In a city like New York, where buildings, streets, and people seem to blend into one cacophonous mass, it’s easy to forget that history can be found in practically every inch of this concrete jungle. Walking down the street in NoHo, the typical eye might be trained uptown to the Empire State Building, completely missing the smaller (and far less ostentatious) 5-story brick building at Lafayette and Great Jones Streets. Although unremarkable from the exterior, the structure’s interior once acted as the home and studio to an artist who was anything but.
Robert Rauschenberg’s work is a mainstay in art history books and prestigious museums around the world. Known for his so-called “Combines,” works that blended found objects, mass-produced imagery, and traditional art materials, he is considered by many to be one of the twentieth century’s most influential modern artists. Rauschenberg eschewed definition and labels throughout his career (he was contemporaries with Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists, but his expansive oeuvre fits snugly in neither). Still, despite this reputation as an artistic maverick of sorts, a collaborative spirit runs through most of his work, the pieces created during his time on Lafayette Street included. While some artists relish the “solitary genius” archetype, Rauschenberg was energized and endlessly inspired by the company of his peers, many of whom congregated at his NoHo residence at some point or another.
↑ Rauschenberg (with his dog Laika) working on a transfer drawing in his 381 Lafayette Street studio, 1968. Shunk-Kender. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
This summer, New York’s Museum of Modern Art is paying tribute to this collaborative spirit in Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, an “open monograph” that explores Rauschenberg’s work as both an artist and community-builder. To help celebrate the exhibit and our coinciding Robert Rauschenberg product collaboration, The Rauschenberg Foundation was kind enough to give us a tour of Rauschenberg’s former residence on Lafayette Street and the current location of their offices.
The Chapel – Prior to acting as Rauschenberg’s home and studio, the space on Lafayette street functioned The Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, an orphanage for newsboys. This chapel was added on to the building to hold its convent. When Robert Rauschenberg purchased the building in 1965, the space became his studio.
The Kitchen – The kitchen at The Rauschenberg Foundation has been kept largely intact from Rauschenberg’s time at the location, including the kitchen table, assorted condiments and spices, and a stunning iron range that is the focal point of the room.
The Library – Adjacent to the kitchen is a room that doubles as a conference room and library. The shelves house dozens of volumes pertaining to Rauschenberg and his work, including numerous gallery and exhibition catalogs.