An artist of insatiable curiosity and restless creativity, Robert Rauschenberg came to attention at a fertile juncture in American art, as Abstract Expressionism wound down and Pop art appeared. His aesthetic strategy, embracing screenprint on canvas, assemblage, set design, and performance, is based on collage and juxtaposes objects and images from the everyday world to elicit their effects on each other and to stimulate an almost poetic response in the viewer.
Rauschenberg’s prints now number nearly one thousand, but he needed the cajoling of Tatyana Grosman to attempt printmaking, during the fledgling years of the now-renowned publisher and printer Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE). His daring use of lithography appeared early on, when the stone for Accident broke in two while he was working on it. Undeterred, he retained the diagonal white gash through the composition, recording this event. When Accident won first prize at the prestigious Ljubljana Graphic Biennial in 1963, it established Rauschenberg, ULAE, and American printmaking in the forefront as never before.
Rauschenberg continues to work at ULAE. Among his projects of the 1980s was the Soviet/American Array series, created for ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange) and including his own photographs of New York and Moscow. This undertaking, fostering cultural exchange in cities outside the usual contemporary art circuit, reflects Rauschenberg’s broad interest in social causes, expressed in numerous benefit prints over the years on subjects from ecology to world peace.
Among his prints from other workshops, sheer technical audacity marks those produced at Gemini G.E.L. His first project there, a self-portrait entitled Booster, was the largest hand-pulled print to date in 1967. Preview, an editioned assemblage of printed imagery and collaged paper bags on silk, epitomizes his provocative imagination and extends the definition of printmaking far beyond the traditional handheld artwork on paper.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 150.