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Rauschenberg: posters for a better world.

"It comes as something of a shock to I recall that Robert Rauschenberg has been a symbol of the new for some twenty-five years. During that time a great variety of fashions in art have come and gone, yet Rauschenberg has remained very much himself and, contrary to rule, perpetually new.... We are pleased ... to salute the fresh store of creative energy, surprise and wonder that Robert Rauschenberg has bestowed on American art and the welcome testimony to the joys of an inner aesthetic harmony that it brings with it." *

These well-deserved words of praise were written by Joshua Taylor, one of the great museum directors of the 20th century, in a landmark catalogue on Robert Rauschenberg. This statement was published 29 years ago and yet, the same tribute could still be accorded to this artist today in a career that has now spanned more than a half-century.

Robert Rauschenberg unquestionably must be regarded as one of the most talented, experimental, versatile, productive, prolific, influential and esteemed artists of our time. As an artist who gained prominence in the turbulent and exciting 1960s, he was instrumental in the transition from abstract expressionism toward a return to the object and representationalism.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg studied pharmacology at the University of Texas and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before making the decision to study art He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Academie Julian in Paris, Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the Art Students League in New York. Although he considers Joseph Albers his most important teacher, some of his early series of paintings might be compared to those by Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning.

From his earliest works, Rauschenberg has been highly experimental in his utilization and combinations of media. He investigated the use of photographic blueprints and incorporated the widest variety of items into his compositions.

By the early 1950s Rauschenberg developed what he called "combine-paintings," in which three-dimensional elements are integrated onto the canvas. These pioneering and often extraordinary works fuse expressionistic passages of painting with untraditional objects such as bedding material, clocks, an automobile tire and a stuffed ram! Over the years, there is virtually no material or technique that has not been considered by this artist for a work of art, installation or performance.

By the 1960s, Rauschenberg fully embraced the art and techniques of printmaking. He applied his signature collage style to creating lithographs and silkscreen prints that combined familiar images from popular culture and current events in an original and radical manner.

Robert Rauschenberg believes that artists must be engaged in "determining the fate of the Earth." Therefore, his art and prints address the widest variety of contemporary issues including social, political and environmental concerns, among many other topics. Because of his artistic and social advocacy, Rauschenberg earned the title "artist-citizen" in 1976 during his critically acclaimed exhibition at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now called the Smithsonian American Art Museum).

To honor Rauschenberg's work in the print/poster medium, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) has launched the national tour of Robert Rauschenberg, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World. Organized in collaboration with the University Art Gallery of California State University, Hayward, and the Rauschenberg archive in New York, the exhibition focuses on posters designed by the artist between 1969 and 1996.

From the great number of posters produced by Rauschenberg, this selection reflects a wide range of styles and themes. The posters call to mind many important issues of the past few decades and evoke the depth and range of Rauschenberg's interests--the posters support artists' rights and Earth Day, as well as campaigns against apartheid, nuclear armament and overpopulation.

An early screen print from 1970, titled Signs, has been frequently reproduced and alludes to a number of seminal historic events such as the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. and the death of rock icon Janis Joplin.

Also represented in the exhibition ore posters he designed for the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI--pronounced "Rocky"), in which he interacted with people of other countries in on attempt to enhance international understanding and worldwide harmony through collaborative art-making. "I thought it would be terrible to live in this world and not know what another part of the world was like," said Rauschenberg. Mainly "sensitive" areas were involved in these works, such as Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Cuba and the former USSR.

A tour through this exhibition is very much like a walk down memory lane for some people. As art, the posters form a mini-retrospective of one of the world's most gifted contemporary practitioners. As history, the images tell stories of many world issues still yet to be resolved. For Rauschenberg, the posters demonstrate his artistic activism and his commitment and determination to make the world a better place.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. For more information on SITES exhibitions including tour schedules, visit


Museum of the Gulf Coast

Port Arthur, Texas

Through Oct. 23, 2005

New Braunfels Museum of Art and Music

New Braunfels, Texas

Nov. 12, 2005-Jan. 22, 2006

Hofstra Museum

Hempstead, New York

Feb. 11-April 23, 2006

Baum Gallery, University, of Arkansas

Conway, Arkansas

Aug. 12-Oct. 22, 2006

Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery

Coastal Carolina University, Conway, S.C.

Feb. 10-April 22, 2007

* From Robert Rauschenberg (exhibition catalogue), National Collection of Fine Arts. Smithsonian Institution. Washington D.C., 1976.

Mark M. Johnson is Director of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama, and a Contributing Editor for Arts & Activities.
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Title Annotation:LEARNING from EXHIBITIONS; Robert Rauschenberg
Author:Johnson, Mark M.
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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