Robert Rauschenberg Always On View
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Artwork Details Reading an Object Label
Artist name, nationality, birth and death date
Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925 - 2005)
Artwork title, year completed
Venus Rapture IV, 1991
Materials used to create the work. Sometimes the size is included.
Acrylic, fire wax, and variegated brass leaf on stainless steel, 73 x 97 inches
Credit line – many works in museums are gifts from donors or loans from other museums and patrons.
Private lender (Because this is a loan, there is not an acquisition number)
Acquisition number – A unique number that identifies the work. If you want to know more about a work, it is helpful to know this number when asking museum staff about it.
This work from ROCI USA embody the interactive experience Rauschenberg intended for his viewers. The reflective surfaces grab the viewers’ attention, drawing them into the picture space. Open ended in meaning, the juxtapositions of images challenge the audience to make connections among them. What do palm trees and utility Some labels provide the viewer poles have to do with a commercial photography studio? How does a bicycle relate to a Venus sculpture? As he told with more context about the artwork, like the artists’ life and an audience at the opening ROCI Japan, “I want to make you work hard. I don’t want to give you any answers.” influences, or maybe how this By visually positioning viewers in the prints and by work compares to another engaging them intellectually to explore the possibilities of work, or perhaps some information about the time meaning here and in other ROCI works, Rauschenberg period when the work was sought to activate viewers’ social involvement. The works created. Some provide lobby for appreciation of both the connections and questions to consider when distinctions among cultures around the world as a viewing the work. This text is necessary foundation for world peace. usually created by a curator.
Exhibition Content New Friends, Old Friends: Works from the Collection Robert Rauschenberg’s World Robert Rauschenberg’s World marks the beginning of a new exhibition series featuring works from the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art collection. The choice of this exhibition was inspired by the generous offer of a long-term loan of three Rauschenberg prints, which are paired with three Rauschenberg prints in our collection. These selections focus on two periods of the artist’s career–the 1960s, when Rauschenberg started making prints; and the 1990s, when an eight-year global tour led to a substantive body of new work and the creation of monumental screen prints on metal sheets. A native of Port Arthur, Texas, Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008) enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. As an artist in his mid-twenties, he upended the New York art world with what he called “combines.” These works challenged Abstract Expressionism and its painterly registrations of emotion by pairing found objects and mechanically reproduced images with painted passages. In so doing Rauschenberg undermined the established divisions between painting and sculpture and between the handmade and the mechanically produced. With his first solo exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1963, he gained recognition as a major artist of his generation. By the early 1960s, Rauschenberg was moving on with his art, using the commercial process of screen printing for paintings composed of overlays of photographic images, from media sources as well as his own photographs. Printmaking also attracted his interest, and he made his first lithograph at Universal Limited Art Editions in 1962. Thereafter printmaking became an integral part of his art-making. Beginning in the 1980s, Rauschenberg pursued long-term projects, notably the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI), which allowed him to test his belief in the power of art and artistic collaboration to foster social change on a global scale. In the course of touring twelve countries, he produced a diverse body of work, inspired by his experiences, the cultural traditions, the art, and artists he encountered. Throughout his career Robert Rauschenberg enjoyed enormous success, artistically and financially. He was hailed as a precursor of virtually every movement after Abstract Expressionism. His wealth enabled him to pursue his humanitarian concerns, ranging from ROCI to the establishment of his foundation, which continues to support artists and philanthropic art projects that address important social issues.
The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange Project Robert Rauschenberg was one of the most innovative artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Alongside his fertile creativity was a devotion to social concern, which intensified in his mid-life, notably with the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange Project (ROCI). The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange Project (ROCI) was an audacious, groundbreaking undertaking that spanned eight years, from 1984 to 1991. Rauschenberg traveled to twelve countries: Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Tibet, China, Japan, Cuba, the former Soviet Union, former East Germany (East Berlin), Malaysia, and finally the United States. The artist worked against demanding circumstances of time and logistics, which were self imposed. At each stop he collaborated with local artists to produce new work and mount an exhibition. The exhibition evolved as the tour progressed and more art was added. Largely funded by Rauschenberg, the project aimed at fostering world peace through the art created, its collaborative process, and its viewing.
