Art: The Misfits

Decades later, Rauschenberg's combines are still wonderful oddities

When Robert Rauschenberg moved to New York City in 1949, Abstract Expressionism was at the height of its art-world prestige. What that means, of course, is that it was ready for somebody to kick it in the pants. Enter Rauschenberg, with his new shoes on. It wasn't that he hated Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. To a man of his unbridled disposition, their vigor, their free gestures on the canvas were bound to appeal. But within a few years he would arrive at something in his own work that was more loose limbed and encompassing—and a lot less solemn—than even...

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