Considered an important forerunner of Pop Art, Rauschenberg is best known as a painter and sculptor who combined traditional art materials with everyday objects. He also worked as a printmaker, photographer and performance artist. From 1985 – 1990, Rauschenberg traveled with an exhibition of his own work to eleven countries as part of the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI). In each location, Rauschenberg created a new body of work inspired by the local cultures he experienced, hoping to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue. The Soviet/American Array prints lay out photographs taken in both the former Soviet Union and the United States, highlighting contrasts and similarities between the two opposing super powers of the Cold War. Rauschenberg juxtaposes photographic subjects ranging from grand architecture to people going about their daily lives. Together these images call to mind the complex ways in which we understand, define and communicate the essence of cultures, which are multilayered and ever-changing. Photogravure was an unusual choice of print process at the time Rauschenberg used it, although this difficult and labor-intensive process has started undergoing a revival. It was developed in the mid-nineteenth century as a way to make permanent reproductions of photographic images. Photogravure’s extraordinary richness and subtlety of tones encouraged artists to use it not just to reproduce photographs but to create original art.
Robert Rauschenberg Soviet American Array VII, 1988–91 Collection of the Akron Art Museum One of the most celebrated artists of the late twentieth century, Robert Rauschenberg has been prolific in painting, sculpture, and printmaking as well as performance art, costume, and set design. Insistently combining separate disciplines, he explores what he has memorably called "the gap between art and life." Born Milton Rauschenberg and raised on the Gulf Coast near Louisiana, Rauschenberg was drafted into the Army after being expelled from college. He discovered art and museums while stationed in California, and later studied in Kansas City, Paris, and at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. By the early 1960s, Rauschenberg had developed numerous innovative techniques: he combined painted surfaces with salvaged objects and transferred images from the print media by various methods including photo-silkscreen. In 1964 he won the prestigious grand prize at the Venice Biennale. Rauschenberg first conceived the idea of an international tour of his work in 1976. He founded the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI), which organized and funded the artist’s travels in the Americas, Europe, and Asia and exhibitions of his work in eleven different lands between 1984 and 1990. Most of the countries had minimal exposure to international contemporary art. For Rauschenberg, "one-to-one contact through art contains potent, peaceful powers . . . seducing us into creative mutual understandings for the benefit of all." The ROCI project was proof of his belief that "Art is educating, provocative, and enlightening even when first not understood."1 In each country, the artist traveled, photographed, and collected indigenous artifacts. Art works informed by the encounter between the American artist and the host country were then exhibited, some having been made abroad, others in Rauschenberg's studios in New York and Florida. While some critics decried this effort as naive (and even a form of cultural imperialism), Rauschenberg's monumental expenditure of personal funds over a decade and his donation of major works to the host countries should be recognized as a remarkable testament to the power of an individual to act outside of government to promote international communication. Rauschenberg's trip to the former Soviet Union resulted in two significant bodies of work: fabric wall hangings and seven large photogravures on paper (the Akron Art Museum owns two). The photogravures were made on Long Island at Universal Limited Art Editions following trips to Leningrad, Moscow, Tbilisi, and Samarkand. They bring together photographs taken by Rauschenberg in the Soviet Union and the United States, placing communism and capitalism side by side and forcibly uniting the two former superpowers into one harmonious whole. Soviet/American Array VII fulfills Rauschenberg's desire to bridge art and life. It refers to the real world but imposes numerous aesthetic choices in the selection of images, their cropping, the distinct blocks of color, and the unusual choice of photogravure for printing. This once-popular commercial process for reproducing photographs allows ink to seep into the paper, yielding a hazy, almost nostalgic quality, as if Cold War rivalry has been relegated to the past. Some of the artist's favorite themes can be seen in Soviet/American Array VII, particularly that of the male figure at work and leisure. The two American construction workers linking hands to attack a bolt perfectly symbolize the artist's own lifelong commitment to collaboration, whether with choreographers, composers, or the masterful technicians who print photogravures. It is no accident that the arrow points up, a sign of optimism to thwart the nearby rubbish. Rauschenberg explained that as a young artist he wanted "to photograph the entire United States." Not hubris at all, Rauschenberg's impossible desire "to look at everything" and to embrace the entire world has impelled him for over forty years.2 ROCI is the grand, logical outgrowth of such an attitude. - Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001 1. Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, 154. 2. "A Conversation about Art and ROCI: Robert Rauschenberg and Donald Saff," November 1990, Captiva, Florida; in ibid., 163. Kotz, Mary Lynn. Rauschenberg: Art and Life. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990. Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange. Washington, D.C., and Munich: National Gallery of Art and Prestel-Verlag, 1991.
signed LR: "Rauschenberg AP 2/13, 88-91"