2017-05-18 / Top News

House of Rauschenberg

Nine years after the renowned artist’s death, Robert Rauschenberg’s Captiva residence is on the market — and oh, if these walls could talk.
BY MARY WOZNIAK
Special to Florida Weekly


Top: Rauschenberg’s contemporary Captiva Island home, now owned by Pottorf, is for sale. Top: Rauschenberg’s contemporary Captiva Island home, now owned by Pottorf, is for sale. THE STARK WHITE, 4,700-SQUARE-FOOT home on Captiva Island looks more like a monument than a mansion.

Perched on sugar-white sand on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, its clean, contemporary lines rise out of a profusion of lush, jungle-like growth. This secluded, subtropical haven was the home of world-famous artist Robert Rauschenberg.

He was known as the greatest living contemporary artist before his death on May 12, 2008.

Nine years later, the home is for sale, with a price tag of nearly $7 million. The seller is Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s closest friend, companion and internationally known fellow artist. Pottorf inherited the home after Rauschenberg’s death.

The decision to sell was difficult, because of the house’s history and the memories it holds, Pottorf said. But now he wants to live off-island. One reason is the island’s distance from the mainland and the need to travel more and more for his work, Pottorf said. Another reason is that Captiva is small (fewer than 400 people) with a largely transient population, he said.


Above: The late artist Robert Rauschenberg, left, is pictured with his close friend Darryl Pottorf at a 2007 Arts for ACT auction in Fort Myers Above: The late artist Robert Rauschenberg, left, is pictured with his close friend Darryl Pottorf at a 2007 Arts for ACT auction in Fort Myers Most of all, Rauschenberg is no longer there. Neither is the nucleus of fellow artists, friends and staff that surrounded him, creating a little community within a community.

“You walk in the door in his house expecting Bob to be sitting at his barstool, watching TV or reading,” greeting him with a welcoming smile, Pottorf said. “The house seems a little hollow without anybody there.”

A favorite son

Known as much for his generosity and charitable works as well as his art, both locally and globally, Rauschenberg became one of Southwest Florida’s favorite sons. The gallery at Florida SouthWestern State College bears his name and was the scene of many of his exhibitions.


The Captiva Island home in which the late Robert Rauschenberg once lived appears to rise out of the subtropical island growth. 
PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTOS The Captiva Island home in which the late Robert Rauschenberg once lived appears to rise out of the subtropical island growth. PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTOS His home was the scene of parties, gourmet dinners, earnest conversations about art, a gathering place for art luminaries, celebrities, and a close circle of friends.

“I have many wonderful memories of being with Bob in his house on Captiva,” said Kat Epple, a longtime friend and Emmy-winning flautist and composer.

Epple, who is based in Fort Myers, played for Rauschenberg often at his home, played at his art openings around the world, played for him when he was in intensive care at Lee Memorial Hospital, and played at the three memorials held after his death, one locally and two in New York City museums.


The patio/sundeck area between the home’s two master suites has a spiral staircase. The patio/sundeck area between the home’s two master suites has a spiral staircase. “Bob loved to cook, and there was always a lot of great food at his house. It was always interesting sitting around the table with him. We had conversations about art, life, music, his dogs, his travels, birds that we could see on the beach, so many topics,” she said.

“It was fun to see who might walk into his house next: Sharon Stone, David Byrne, Norman Lear, Wolfgang Puck, artist Roy Lichtenstein or a local Captiva Islander.”

Epple spent every Christmas day at Rauschenberg’s house for many years. “His staff and a couple of other friends were invited, and we would exchange gifts,” she said. “Every year, he would create an interesting artistic Christmas tree alternative. One year it was a ladder with artistic “decorations.’”


A young Robert Rauschenberg at Stedelijk Museum in 1968. A young Robert Rauschenberg at Stedelijk Museum in 1968. One year, she was the Christmas tree, Epple said. “He asked me to enter the party while playing the flute, and wearing the traditional Tibetan Lama garb that was given to him when he was in Tibet.”

While Epple and others who were close to Rauschenberg acknowledge the significance of the house and the stories it had to tell, they say the artist’s connections to Captiva, Southwest Florida, and his legacy lie far beyond the pristine white walls.

“The home isn’t Bob,” said Ron Bishop, former director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at Florida South- Western State College. “To take it one step further, that is exactly why we named the gallery at the college after Bob — for the community. This was his community. The exhibits were for the community.”


Sharon Stone with Robert Rauschenberg at an Arts for ACT auction in Fort Myers. 
FLORIDA WEEKLY ARCHIVE PHOTO Sharon Stone with Robert Rauschenberg at an Arts for ACT auction in Fort Myers. FLORIDA WEEKLY ARCHIVE PHOTO Captiva connection

Rauschenberg moved to Captiva in 1970, seeking respite from the tumult of the New York art scene.

The first time he visited the island, he had to take a ferry over. “There was no causeway,” said Mark Pace, who works with Pottorf and is a longtime friend and companion.

When he arrived, there was a turtle crossing the road, and Rauschenberg stopped and saved it, Pace said. “He found that charming.”

