanding) opponent. Kleeb will face former Nebraska Governor and GW Bush Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in November.

My congratulations go out to Scott Kleeb and his wife Jane Fleming Kleeb—a very exciting victory—but the question of the night for me referenced Rauschenberg. How was it that the eighty-something East Coast artist came to max out for a thirty-something Plains State rancher and college professor?

It turns out, I didn’t have far to go for the answer. Jane’s MTV blog made note of Rauschenberg’s passing, calling him one of Scott’s dear friends. Apparently, Rauschenberg had met Scott through a mutual acquaintance, and Bob, as the Kleebs knew him, had done some events for Scott’s campaign, in addition to donating his own money.

So, along with my congratulations, I extend my condolences to the Kleebs.

One of the great things (assuming your worldview swings this way) about being a visual artist—especially one of some renown—is that your work can continue to inspire and affect others, even after you have gone. For Robert Rauschenberg, there is a nice little coda to this idea. Having donated to Scott Kleeb’s general election campaign prior to his passing, Bob has a chance to inspire and effect change in the political arena, too.

That’s a sweet grace note on an already rich legacy.

("Retroactive I," 1963 – via NYT - Art © Rauschenberg Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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