Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends

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*Retroactive I*

Robert Rauschenberg. Retroactive I. 1964

Robert Rauschenberg. Retroactive I, 1964. Oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. Gift of Susan Morse Hilles

Curator, Leah Dickerman: This silkscreen includes an image of John F. Kennedy, whom Rauschenberg greatly admired. After the assassination, Rauschenberg was uncertain whether he should use the image. But he decided to go ahead, as a way of honoring Kennedy’s memory.

In the silkscreen process, he creates an inventory bank for himself of about 150 silkscreens all drawn from popular media. And with this vocabulary, he mixes and recombines these images in a variety of ways. So it's almost as if Rauschenberg is thinking digitally even before he has digital technological capacities.

Critic Calvin Tomkins has been looking at Rauschenberg's work since the mid-1950s. He often visited Rauschenberg’s studio.

Calvin Tomkins: He would do four or five big canvases at once, out on the floor you know, of the screens he had made up. He wasn’t doing them with exact measurements so the calibration is perfect. He’d gotten bored with that, so they were slightly out of register, and the colors would get confused.

He worked in a kind of effortless way. There was no stress. It seemed like he didn’t do much stopping and thinking and stepping back to look. He would just put down a screen and squeegee the color over it, and then pick it up and he’d look at it for a minute or so.

It seemed like such a free, open, almost casual way of working. But there was this sort of uncanny precision of his own design sense.