As Rauschenberg walked around the properties on Captiva, “a swarm of butterflies literally surrounded him,” Pace said. “He thought this was so beautiful.” Rauschenberg decided Captiva was where he wanted to live, Pace said. Pottorf, listening to him tell the story, agreed.


Rauschenberg friend and flautist Kat Epple acting as a Christmas decoration at the house. 
KAT EPPLE / COURTESY PHOTO Rauschenberg friend and flautist Kat Epple acting as a Christmas decoration at the house. KAT EPPLE / COURTESY PHOTO Rauschenberg was already a household name in the art world by the time he moved to Captiva.

He upended the movement of Abstract Expressionism and changed the course of modern art in the 1950s by creating what he called “combines.” These were works of art made of ordinary objects, seemingly unrelated, many found on the street, and put together in a combination of painting and sculpture. His most famous combine, “Monogram,” featuring a stuffed goat, a tire and other found objects, was completed in 1959.

Rauschenberg was a master of many media, and liked to mix and experiment with them: painting, printing, sculpture, collage, photography, performance art.

The island became Rauschenberg’s home base for 38 years. He initially lived and worked in a small stilt house on the beach. The house that is for sale was built and designed by Pottorf for Rauschenberg in 1990. He also designed and built a massive, modern studio for the artist.


The great room in the former Rauschenberg home offers a spectacular space, with an open kitchen at one end and a wall of sliding glass doors leading to a patio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. 
PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTOS The great room in the former Rauschenberg home offers a spectacular space, with an open kitchen at one end and a wall of sliding glass doors leading to a patio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTOS Rauschenberg created thousands of works of art, many of which were premiered at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery. Soon after meeting Rauschenberg in 1999, Bishop asked the artist what his tie was to Florida. “It always had fascinated me how he left New York City looking for a home,” Bishop said.

Rauschenberg’s answer came within a short letter he sent to Bishop, initially apologizing for missing an art deadline. The letter, along with Rauschenberg’s other writings, is now in the archives of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.


“Scenarios,” showing Rauschenberg’s work, was exhibited at the William Griffin Gallery. 
WILLIAM GRIFFIN GALLERY / COURTESY PHOTO “Scenarios,” showing Rauschenberg’s work, was exhibited at the William Griffin Gallery. WILLIAM GRIFFIN GALLERY / COURTESY PHOTO He wrote:

“When I decided to leave N.Y.C. (home for over 20 years), I drove down the coast investigating every island from Maryland to Mississippi. Every time I reached Captiva I felt a magic that was unexplainable in its power. (Before causeway). It took three separate trips and three years before I could get my economy healthy enough to make the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Rauschenberg was known for being positive in his outlook, generous to a fault and fearless in his art.

Locally, his philanthropy ranged widely, from Abuse Counseling and Treatment (ACT), a shelter for abused women and children, to the Animal Refuge Center. Jennifer Benton, executive director of ACT, said at the public memorial held for Rauschenberg in Southwest Florida that he had raised more than $5 million for the cause over the years through Arts for ACT, a fundraising auction.

Terry Tincher, a Southwest Florida art consultant, dealer, manager and appraiser, was one who witnessed the artist work his magic. Tincher had known Rauschenberg and Pottorf since the early 1980s.

His former construction company put in the initial pilings and did some concrete work for the artist’s 1990 home. Tincher said he received a piece of Rauschenberg artwork in exchange, and thought it was a great deal.

One afternoon Pottorf called him up and said they were going to make some art, Tincher said. He went out to Captiva, where Rauschenberg was still living in the old stilt house. The BBC was there in the studio, all set up to film the artist at work.

The work was supposed to be for ROCI, the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, in which Rauschenberg traveled to countries around the globe to collaborate with different artists and promote peace. The project wound up with a final exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1991.


The white silhouette of the home is etched against the night sky. 
PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTO The white silhouette of the home is etched against the night sky. PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTO There were three young chemical engineers present who had developed paints that could be used on stain- less steel, and impregnate the steel so the paint wouldn’t come off, Tincher said. The steel would be heated and Rauschenberg was supposed to be able to manipulate the steel, he said.

“I can remember the atmosphere there when I got to the studio,” Tincher said. “It was probably one of the most electrical and artistic experiences of my life.

“Bob had no idea what would happen,” he said. “Watching him work fearlessly in the moment is something I will never forget. It was magic. I would not trade that for anything. He was so confident about his ability to make magic from nothing. I never imagined art being life.”

Rauschenberg eventually acquired about 20 acres and 10 buildings on Captiva, saving them from development and stretching from the Gulf of Mexico on the west to Pine Island Sound on the east.

They included the 1942 Fish House built by J.N. “Ding” Darling, the Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist and conservationist who was instrumental in the creation of what is now known as the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Darling used the structure as a studio.

The property and the buildings, except for the home owned by Pottorf, belong to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

The foundation, formed by Rauschenberg in 1990, “fosters the artistic and philanthropic legacy of Robert Rauschenberg,” according to the foundation website. “Through scholarship, grants, and a residency program, the foundation furthers Rauschenberg’s belief that art can change the world.”

