Experimental music, dance, and performance opened up new dimensions of expression to the young Rauschenberg in the 1950s and 1960s, following his work—with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham—on stage sets and happenings. Just as everyday sound and movement were introduced into avant-garde music and dance at the time, the kaleidoscope of newspaper and television imagery and no doubt the cacophony of life in New York City— where Rauschenberg lived—captivated his attention.
The sense of improvisation is palpable when looking at works such as Octave. Part painting, part sculpture, the artist strapped a piece of furniture to the canvas, added textiles, paint and other materials. A different kind of transfer of the “real world” came from silkscreened images which run the gamut from politics and world events to sports, space exploration, art and architecture. In the 1960s, images from the Vietnam War and other conflicts make frequent appearances in his work, and politics remained important to the artist throughout his career.
Rauschenberg later took an active role in building bridges with artists in other parts of the world, fostering an exchange of ideas through exhibitions and collaborations.