Robert Rauschenberg Remembered at Annual ArtWalk: ‘It’s Like He’s Here With Us’

Last night, on the eve of the election, artists and philanthropists gathered for the 14th Annual Artwalk benefit auction for the Coalition for the Homeless. The event was in honor of the late abstract expressionist artist Robert Rauschenberg, a longtime supporter.

“Bob was of grand generosity, of of the most generous men I ever knew–he gave away so much!” said Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s longtime partner. “[He] came from nothing.”

“One night he saw an infomercial about how giving 50 cents a day could help cure leprosy. Bob called up and asked, ‘How many people have leprosy?’ They said about two million. And he said, ‘I’ll give you a million then, how’s that.'”

Artist Dennis Oppenheimer had what he described as a “mechanical piece” in the auction. He thought the recession might serve as a much-needed correction to the inflated art market: “It’s been awfully high–it would be healthy for it to go down a bit. More people could buy the art… The artists who have made money have made quite enough, I’m sure.”

Photorealist Chuck Close, who had a portrait of Rauschenberg in the auction, was more worried about the state of philanthropy: “There are so many people falling through the cracks. I remember in the late ’60s, I saw my first homeless woman. It was so shocking then, to see a woman on the street. Now, it’s whole families.” Would the upcoming election change anything? “I think tax cuts for the rich are so ridiculous–what do I need a tax cut for?” Remembering his starving-artist days, he added, “I’ve been poor.”

William Coupon, who has photographed every American president since Nixon, was auctioning off a portrait sitting with him. “I hope people bid,” he fretted, before jokingly offering free sittings to the ladies nearby. Certainly he’ll be photographing Mr. Obama next, right? “They say it’s the longest election cycle ever and I’m happy it’ll be over.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Pottorf was standing in front of a double-sided “wall piece” that was rolled out on the floor. “This is called the Bridge to Humanity,” he said. “Let’s walk over it together.” He explained the significance of its motifs, which he said was a collaboration between him and Rauschenberg: “Here are Bob’s ashes.” He pointed to a grey smudge near the bottom. “His actual ashes, so it’s like he’s with us.”

On the other side of the hanging was written, “Privilege can be dangerous, or it can be a gift.” Meaning? “It depends what the situation is. I’m not giving that love away too easily–and not for mediocrity.” He then took off his thick gold ring, inscribed with “RR,” and placed it on the Daily Transom’s finger.

“See?” he said, smiling. “I just passed it on.”

Robert Rauschenberg Remembered at Annual ArtWalk: ‘It’s Like He’s Here With Us’