Rauschenberg: Collecting & Connecting is the result of a unique collaboration between the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in New York and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. In 2012, Christy MacLear, executive director of the Foundation, approached the Nasher Museum, inviting us to devise a project that would expose a new generation to Robert Rauschenberg’s art, allowing undergraduate students to meaningfully engage with his work. The Foundation was interested, MacLear said, in a non-traditional exhibition and would lend works from its major holdings of Rauschenberg’s collection of his own work.
The museum sought the advice of Dr. Kristine Stiles, France Family Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, who was scheduled to organize a small exhibition with students featuring a recent gift to the Nasher Museum of almost sixty works by Bruce Conner, Rauschenberg’s West Coast contemporary. With her characteristic enthusiasm and can-do attitude, Kristine embraced the Foundation’s challenge, arriving at an ingenious solution. Her curatorial concept was to stress the importance of Rauschenberg’s influence and legacy by creating an exhibition that juxtaposed selected loans from the Rauschenberg Foundation with works by contemporary artists from the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition would explore artists in visual conversation with Rauschenberg’s work, especially as related to mass media, the incorporation of materials of everyday life into otherwise traditional artistic modes, and the examination of a wide range of themes and subject matter in dialogue with Rauschenberg. Works would be chosen from the Nasher Museum collection that, in Kristine’s words, “both contribute to and diverge from the special status that Rauschenberg’s oeuvre has achieved in world art history.”
I was privileged to be involved in the beginning stages of the project in my previous capacity as senior curator and interim director. Kristine and I spent a delightful summer thumbing through the 1997 Guggenheim catalogue by Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson, choosing prime examples of Rauschenberg’s work, from his earliest photographs taken at Black Mountain College to his very last creations. We would then descend into the storage areas to comb the Nasher Museum collection for relevant works from 1950 to the present. By this process, we created a working checklist. It was rewarding to work with a like-minded colleague who is a great scholar and has the same “eye” and sensibilities. Making these connections with Kristine was a lot of fun, and I will forever value that special time.
In the next phase of the project, Kristine articulated and illustrated the concept, and presented it to the Foundation. Her presentation was met with enthusiasm. It was wonderful to accompany Kristine and witness her inspired, impassioned mind at work. The Foundation was impressed by Kristine’s creative intellect and keen visual approach, as well as her dedication to using the exhibition as a teaching tool. Kristine proposed a two-semester, yearlong seminar centered on the project, which would provide students with the opportunity to learn about Rauschenberg and the Nasher Museum’s contemporary collection in depth. The Rauschenberg Foundation generously agreed to fund major aspects of the exhibition.
The project was awarded an innovative teaching grant from the Office of Academic Affairs, Trinity College, Duke University, so that Kristine, her students, and our exhibition designer, Brad Johnson, could travel to New York to examine the Rauschenberg works directly, interview the Foundation’s curator and Rauschenberg’s former assistants, and work in the Rauschenberg archive. With Kristine’s guidance, Lauren Acampora, Katherine Hardiman, Emma Hart, Jacqueline Samy, and Taylor Zakarin judiciously studied the literature on Rauschenberg and other artists in the exhibition, and executed original essays on their art. These five undergraduates also assisted in refining the exhibition checklist, selected the topics for their catalogue essays, wrote one comprehensive essay and one focused essay on a particular theme, discussed the exhibition section themes identified by Kristine, and assisted in writing exhibition labels and wall texts.
With the curatorial assistance of her students, Kristine has created an unprecedented exhibition, spanning six decades of Rauschenberg’s career and placing his works in direct conversation with works from the Nasher Museum’s collection. Organized into eight sections, the exhibition highlights Rauschenberg in an interchange with the unique visual vocabularies of the other artists in the show. Special emphasis is placed on the museum’s significant group of Russian nonconformist and conceptual art of the 1980s and 1990s, many of these works on view for the first time, as well as its newly acquired collection of works by Bruce Conner. The works in the exhibition cover a wide range of media, such as painting, drawing, collage, printmaking, sculpture, ceramic, fresco, assemblage, photography, and film, illustrating the diversity of materials employed not only by Rauschenberg, but also by his peers and successors.
We are deeply indebted to Kristine for her work as guest curator and inspiring teacher. Kristine’s tireless dedication to this project is evident in the catalogue and exhibition, and her innovative approach and brilliant eye have produced an exciting new way of seeing Rauschenberg and interpreting his legacy. We are equally grateful for the participation and scholarship provided by Lauren, Katherine, Emma, Jacqueline, and Taylor, and for their work on the exhibition, which far exceeded standard requirements of undergraduate students’ distinction projects. Their insights provide significant contributions to our understanding of Rauschenberg and other artists included in the show.
The Nasher Museum is much obliged to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in New York. Christy MacLear, executive director; David White, senior curator; Thomas Buehler, senior registrar; Laurence Getford, digital archive manager; Helen Hsu, assistant curator; and Shanna Kudowitz, media administrator, were all a joy to work with. Their commitment and assistance throughout the exhibition and online catalogue process, as well as the generous loan of thirty-four of Rauschenberg’s works, made this exhibition a reality.
Thanks also to additional lenders to the exhibition: the Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, California; Nancy A. Nasher and David Haemisegger, Dallas, Texas; and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
Rauschenberg: Collecting & Connecting is made possible by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. At the Nasher Museum, the exhibition is made possible by Trent Carmichael; David L. Paletz Innovative Teaching Funds; Office of Academic Affairs, Trinity College, Duke University; Parker and Otis; and Nancy A. Nasher and David Haemisegger. We also wish to thank Deans Lee D. Baker and Srinivas Aravamudan for providing the travel funds, and the Art, Art History & Visual Studies Department, under the leadership of Hans J. Van Miegroet, for its support of the exhibition booklet.
Creating an exhibition publication of this scale is a Herculean task and a complete team effort. In particular, I wish to thank the Rauschenberg Foundation’s collaborators Son&Sons of Atlanta for their beautiful design, and Heather McEntire for her incredible editing skills. Through their hard work and commitment to the project, this publication effectively conveys the significance of the scholarship and art represented herein.
I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to the entire Nasher Museum staff for their dedication and work, with special thanks to Katharine Adkins, assistant curator, who impeccably coordinated every single detail of the project. Thanks also to Molly Boarati, academic program coordinator; Reneé Cagnina Haynes, exhibitions and publications manager; J Caldwell, image specialist and social media coordinator; Charles Carroll, registrar; Juline Chevalier, curator of education; Chanelle Croxton, curatorial assistant; Alan Dippy, preparator; Kenneth Dodson, facilities manager; Rachel Goodwin, graphic designer and web content manager; Wendy Hower, manager of marketing and communications; Brad Johnson, exhibition designer; Patrick Krivacka, wood shop manager; Lee Nisbet, assistant registrar and visual resources manager; Jessica Ruhle, associate curator of education; Marianne Wardle, Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs; Kelly Woolbright, associate registrar; and Kathy Wright, special events coordinator.
Mary D.B.T. Semans and James H. Semans Director
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University