Robert Rauschenberg and Trisha Brown, 1983. Photo: © The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

RIP Trisha Brown, Rauschenberg's dance partner

A look back at Brown's huge influence on Bob, following the choreographer's death on Saturday

The acclaimed American choreographer Trisha Brown, was a serious artist in her own right. Yet Brown, who passed away at the weekend, also helped her friend, the innovative 20th century artist Robert Rauschenberg push hiw own work into unexpected new areas.

As Catherine Craft explains in our Rauschenberg book, Bob met Trisha in the early 1960s, when he became involved with her group, known as the Judson Dance Theater.


Robert Rauschenberg, 'Glacial Decoy Series (Lithograph I)' 1979
Robert Rauschenberg, 'Glacial Decoy Series (Lithograph I)' 1979

“Rauschenberg had been enamoured with theatre and dance since childhood, and his friendship with choreographer Merce Cunningham, John Cage’s companion, brought him into contact with dancers,” explains Craft. “From the 1950s to the 1960s, he regularly created sets, lights and costumes for Cunningham’s company. In later years, he would sporadically continue to do so, as well as entering into similar collaborations with the choreographer Trisha Brown, for whom he took several hundred photographs to create the backdrop for the 1979 dance Glacial Decoy.”

That 1970s series of photographic works is credited with rekindling Rauschenberg’s interest in photography, just as another of Brown’s set assignments informed another side of the visual artist’s work.

“When the set for Trisha Brown’s Lateral Pass failed to arrive for a performance in Naples, Italy, Rauschenberg assembled a new set in threedays by constructing sculptures from scrap metal and fabric,” explains Craft. These pieces were eventually repurposed and exhibited as part of the environmentally themed artwork, Neapolitan Gluts.


Rauschenberg's set design for Trisha Brown Dance Company's Lateral Pass (1985) Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, 1986
Rauschenberg's set design for Trisha Brown Dance Company's Lateral Pass (1985) Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, 1986

Even in later life, during the 1990s, Rauschenberg continued to design sets and costumes for Brown’s productions, offering the artist further outlets for his multifarious artworks.

For more on the pair’s working relationship, order a copy of our Phaidon Focus Robert Rauschenberg book here.