ROCI USA The United States was the final stop on the ROCI global tour. With the assistance of Donald Saff and the staff at Saff Tech Arts, Rauschenberg developed for this series a printing technique using encaustic or hot pigmented beeswax that he called fire wax. In place of paper or canvas, the fire wax was screened on to shiny metal sheets, at times combined with hand-applied acrylic and tarnishing. As had been his practice since the early 1960s, Rauschenberg layered photographic images to create montage compositions suggestive of everyday experiences of mass media. In this instance, however, he drew on photographs he had taken for this series, printing them in vivid colors. He continued his usual strategy of abstracting images by enlarging and fragmenting them. The simplified forms resulting from screen printing together with the layering further impede identification of the imagery as do the mirror-like surfaces of the metal supports. These surfaces add an elusiveness to the images, merging reflections of the viewers’ space with the print’s pictorial world. These two works from ROCI USA embody the interactive experience Rauschenberg intended for his viewers. The reflective surfaces grab the viewers’ attention, drawing them into the picture space. Open ended in meaning, the juxtapositions of images challenge the audience to make connections among them. What do palm trees and utility poles have to do with a commercial photography studio? How does a bicycle relate to a Venus sculpture? As he told an audience at the opening ROCI Japan, “I want to make you work hard. I don’t want to give you any answers.”
By visually positioning viewers in the prints and by engaging them intellectually to explore the possibilities of meaning here and in other ROCI works, Rauschenberg sought to activate viewers’ social involvement. The works lobby for appreciation of both the connections and distinctions among cultures around the world as a necessary foundation for world peace. Rauschenberg and Printmaking Robert Rauschenberg famously declared “the second half of the twentieth century is not a time to start writing on rocks,” meaning lithography was outmoded. Making a print at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) print workshop, however, changed his mind. Rauschenberg discovered that lithography was perfect for his hallmark practice of building compositions with layers of photo images and hand-rendered additions. Lithography also enabled him to vary the size and scale of each component image. He found the stone to have “the most flexible, responsive surface there is,” having “the sensitivity and frailty of albino skin.” In the 1960s, the explosion of printmaking in the United States fostered experimentation and “the big print,”—whose size vied with the increased size of paintings. Rauschenberg embraced both. His prints grew in size, and he collaborated with Bill Goldston, Director of ULAE to invent a process to transfer photographs directly to the lithographic plate. Along with the aesthetic rewards, the artist could reach broad audiences through the multiple artworks printmaking enabled.
About the artist (Overview) Robert Rauschenberg’s art has always been one of thoughtful inclusion. Working in a wide range of subjects, styles, materials, and techniques, Rauschenberg has been called a forerunner of essentially every postwar movement since Abstract Expressionism. He remained, however, independent of any particular affiliation. At the time that he began making art in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his belief that “painting relates to both art and life” presented a direct challenge to the prevalent modernist aesthetic. The celebrated Combines, begun in the mid-1950s, brought real-world images and objects into the realm of abstract painting and countered sanctioned divisions between painting and sculpture. These works established the artist’s ongoing dialogue between mediums, between the handmade and the readymade, and between the gestural brushstroke and the mechanically reproduced image. Rauschenberg’s lifelong commitment to collaboration—with performers, printmakers, engineers, writers, artists, and artisans from around the world—is a further manifestation of his expansive artistic philosophy. This text and the following chapter texts are adapted from an essay written by Julia Blaut, “Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective,” @Guggenheim (Fall 1997). For select artworks and more information, visit http://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/artist/early-works-1948-54.
Early Works, 1948-54 Beginning in 1948, Rauschenberg attended Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. His work at Black Mountain reveals many of the principal themes that recur throughout his oeuvre: sequences and progressions through time, grid formats, doubling and mirroring, and a sense of the human scale. During these formative years Rauschenberg used a wide range of art-making mediums, including printmaking, painting, photography, drawing (both conventional and experimental techniques), and sculpture. As would become his hallmark, he often used them in combination, blurring conventional distinctions between artistic categories. Collaboration with other artists would also remain an impetus throughout his career, and his early work with composer John Cage and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham inspired him to engage in conceptual modes and performance. Having settled in New York in fall 1949, Rauschenberg was introduced to the work of the Abstract Expressionists and began to incorporate their free brushwork into his own paintings. In the art made both at Black Mountain College and in New York between 1951 and 1953, Rauschenberg expanded on the abstract idiom with the inclusion of recognizable images and materials taken from his immediate environment. He impressed pebbles into the dark pigment of his Night Blooming paintings (1951); the uninflected White Paintings (1951) became screens for light and shadow, responding to the conditions around them; and newspaper collage formed the ground of the series of black paintings (1951–53). Rauschenberg’s collages and sculptures made in 1952–53 while traveling with artist Cy Twombly in Europe and North Africa, introduce his method of combining disparate subjects and contain many of his enduring motifs: body parts, modes of transportation, fine art reproductions, lettering, and diagrams. The small, fetishistic assemblages made in Italy from found materials, as well as the Elemental Sculptures and the Red Paintings begun on his return to New York in 1953, were laboratories for the later Combines.
