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Robert Rauschenberg : Oracle
Engineers : Billy Klüver, Harold Hodges

1962 - 1965

Oracle by Robert Rauschenberg

Oracle, 1962-1965

Five-part found-metal assemblage with five concealed radios: ventilation duct; automobile door on typewriter table, with crushed metal; ventilation duct in washtub and water, with wire basket; constructed staircase control unit housing batteries and electronic components; and wooden window frame with ventilation duct

Dimensions variable

Museé National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Pierre Schlumberger, 1976

Engineers: Billy Klüver, Harold Hodges,

Restoration Engineers: Per Biorn, Toby Fitch, and Robert K. Moore

Billy Klüver noted that, "Rauschenberg has always seen his work as an active participant in its own environment and the viewer as an active participant in the work. The final work is the result of a collaboration between the materials that go into the work, the artist and the viewer."(*2)

During the time  Klüver was working with Jean Tinguely on Homage to New York, Robert Rauschenberg asked him to collaborate on what he described as an interactive environment, where the temperature, sound, smell, lights etc. would change as you moved through it.

Today one might think of realizing Rauschenberg's idea by using neural network chips. Engineers have already built wired houses that respond to you, learning from your daily behavior to turn on lights, close doors, make coffee etc. If you do something unusual like waking up in the middle of the night, the system understands that this is abnormal, and will not start making your morning coffee. However with the technology available in the early 60's, Rauschenberg's idea could not be realized.


At some point Rauschenberg focused on a sound environment where the sounds came from five radios and the volume and speed of moving the dial from station to station of each radio could be controlled from a separate unit.  He had used three radios in the 1959 painting Broadcast, putting them behind the canvas with two knobs sticking through for volume and station selection. Behind the canvas, using string and wooden thread spools, he rigged the controls of the three radios together so that when a knob was turned, the controls on all three radios would move, and no radio was ever on the same station or the same volume as another.

In these early days we referred to the piece as an orchestra with the viewer as the conductor.  Rauschenberg had anticipated using five large paintings with the controls housed in a unit in front of the paintings and no wires between the control unit and the paintings. He insisted on using the AM band, because in those days the  FM stations broadcast only cultural programs, classical music, etc. The project was delayed because of interference between the five am transmitters. and the five paintings left the studio as the multi part Ace.

Rauschenberg turned to a new idea, a sound environment where the sounds from five AM radios emanate from five sculptures. The viewer can vary the volume and the rate of scanning through the frequency band from knobs on the control unit, but cannot stop the scanning at any one station. The impression was that of walking down the Lower East Side on a summer evening and hearing the radios from open windows of the apartment buildings. All of the material for the sculptures Rauschenberg had found on the streets of New York. Rauschenberg wanted no wires from the control unit to the other pieces, so that they could all be moved freely in relation to one another. With the limited technology available in the early 1960’s, they designed and built a system where all the AM radios were located in the control unit and the sound was re-transmitted on the FM band to receivers and speakers in the other pieces. Interference between the FM transmitters and noise from the scanning motors were problems they had to solve.

When Harold Hodges and Klüver were finishing the technical system, Rauschenberg put together the five sculptures that make up Oracle from objects he found in the streets. The pieces consist of a car door mounted on a typewriter table; a tub with an air conditioning duct through which water flows with a small wire basket attached to the tub by a chain; a window frame attached to another long duct; an exhaust pipe on large wheels; and a large aluminum staircase which houses the control unit. Klüver had ordered the aluminum staircase according to Rauschenberg’s specs, and then Rauschenberg added other objects to it. Rauschenberg located the speakers in each piece so that the piece had its own unique sound.

Oracle was shown at Leo Castelli Gallery, on May 15, 1965. To avoid the feeling of a gallery, Rauschenberg covered the floor with a black rubber mat. The five pieces were placed throughout the front room of the gallery and the viewers could walk freely among them. 


Oracle was acquired by Musee d'Art Moderne at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The technical elements of Oracle have, with Rauschenberg's permission,  been renovated, and updated several times over the years.

[i] Rauschenberg, Interview, March 31, 1991.

Robert Rauschenberg : Dry Cell
Engineer : Harold Hodges


Dry Cell by Robert Rauschenberg

Dry Cell, 1963

Silkscreen ink and oil on Plexiglas, with metal coat hanger, wire, string, sound transmitter, circuit board, and battery-powered motor on metal folding camp stool

15 x 12 x 15 3/8 inches (38.1 x 30.5 x 39.1 cm)

Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Rauschenberg produced this work in collaboration with engineer Harold Hodges. It used some of the technology that Hodges was developing for Rauschenberg's work Oracle, and later Soundings.  It was shown in 1964 as part of the For Eyes and Ears exhibition at the Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery in New York.Gallery visitors were invited to speak or make sounds into a microphone situated on the face of the work. The microphone was wired to a toy motor, which, when activated by sound, rotated a small propeller-like piece of metal. Billy Klüver made the following comment about the work: "In contrast to the approximately thirty works in the exhibition that generated sound, Dry Cell was a ‘sound absorbing piece."

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