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Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios

February 7 - September 5, 2004


Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios , an exhibition of new and earlier work by this contemporary American master, will be on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art Feb. 7--Sept. 5, 2004.  It marks the artist's first major presence at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 40 years. (right: Robert Rauschenberg, Polar Glut, 1987, Riveted metal parts, 76 x 36 x 4 inches, Collection of the artist)

Rauschenberg made his Wadsworth Atheneum debut in 1964, in several guises.  His legendary Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) had its first public showing with other early work in the group exhibition Black, White and Grey: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture (January 9 -- February 9).  He returned as the designer of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for the world premieres (on March 21) of Cunningham's Paired and Winterbranch.

Rauschenberg's controversial designs for the latter had the company dancing in black sweat clothes in a darkness violently punctuated by lamp beams he directed according to chance operations.  In May of that year, the Wadsworth Atheneum formally accessioned Rauschenberg's Retroactive I (1963--64), a gift from the prominent art collector Susan Morse Hilles.  The image of President John F. Kennedy (who had been assassinated only months earlier) is at the center of this silk-screened painting, which quickly became one of the artist's most famous, as well as an icon of 1960s America.

In March 1965, Rauschenberg performed at the Wadsworth Atheneum with Yvonne Rainer, one of many notable choreographers with whom he collaborated.

For over 50 years, random order, collage and assemblage, and image transfer techniques have been central to Rauschenberg's artistic production.  This will be evident in 17 works from the new, photo-based series titled Scenarios , which will have their first public showing in the upcoming exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum.   

Measuring approximately 7 by 10 feet, these large-scale panels depict commonplace scenes and objects, such as traffic signs, newspapers, billboards, plants and animals, derived from Rauschenberg's vast archive of found and self-generated imagery. 

Art ripped from the headlines might describe Currents, Rauschenberg's 1970 collage and silk-screen series.  The Wadsworth Atheneum has two portfolios from Currents in its permanent collection -- Surface (18 images) and Features (26 images)--that have never before been exhibited.  In addition, the exhibition will feature several works from the Gluts series that the artist began in 1986. Rauschenberg has described these metal wall reliefs and sculptures as "souvenirs without nostalgia."

"There could be no better way to re-state the Wadsworth Atheneum's long-standing commitment to contemporary art than this exhibition," said Director Willard Holmes.  "It unites brilliant new work from one of America's greatest living artists along with work from three decades ago that had a profound effect on art-making in our times."

Robert Rauschenberg was born Oct. 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas.  He began to study pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin before being drafted into the U.S. Navy.  He later enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1947 and traveled to Paris in 1948 to study painting at the Académie Julian.  That fall he returned to the United States to study under Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which he attended intermittently through 1952 (and where he met John Cage and Merce Cunningham).  Meanwhile, from 1949 to 1951, he also attended the Art Students League in New York.

In the early 1950s, Rauschenberg made white and black monochromatic paintings, sculptures from objects found on the streets of New York, paintings with collage elements, as well as conceptual works such as Erased de Kooning Drawing .  In 1954 the artist coined the term "Combines" for his works that incorporated aspects of painting and sculpture and often included objects such as a taxidermied goat, a street sign, or a quilt.  In 1962, Rauschenberg began to silk-screen paintings.  Since then, he has furthered his exploration and innovation of image transfer techniques.

The largest retrospective of Rauschenberg's works was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1997, and traveled to Houston and to Europe in 1998.

The artist lives and works in Captiva, Florida, and in New York City.

The Wadsworth Atheneum exhibition is made possible in part by the generous support of Carol and Sol LeWitt and The Ritter Foundation. NBC 30 is the official media sponsor. Exhibitions are supported in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council's United Arts Campaign and the Connecticut Commission on Arts, Tourism, Culture, History, and Film.


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