Expanding Career, 1954-69 For Rauschenberg there was a natural progression from the Red Paintings to the Combines, as twodimensional collage and eventually three-dimensional objects came to the fore. By summer 1954, Rauschenberg had made the first, fully realized Combine, eliminating all distinctions between painting and sculpture. Expanding on Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the readymade, Rauschenberg imbued new significance to such ordinary objects as a patchwork quilt or an automobile tire by combining unrelated items and incorporating them into the context of art. When Rauschenberg first exhibited the Red Paintings and Combines at the Egan Gallery, New York, in December 1954, critics were baffled by the works, which challenged existing definitions of art. Less than a decade later, however, Rauschenberg’s reputation as the leading artist of his generation was established following his first solo exhibition held in 1963 at the Jewish Museum, New York, and his award the following year of the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale. Of the works by Rauschenberg shown at the U.S. Pavilion were many of his now-celebrated Combines, including Bed (1955), as well as several paintings from a series the artist began in fall 1962, in which he used commercially produced silkscreens based on media sources and his own photographs. Rauschenberg’s use of a commercial means of reproduction and his focus on media subjects in this series led art critics to identify him with the Pop art movement that had recently emerged on the New York art scene in 1962. In comparison with the often coolly executed paintings of the Pop artists, however, Rauschenberg’s works are emphatically gestural and handmade. The silkscreen paintings have an expressive quality that results from their hand-painted areas, the collage-like overlays of photographic images, and the intentional slippage and irregularities, which the artist allowed to remain uncorrected during the screening process. Less than a decade later, however, Rauschenberg’s reputation as the leading artist of his generation was established following his first solo exhibition held in 1963 at the Jewish Museum, New York, and his award the following year of the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale. Of the works by Rauschenberg shown at the U.S. Pavilion were many of his now-celebrated Combines, including Bed (1955), as well as several paintings from a series the artist began in fall 1962, in which he used commercially produced silkscreens based on media sources and his own photographs. Rauschenberg’s use of a commercial means of reproduction and his focus on media subjects in this series led art critics to identify him with the Pop art movement that had recently emerged on the New York art scene in 1962. In comparison with the often coolly executed paintings of the Pop artists, however, Rauschenberg’s works are emphatically gestural and handmade. The silkscreen paintings have an expressive quality that results from their hand-painted areas, the collage-like overlays of photographic images, and the intentional slippage and irregularities, which the artist allowed to remain uncorrected during the screening process.
Mid-Career, 1970s-1980s With his move in 1970 from New York to Captiva Island, off the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rauschenberg cleared his palette. Retreating from urban imagery, he now favored a more abstract idiom and the use of natural fibers, such as fabric and paper. The Cardboards (1971–72) and the Venetians (1972–73) reveal his fascination with the inherent color, texture, and history of found materials. The beautiful and disparate effects of fabrics, ranging from cotton to satin, are explored in the Hoarfrosts (1974–76) and Jammers (1975–76). Collaborations at paper mills in France and India resulted in works where paper pulp was elevated to an art form.
A mid-career retrospective was mounted in 1976 by the National Collection of Fine Arts [now the Smithsonian Museum of American Art], Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., when Rauschenberg was selected to honor the American Bicentennial. Having the opportunity to reexamine his early work, Rauschenberg returned to past concerns. His Spreads (1975–83) and Scales (1977–81) incorporate transferred and screened images as well as assemblage, sometimes in room-scale installations. During the 1980s, Rauschenberg undertook two long-term projects. The first, The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece, was begun in 1981, and completed in 1998. This multi-part work consists of 191 components and spans more than a quarter mile. Retrospective in character, this piece is replete with references to his life and art.
