Rauschenberg’s foundation could outspend Warhol’s

The artist’s foundation reveals its intention to become one of the largest grant-making organisations in the country


The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation is intending to increase the scale of its operations dramatically over the next 15 years. By then, it will be one of the largest grant-making bodies for the visual arts in the US, distributing as much, if not more, money every year than the Andy Warhol Foundation. It will also fund international artists, support philanthropic ventures and run a project space in New York and an artist residency in Captiva Island, Florida, where the artist lived until his death in 2008.

To enable this to happen, the assets of Rauschenberg’s estate are being transferred to the foundation so they can be used to grow the organisation “slowly and carefully”, says its executive director, Christy MacLear.

Founded by Rauschenberg in 1990 to promote awareness of the causes he cared about, such as world peace, the environment and humanitarian issues, the foundation has hitherto been relatively low key.

The aim now is to build an endowment with a projected target of $350m, starting from the organisation’s current investment pool of $18m, MacLear says. This will be done through the sale of art and real estate. The foundation owns many works by Rauschenberg from every period of his career. However, only a few of these will be sold to museums. The bulk of the money for the endowment will come from the sale of works by other artists collected by Rauschenberg. An initial group, which includes works by Marcel Duchamp, Brice Marden, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, was consigned to the Gagosian Gallery last year and is valued at around $40m. Various properties in New York owned by Rauschenberg will also be sold.

“The goal is to create an endowment that will support the foundation’s activities in perpetuity,” MacLear says. As the endowment increases, so will the number of the foundation’s grants, from a total of around $2m this year to a projected $15m to $20m in 2027, with an additional sum of around $17.5m spent by then to run the organisation’s various programmes. In comparison, the Warhol Foundation awarded around $13.5m in grants in 2011—the highest amount it has disbursed in a single year in the past decade—and has an endowment that stands at just over $324m.

The selection of the grants’ recipients will be guided by Rauschenberg’s belief that “art can change the world”, MacLear says. Last year, the foundation launched its “Artist as Activist” print project and invited Shepard Fairey to focus on an issue of his choice. The editioned work he made was sold to raise funds for the Coalition for the Homeless. The foundation is in talks with Shirin Neshat to be this year’s “artist as activist”.

In January, the foundation’s first Artistic Innovation and Collaboration grants were launched; nine have been given, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000. The recipients include the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, for a project led by the artist Theaster Gates to design a new cultural centre and artist residency programme in the poorest part of the city.

Many more grant programmes will be introduced in the future, MacLear says: “Next year we will expand into art and education, as Bob routinely funded organisations that used art to assist learning, particularly for disabled people. We will also [launch] a programme called ‘Seed’, which will support grassroots artistic exploration, even by small organisations.” Their work will be shown in a former warehouse of Rauschenberg’s, now a project space on 19th Street in Manhattan.

This gallery will also be used to display the lesser known aspects of Rauschenberg’s work, such as his theatre designs, sound pieces and photographs, MacLear says.

In parallel with its philanthropic activities, the foundation will work to further Rauschenberg’s artistic legacy. There are plans for a catalogue raisonné, and the organisation’s building on Manhattan’s Lafayette Street, formerly Rauschenberg’s home and studio, will become a scholarship centre.

Its biggest impact, however, is likely to be in its funding of the visual arts. “The rise of artist-endowed foundations will change the landscape of arts funding,” MacLear says. “We look at this funding as [being in addition to] governmental, private or corporate funding. Over the past ten years, the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] appropriations ranged from $115m in 2002 to $146m in 2012. If you consider the Warhol Foundation contributing $13.5m, the Dedalus Foundation [founded in 1981 by the artist Robert Motherwell] contributing $3.6m, and the Rauschenberg Foundation, even in our early years, contributing $2m—to name just three organisations—then, as this sort of support grows, it will be larger in aggregate than the NEA’s contribution,” MacLear says.

“I believe we will see the [increase] of support for early stage work and operating capital, broader direct support for artists, a dedication to exploration and more risk-taking commissions… the money coming from artists [will] be the most fearless, rounding out a donor landscape that has been negotiated down a more conservative path. It will be a bright future for the arts.”

A pun fit for the President

When Bill Clinton ate here, an august equestrian portrait hung above the fireplace. But now, the family dining room in the White House, which is often used by the President for informal dinners, is to become altogether funkier. Rauschenberg’s Early Bloomer [Anagram (a Pun)], 1998, a gift from the Rauschenberg foundation, will soon grace its walls, becoming only the fourth work of contemporary art to enter the White House Collection. It will join two works by Josef Albers and one by Georgia O’Keeffe.


It has not yet been decided in which room Robert Rauschenberg’s Early Bloomer [Anagram (a Pun)], 1998, which has been accepted for the White House collection, will be hung (April, p4).