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Robert Rauschenberg

Cardbird VI, from the series Cardbirds


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The American artist Robert Rauschenberg claimed to “drag ordinary materials into the art world for direct confrontation.” The cardboard boxes depicted in his jaunty Cardbirds I-VII—a series produced in collaboration with the publishing house Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles— are often mistaken for actual crushed boxes. In fact, Rauschenberg appropriated corrugated cardboard onto which he meticulously printed what is usually found on shipping boxes. He reproduced each fold and label to achieve a trompe l’oeil effect. Rauschenberg’s use of cardboard was inspired by his move from New York City to Captiva Island, Florida, in 1968. After the move he was left with piles of packing boxes. Unlike Andy Warhol’s exact replicas of Brillo boxes that deliberately cast doubt on the designation of fine art, Rauschenberg exerted full artistic control of his cardboard sculptures in terms of the materials, size, and scale of the series. Cardbird VI resembles other Rauschenberg collages with its disorienting directional cues. The arrows can be seen as referencing the trajectory of the bird’s flight or the shipping box in transit. The simulated label “FRAGILE” reads like a joke in its proximity to what looks like rips and tears on the box. Knowledge of the painstaking creation process and ecological awareness of the fate of birds in a nature degraded by commercial debris lend the piece a sense of vulnerability. [Permanent Collection Label, 2022]

  • Artist Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008)
  • Title Cardbird VI, from the series Cardbirds
  • Date 1971
  • Medium Screen print with photo offset and collage on cardboard
  • Edition description 69/75
  • Dimensions unframed | 27 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
  • Credit line Gift of Nancy Singer, 1976
  • Object number WU 4546

Ambivalent Pleasures: Advertiser Content in American Art
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 08/29/2022 - 01/02/2023

Container Narratives: Literary and Visual
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/17/2007 - 04/29/2007

Thomas Singer

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