Thursday, 9 July 2009

'Let the World In', a commemorative exhibition of the works of Robert Rauschenberg at the UN

Robert Rauschenberg
Photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Courtesy the Photographer
I feel strong in my belief, based on my widely traveled collaborations, that a one-to-one contact through art contains potent peaceful powers, and is the most non-elitist way to share information, hopefully seducing us into creating mutual understandings for the benefit of all (Robert Rauschenberg) 
Geneva, Switzerland (July 7, 2009), When in 1996 Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) presented three remarkable bodies of workd in the Mekhtitarian Armenian monastic headquarters on the Island of San Lazzaro in collaboration with Curator Adelina von Furstenberg, his modernist aesthetics ran uncannily parallel to the multicultural ideology of Mekhitarian Order. Despite Rauschenberg’s apparent shift away from Abstract Expressionism (crafted by Arshile Gorky and epitomized by Jackson Pollock) onto the trajectory of Pop art, his silkscreens can also be read as common grounds between these binary opposites. In fact, Barbara Rose has noted on the painterly dimension of Rauschenbergin the September issue of Artforum that his style, "like that of the action painters, remained both gestural and physical throughout his career". And such was the premise of von Fürstenberg’s remarks during the opening of the exhibition Let the World In on July 7 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The exhibition features works of Rauschenberg from the U.S. Mission's ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange) collection,  in addition to a series of 21 silkscreens entitled Tribute 21 offered by Rauschenberg to the United Nations on the occasin of Dialogues of Peace in 1995. This event was realized under the patronage of Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Mark C. Storella, Chargé d’affaires, a.i. of the United States of America to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva. Rauschenberg’s profuse career and aesthetic pathway were addressed within a broad, sociopolitical framework through the following comments of von Fürstenberg. Raphy Sarkissian