Late Work, 1992-2008 In his late work, Rauschenberg continued to approach his art with the spirit of invention and with the quest for new material and new technology that was characteristic of his work throughout his career. Beginning in 1992, Rauschenberg used an Iris printer to make digital color prints of his photographs. It is this technology that allowed for the high-resolution images and luminous hues in the large-scale works on paper, the Waterworks (1992–95) and Anagrams (1995–97). In 1996, he transferred the Iris prints to wet plaster in the Arcadian Retreats (a fresco series that provided him with an entirely new avenue of exploration) and onto polylaminate panels in his last three bodies of work, Short Stories (2000–2002), Scenarios (2002–06), and finally, Runts (2006–08). Despite his use of new materials and methods, much of Rauschenberg’s later work looks back at his earlier art and is autobiographical in nature. With the artist’s retrospective exhibition organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1997, which traveled to venues in the United States and Europe, the artist had the opportunity to view the full scope of what at that point had been a fifty-year career. During that same year, Rauschenberg worked in glass for the first time, creating sculptures of his iconic subjects: a tire, a pillow, a shovel, and a broom, each dignified by a silver platform. His monumental Mirthday Man (1997) from the Anagram (A Pun) series made on the occasion of his seventy-second birthday, includes a reproduction of the life-size X-ray of the artist first used in the print Booster (1967), while the imagery in the editioned Ruminations series (2000) refers to important moments and figures in the artist’s early life. Following a stroke in 2002 that leaves his right hand partially paralyzed, the artist continued to work, undeterred, but now with his left hand. During this final decade, he continued his collaborations with performers and printmakers and his commitment to humanitarian causes.
Booking a tour/visit – “Beyond the Classroom” Beyond the Classroom (the OSU Museum of Art’s PK-12 inquiry based tour program) encourages students of all abilities to engage with art and each other by looking deeply, and thinking creatively and critically. Students make personal and curricular connections through discussion, writing, and hands-on activities. We welcome both public school groups and home-schoolers. Admission to the museum is always free. To book a tour, please visit http://museum.okstate.edu/tours. Please be advised that we require at least three weeks advanced notice for tours of 10 or more to allow for appropriate staffing. For more information, to discuss programming, or to request a transportation or substitute teacher subsidy, please contact Carrie Kim, Curator of Education and Programming, at (405)744-2785 or email@example.com.
Online Resources Follow the OSU Museum of Art Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/osumuseumofart/ to stay upto-date on all educator resources, news articles, curatorial talks, artist talks, artist presentations, and more. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Art, archives, oral histories, and more. http://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org OSUMA Robert Rauschenberg’s World A Sway Presentation featuring a brief introduction to the artist, select videos, and exhibition description. http://tinyurl.com/zg5z57z Robert Rauschenberg: Pop Art Pioneer BBC Full documentary https://youtu.be/yELmPbQNx9M Robert Rauschenberg: American Collagist, Painter, and Graphic Artist The Art Story – Synopsis, key ideas, most important art, biography, influences, connections, resources http://www.theartstory.org/artist-rauschenberg-robert.htm
Discussion Questions and Lesson Plans LOOKING CLOSELY The longer you look, the more you will see. Take some time to look deeper. This will help you to build stronger connections, understanding, and an appreciation for the work. Find our Educator Resource guide at https://issuu.com/osumuseumofart/docs/toolkit_for_looking_gallery_activity. Focus on One Art – Look at a work of art. What do you see? Now pair up with a friend. You look at one part of the work while your friend examines another part. Discuss what you notice. How do you and your friend’s findings differ? How are they similar? Perhaps you both notice color, or maybe one notices color while the other notices the depth.
Where Does Your Eye Go First? – What do you notice first? Where does your eye travel next? How does the artist guide your eye throughout the work? What tools does the artist use (gesture, line, movement, composition, etc.) to keep you moving throughout the work or to draw your focus to one particular aspect? 30 Second Looking – Look at a work for 30 seconds. Now, turn around and describe the work to a friend. Now, face the artwork again. Find five things you didn’t notice the first time you viewed the work. Reproductions Vs “The Real Thing” – What is the difference between a “real” work of art versus a reproduction? Rauschenberg uses many collaged images in his works to create a new image. How do these combined reproductions interact? What do they have in common, if anything? Are the reproductions changed when he includes other imagery? If so, how?
Robert Rauschenberg, Venus Rapture IV, 1991. Acrylic, fire wax, and variegated brass leaf on stainless steel, 73 x 97 inches.
Robert Rauschenberg, Narcissus / ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works), 1990. Acrylic, enamel, and fire wax on stainless steel, 97 x 73 inches.
Explore online resources, reading lists, discussion questions and more to begin your conversation about the art in this exhibition.
Published on Feb 9, 2017
Explore online resources, reading lists, discussion questions and more to begin your conversation about the art in this exhibition.