Lux, Libertas, and Rauschenberg
“With lux, libertas—light and liberty—as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world's greatest problems.”
Mission Statement of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Holden Thorp, former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, argues that universities must become centers for solving the world’s greatest problems in his book, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the Twenty-First Century. His mantra, combined with a mission statement urging progressive change, encapsulates the “Carolina Way,” UNC-Chapel Hill students’ answer to what gives the university its spirit. Robert Rauschenberg echoes these sentiments of progression, compassion, and hope in both his art and life. He developed an eight-year program called Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange to promote cross-border communication and peace. He was also passionate about environmental and health issues on a global scale, contributing his time and art to the AIDS epidemic and the Natural Resources Defense Council. With this opportunity to integrate Robert Rauschenberg’s art into a college campus, I propose an exhibition that highlights Rauschenberg and UNC-Chapel Hill’s shared quixotic optimism for social change while acknowledging the complexities and problems of enacting impact in a protean world.
This exhibition also addresses the recent exhibition of Rauschenberg’s work at our neighbor institution, Duke University. The Nasher Museum’s “Rauschenberg: Collecting and Connecting” emphasizes the importance of placing Rauschenberg’s art in dialogue with other artists and trends. UNC-Chapel Hill’s exhibition extends this dialogue by placing the ideals, intentions, and academic endeavors of the university in dialogue with the art of Robert Rauschenberg. I have divided the exhibition into five small sections—mirroring the pavilion-style approach to “Rauschenberg: Collecting and Connecting.” However, these divisions are purposely vague and meant to be transgressed. Rather than seeing these as divisions, the five sections are meant as guides for progressing through the exhibition. For each of these sections, I have chosen a work from Rauschenberg’s Tribute 21, a series of twenty-one prints that Rauschenberg produced for a humanitarian aid project that sought to use art as a way for promoting change and improving social conditions through different tactics. The five sections (literature, communication, technology, environment, and art) also represent the divisions created in liberal arts colleges—the artificial renderings of how we educate the future generation to solve problems. However, the other works selected for this exhibition cross these simple divisions. Rauschenberg’s “Automobile Tire Print” is as much about communication as it is technology and ultimately art. Within the exhibition, some works, such as Rauschenberg’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno and “Catastrophe (Arcadian Retreat)” emphasize that the road to social change is not simple—rather, we need to be aware of our own dialogues and the possibilities that can occur when we cross boundaries. I end the exhibition with the “Erased de Kooning” drawing, a nearly-but not blank slate with history and new possibility for art and the university.