Robert Rauschenberg, Labour, 1994
Courtesy of the United Nations Office of Geneva
Art as an Instrument for Peace
We often make the assumption that there is a hidden value in an artwork. This sensation is not necessarily because the artist has something to withhold, but because much of modern art favors the language of form over content. I would like to comment on Robert Rauschenberg’s art by taking as an example another great American artist, Jackson Pollock.
In the Fifties, during the postwar years, the art of Jackson Pollock would become considered to be the closest one to the concept of freedom. Thus the question is: how can a tangle of colors, totally abstract and therefore lacking in narrative, tell us a story about freedom? The answer is that the absence of narrative does not mean an absence of content. American post-war art, as shown by Pollock who splattered color drips on the canvas while dancing and listening to free jazz, was a strong witness of this possibility of freedom. 
This is an important point in order to understand the context and significance of Robert Rauschenberg’s work. His art has to be connected to the dialectic of the Cold War, which echoed the dialectic of such opposites as: East versus West, Capitalism versus Communism, abstract versus figurative art. This conflict between abstract and figurative art, during those years, was becoming an important issue because it contrasted the freedom of abstraction of the Western world to the obligation of Figurative Realism of totalitarian countries.
Well, Rauschenberg brought together abstraction and figuration in the same work, using images from newspapers, like Kennedy’s portrait or those of American spacemen. He combined these iconic subjects, which belonged to American culture, with abstract brushstrokes. This was his way of demonstrating that within the same work of art, different languages, different forms and different contents can live together. And since the work of art is a reflection of the world, this means that everyone can live harmoniously together, without overwhelming each other. For this reason, the political message expressed by Rauschenberg’s art remains compelling: it tells us that the coexistence of different languages and forms is the most important value in order to aim for peace and to understand each other and connect diverse cultures successfully and peacefully.
The output of Robert Rauschenberg in general, along with his Tribute 21 silkscreen series in particular, is a great example of art as an instrument for peace.
By creating Tribute 21, the artist paid a tribute to the beginning of the New Millennium, a tribute that everyone owes to the community where one lives.
Offering these artworks to the United Nations, Rauschenberg himself has given his tribute to the twenty-first century and to the world. As such, each of the silkscreen works is dedicated to a key figure of the twentieth century. They are chained to such important issues as peace, human rights, children, gender, health, nature, labor, education, space, communication, technology, culture, architecture, fashion and sports. 
For example, he dedicated Human Rights to Nelson Mandela, Fashion to Issey Miyake, Nature to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Environment to Al Gore, Space to Carl Sagan and so on. As we know, each of these figures made important tributes to the world and became an inspiration for future generations.
By the way, Robert Rauschenberg was of German and Native American Cherokee descent, one that put him at the crossroads of diverse cultures.
I had the chance to work with Robert Rauschenberg three times. The first one was for Dialogues of Peace, the exhibition that I curated for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, in 1995 here in Geneva, where Rauschenberg offered the series of Tribute 21. This connection was made in New York by Mrs. Therese Gastaut, Chief of Information of the United Nations Office of Geneva, through her dear friend Ted Kheel, lawyer of The New York Times who helped Rauschenberg to produce this series with the Japanese company Felissimo.
On this occasion, Rauschenberg came to Geneva, spending a few days during the official ceremonies with United Nations representatives and sixty participating artists preparing the show in this building and in the park.
I remember during the last days of the preparation one late afternoon, we had a picnic in the park of the United Nations with Rauschenberg, several of the artists, the assistants and members of the United Nations staff. This was during the worst moment of the war in ex-Yugoslavia. Rauschenberg was upset because the invited artists from Sarajevo couldn’t leave Sarajevo for our opening. We discussed all evening the effective role of art in the world at large.
My second collaboration with Rauschenberg was in Venice, in 1996, at the Armenian Monastery of the San Lazzaro Island, where he presented the large sculptural construction entitled A Quake in Paradise (Labyrinth), dated 1995. Consisting of 29 panels bearing images from the artist’s journey around the world, these works were installed on the promontory of the Island. He also presented the new series of works made for this exhibition using Venetian materials, created in collaboration with the notable American artist Darryl Pottorf.
On this occasion, Rauschenberg received the Golden Lion prize for his career from the hand of the Mayor of Venice.
And during the third time of our collaboration, he participated in The Edge of Awareness, a large exhibition traveling on four continents, for the 50th anniversary of World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998-99. For this Rauschenberg realized a very large billboard with an image of a world map in the shape of a heart that he entitled Whole.
Rauschenberg once said about himself, “I like to think of myself as a reporter, an explorer and an inventor, instead of a painter.”
His entire body of work, and in particular the ROCI series and Tribute 21 series, are perfect illustrations of the complex vision in which he lived, created and worked.
Thank you.
Remarks by
Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg
Founder and President of ART for The World
Robert Rauschenberg, Sport, 1994
Courtesy of the United Nations Office of Geneva
Robert Rauschenberg signing his poster at the Armenian Monastery of the Island of San Lazzaro 
in Venice on the occasion of his exhibition there that was up from June 22 through July 31, 1996.
Curator Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg in the center.
Courtesy of ART for The World
Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's poster of his 1996 project held at the Armenian Monastery on the Island of San Lazzaro in Venice. Akin to the human unconsciuos, the pyramids of Giza, flowers, a flying young man, camels and the monastic headquartes of the Mekhitarist Order are superimposed, dissolving the essential distinctions between fantasy and reality, past and present, photography and painting.
Courtesy of ART for The World.

Below, from top to bottom:
1. Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm, 1964
2. Robert Rauschenberg, Theather, silk - screen, 104.1 x 68.9 cm, 1994
3. Robert Rauschenberg, Nature, silk - screen, 121.92 x 80.01 cm, 1994
4. From the left: Mrs. Adelina von Fürstenberg, President of ART for The World, Mr. Mark C. Storella, Minister Counsellor, Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the United States of America to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Mr. Pierre La Loarer, Chief Librarian, Chairman, Cultural Activities Committee and Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva.
5. Mrs. Adelina von Fürstenberg, President of ART for The World.

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