I met Bob Rauschenberg in late 1971 when I was working for Castelli Graphics, the gallery that sold his prints in New York. We became friends almost immediately. You have to have known Bob to realize how fast he could include you in his life if he took a shine to you. This story is about a party I attended at Bob’s studio in New York somewhere around 1973.
When I first met Bob, he was known for throwing great wild open door dance parties. There were always too many people and never enough food and way too much alcohol right up until the last drop disappeared. The main focus of all the parties was almost always the third floor, which in the back was a small kitchen, an old wooden dining table, and a black cast iron gas stove. In the front was a good sized greenhouse filled with plants and a standing Egyptian mummy, nicknamed Eve. Between the front and back was a sixty foot long space. During the day it was a gallery. During nights like this it was the dance floor. It was empty except for a very large John Chamberlain foam couch in the middle of the room. John had made it by pouring urethane foam into a mould about 8 feet by 8 feet by 3 feet. When the foam was set and dry, he would cut out seating areas with an electric carving knife. Each one was a different configuration. They were superb as oversized “love seats”. They all were covered with different fabrics and hides. Bob’s was covered with a bright orange corduroy fabric. The party swarmed around the couch and the kitchen. Debbie Skarupa (later Taylor) (Bob’s assistant who had organized the whole event) had made a giant bowl of steamed shrimp. There was beer, whiskey and ice on the counter. There was the sweet acrid mix of pot and cigarettes throughout the dimly lit room. I had brought some very, very strong pot to the party with me, had passed out a lot of it to friends and strangers. I remember Helen Marden in the kitchen talking to Debbie. Richard Serra was in a corner with a few people. A bunch of Bob’s employees and friends were mixed with a lot of total strangers. Maybe 80-90 people. It was loud with music, talk and laughter.
About midnight or so John Chamberlain came rolling through the double doors. He had an almost empty tequila bottle in one hand and he was reeling and bellowing at the top of his voice. I was on the side of the couch nearest the door and watched him lurch to the dining table. He grabbed the giant shrimp bowl now containing only empty shrimp husks and turned it upside down on the table. Picking up a chair he pushed it through the pile and declared:” Now that’s sculpture”. There was a commotion. In the kitchen corner I could hear a woman cursing and crying. The crowd was bunched and struggling with someone. Someone walked by and I heard “Chamberlain just pulled Helen’s pants off.’’
Sitting on the other side of the couch was a young woman named Tara who worked for this graphic designer who did all the work for the Castelli Galleries. She said, “I’ve never been to one of these parties before. Who are these people?”
By now a seasoned habitue’ of this world, I said, “Here, let me point out some of the people to you.” and turned towards the crowd. Just as I did, John Chamberlain fell on his back onto the couch right beside me, still holding his now empty tequila bottle. On his chest with his knees and with both hands on his collar was Richard Serra. Richard was yelling; “Back off, man. You’re ripping off my energy.” To which John replied, “Aw, man, lighten up. Be cool.” At this moment, Bob appeared and pulled Richard off saying, “OK, girls. Break it up.” Richard walked off swearing. Bob gathered John up and headed him for the stairway. I said to Tara, pointing in turn, “That was John Chamberlain. And that was Richard Serra and that was Bob Rauschenberg.”
A crowd of eight or ten were following, yelling and cursing at John. I could see one woman Penelope swinging a cast iron frying pan over Bob’s shoulder trying to get John’s head. He was cursing back and mocking her.
The noise lessened as the gaggle moved further down the stairs.
Bob had big parties after that one, but none of those big come one-come all parties. He said they weren’t fun anymore.