Among the foremost American artists who bridged the modern and contemporary periods, Robert Rauschenberg created famously wide-ranging, mixed-media work, while blending distinctions between art and life. He believed that art could connect different peoples and cultures, and posited that “one-to-one contact through art contains potent, peaceful powers … seducing us into creative mutual understandings for the benefit of all.” In that spirit, he set out to travel the world in the mid-1970s, covering ground in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the former Soviet Union. He took pictures and gathered keepsakes all along the way, which he then incorporated into works reflecting his journeys, including a suite of monumental prints he made after traveling through Leningrad, Moscow, Tbilisi, and Samarkand, known as his “Soviet/American Array” series (1988-91). A selection of prints from this series is now on view at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art and on special offer to Artsy collectors until the end of October.
True to Rauschenberg’s inimitable style and his flair for structuring disparate visual elements into compositions at once chaotic and harmonious, these prints are alive with saturated color and overlapping images. In them, he pulls back the Iron Curtain and pairs pictures of the Soviet Union with those of the United States. These juxtapositions are sometimes jarring, as in Soviet/American Array I (1989), in which a bust of Lenin appears next to the twin towers of the former World Trade Center, icons of internationalism and capitalism. In Soviet/American Array IV (1990), an American flag partially overlaps heads of cabbage, triggering ironic associations, since cabbage is both a vegetable common to Soviet cooking and a slang term for money. But not all of the artist’s pictures are so pointed. Some, like that of a seated cat in Soviet/American Array III (1990), look like they could have been taken in a Soviet or an American city, and seem to suggest that commonalities between the two countries existed beneath the bluster, the politics, and the ideologies—which is exactly what Rauschenberg set out to demonstrate every step along the way of his international travels and in their resultant works of art.