The foundation turned the Rauschenberg compound into an artist-in-residence program in 2012, hosting 70 artists per year. The concept is inspired by Rauschenberg’ time at the avante-garde Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in which artists of various disciplines collaborated and experimented to break new ground.

Rather than either of his homes, Rauschenberg’s studios and print shop were the center of his art and inspiration, Christopher Rauschenberg, Rauschenberg’s son and foundation president, wrote in an email.

“Having 70 artists per year making magnificent work in all media in Bob’s studios — that is the loudly beating heart of his legacy and that moves me deeply,” Christopher Rauschenberg said.

Meanwhile, Pottorf is based in Fort Myers and is seeking acreage for a compound on the Caloosahatchee River. His art career is flourishing, with new gallery representation in Europe. His latest exhibit, “Unerased journeys: a survey of works by Darryl Pottorf,” is on display through July 15 at the Museum of Outdoor Arts outside Denver.

Both Pottorf and Pace lauded the foundation’s artist residency program on Captiva. “Their residency program is well, well recognized,” Pace said. “What they’re doing is great out there. That’s what Bob wanted for Captiva.”

Rauschenberg’s physical presence has been gone from Captiva for nine years. But his spirit remains. Former President Bill Clinton referred to it when speaking at Rauschenberg’s memorial in late October 2008 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“It always struck me that the greatness of every artist is his or her spirit,” Clinton said. That spirit is expressed through the body, he said. “You are always limited by your body, so he’s now been set free to roam at will.”

Rauschenberg spent his final days in his studio, not his home. “When he came home from the hospital for the last time, he chose to live in his studio building,” Epple said. “He wanted to be surrounded by his artwork, paint, and art tools.”

Rauschenberg died in the place where he created so much. His ashes are scattered by the Fish House.

“Bob’s legacy is in his art and the people whose lives he touched. His house would make a beautiful museum, but it would also be an amazing home for someone who can appreciate a fantastic view of the gulf waters, beach, birds and sky,” Epple said.

“Either way, it is a place that should be filled with food, friends, art, music and fun.” ¦

Lawsuit over Rauschenberg estate fees a matter of trust

The nine years since Robert Rauschenberg’s death in 2008 have not been without controversy over his art and estate.

Three trustees of the Rauschenberg Revocable Trust brought a lawsuit against the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2011, seeking $60 million in fees for their services. The trustees were:

• Bennet Grutman, who was Rauschenberg’s accountant.

• Bill Goldston, who partnered with Rauschenberg in a fine art print publishing company.

• Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s best friend, companion, fellow artist and executor of Rauschenberg’s will.

The trust was charged with distributing the artist’s assets to his beneficiaries. The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation was the primary beneficiary.

The lawsuit was contentious and widely publicized.

The trial was held in Lee County Circuit Court in June 2014. Pottorf was the only trustee not to appear in person to testify. However, portions of Pottorf’s deposition testimony were read in court.

The foundation claimed that the amount the trustees sought for their services was excessive.

The trustees claimed that their efforts had helped to grow Rauschenberg’s estate from about $600 million to $2.2 billion.

The trustees were awarded $24.6 million by the court in August 2014. While that was less than half the amount originally sought, Judge Jay Rosman wrote: “The evidence at trial supports a finding that the Trustees did an exemplary job.”

The foundation thought differently. A statement released at the time by Christopher Rauschenberg, the late artist’s son and head of the foundation, read in part: “For over three years now, the Trustees have continued to pursue a case that drains resources from the Foundation that is my father’s legacy, and that distracts from the good work he intended for his Foundation. Every dollar spent on this matter is a dollar not spent on the charitable mission that my father cared about so deeply.”

The Rauschenberg Foundation appealed the judge’s decision. A second district appeals court upheld the $24.6 million award in January 2016. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, effectively letting the award stand.

Pottorf did not provide any public comment during or after the legal battle.

When asked for this story whether the trustees’ lawsuit and its result had anything to do with his decision to sell Rauschenberg’s house, Pottorf said: “No, not really. It made it a little unwelcome feeling for a while.”

Asked about his current relationship with the Rauschenberg Foundation, Pottorf said that lawyers were continuing to work out the final details of the court’s decision. He also said that he had offered to sell the Rauschenberg home to the foundation, before putting it on the market. The foundation declined, he said.

Christopher Rauschenberg did not respond to questions about the status of his relationship or the foundation’s relationship with Pottorf.

Mark Pace, who works for Pottorf and is a longtime friend and companion, said that Pottorf had a wonderful life with Rauschenberg. “He wants to keep those memories and move forward,” Pace said. That includes Pottorf being recognized for his own talent and creativity, Pace said.

“He doesn’t want any more negativity,” Pace said. “The foundation happened, and it’s over. Leave the rest alone.” All you can do is “take the lessons of history and apply it to the future,” he said.

Pottorf said he looks to a future where any differences between him and the foundation might be reconciled. “I hope to be able to work with them and help fulfill Bob’s wishes,” he said. ¦

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