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Robert Rauschenberg: An American Iconoclast

January 31 - March 18, 2004


The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery continues its spring program on January 31, 2004 with Robert Rauschenberg: An American Iconoclast, which will run through March 18, 2004. (right: Robert Rauschenberg, American (born 1925), Swim/ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works), 1990, Acrylic, fire wax, and variegated brass leaf on stainless steel, Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Collection, Gift of Donald and Ruth Saff, 2002.026)

Presented to mark a major gift made by Donald and Ruth Saff, this exhibition will feature mixed-media, large-scale prints from the artist's ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works) series. ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange) was a groundbreaking of exhibition tour comprising paintings, sculpture, prints, and objects inspired by Rauschenberg's experiences in each host country. The project had its final complete showing at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in 1991. Also featured will be a selection of photographs from Study for a Chinese Summer Hall and other graphics.

Begun in 1985, Robert Rauschenberg began a six-year exhibition tour that led him to Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Japan, Cuba, the former Soviet Union, former East Germany (East Berlin), and Malaysia. ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange) became a continually evolving exhibition marked by Rauschenberg's submersion into the culture of each country and was organized to promote world peace and cultural awareness. This wholly engaged approach to coming to an understanding of these disparate cultures gave Rauschenberg a kind of insight that resulted in producing some of his strongest works of art to date. Each of the three massive prints that are drawn from this body of work, including Vanderbilt University's Swim/ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works) -- on view for the first time -- are Rauschenberg's artistic response to his home country, the United States of America. As in the past, Rauschenberg employed a collage approach where he utilized photographic images that he artfully combined in arresting compositions. Like many of the ROCI works, each are marked by his use of highly reflective metals, and bright, saturated colors. These works are also important in that Rauschenberg and the master printers at Saff Tech Arts, the publisher of many of the ROCI prints, employed an entirely innovative use of heated, pigmented waxes that were applied through metal screens, resulting in an almost ghost-like image quality in portions of each composition.

Also of note is that Donald Saff, the donor of Vanderbilt's new Rauschenberg, is considered to be one of central figures in American printmaking, the founder of the innovative print studios, Graphicstudio, University of South Florida, and Saff Tech Arts, and senior curator of prints and drawings at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the co-author of Printmaking, History and Process History and Process (1978).

Robert Rauschenberg, along with Jasper Johns, became important stylistic bridges between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. A painter, sculptor, printmaker, photographer and performance artist, Rauschenberg continues to defy categorization. Early work ranged from "happenings" or performances that melded aspects of visual art with conceptually driven acting, to what became known as "combine" paintings -- works that literally combined or integrated real, three-dimensional objects into paintings and, in some cases, sculpture. This new form of Dadaism, where the appropriation of everyday objects are transformed into art, had an immense impact on how art was made and interpreted. The act of appropriation extended to the use of media-generated images, from newspaper and magazine clippings to video stills, which, for Rauschenberg, became a form of commentary on contemporary culture and often politics.

Easily one of the most important American artists living today, with work in virtually every museum dedicated to contemporary art, and many beyond, with an extensive exhibition history that includes a 1997 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, Rauschenberg's influence on the art of our time is enormous. As noted by Joseph Mella, director, Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, "this exhibition, although comparatively modest in scale, illustrates the genius of one of America's greatest living, working artists, one that continues to remain relevant today."

There will be an opening reception from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, 2004 at the Fine Arts Gallery.

The Fine Arts Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building, also known as the Old Gym, at the corner of 23rd and West End Avenues. The opening reception is free and the public is invited to attend. Please note: The Gallery will be closed March 6 -14 for Spring Break.


Editor's Note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery in Resource Library Magazine


rev. 10/20/10

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2004 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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