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Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg’s America

September 13, 2009 – January 3, 2010

installation view of "Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg's America" featuring artworks hanging on the wall
installation view of "Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg's America" featuring wall text and artworks hanging on the wall
installation view of "Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg's America" featuring artworks hanging on the wall

Overview

Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), who came to the fore in the 1950s, was one of the great artists of our age. He was also a prominent chronicler of American culture in the second half of the twentieth century. Working in a broad range of media, more varied than any other major artist of the century, he was a painter, sculptor, draftsman, photographer, performance artist, choreographer, theater designer, and printmaker. His extensive work in printmaking—which took place over a period of nearly 60 years—is a defining contribution to the history of the modern print.

Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg’s America concentrates on three important print series created by the artist in the late 1960s. Works in the series bear witness to American life at the end of that tumultuous decade. In 1969, postwar triumphalism had consummate expression in the first manned mission to land on the moon. This moment of collective pride, however, was compromised by political assassinations, massive urban riots, demands for social reform, ongoing cold war threats, and protests against the Vietnam War. The dichotomy between a confident and failing America is the context for the exhibition on view. It is directly addressed in Signs, a screenprint that Rauschenberg produced in 1970. A photomontage of the sixties, it brings together both tragic and celebratory scenes of the era. Signs is a preface to the works on view and gives the exhibition its title.

Signs of the Times presents Reels (B+C), 1968; Stoned Moon Series, 1969; and Surface Series (from Currents), 1970. All three series are shown in their entirety. To create these works, Rauschenberg first juxtaposed and overlapped imagery appropriated from photographs, scientific charts, newspapers, and popular magazines. In two of the series, he unified his collaged designs with linework, brushed shapes, and abstract patterns. The provocative collisions of images and ideas are layered in meaning, reflecting the energetic rhythms and contradictions of the country at a critical point in its history.

The question of who we are as Americans has been asked throughout the history of our country. In this spirit of self-examination, Rauschenberg’s print series wrestle with national identity, addressing the hopes and fault lines of the American Dream at the end of the 1960s. They are signs of their times.


Exhibition Support

Generous funding for Signs of the Times: Robert Rauschenberg’s America has been provided by Bill and Jan DeAtley; Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.; J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; the Madison Print Club; Webcrafters-Frautschi Foundation; Paula and David Kraemer; Jim and Cathie Burgess; the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company and the Overture Foundation; Associated Bank; RSM McGladrey, Inc.; Gina and Michael Carter; the Madison Arts Commission with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.