In July 1969, Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness the launch of the first manned space flight to the moon. He was one of seven artists invited to document the mission as part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) art program designed to increase public interest in space exploration. After returning to his Manhattan studio, Rauschenberg drew from crateloads of official NASA photographs, press releases, and technical documents, as well as tourist maps and brochures and his own recollections of the space center and its tropical setting, to capture the launch of Apollo 11, one of the most iconic events of the twentieth century.

The resulting Stoned Moon projects comprise a series of thirty-four lithographs and an array of collages and drawings the artist made for Stoned Moon Book, which was never published. Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg’s “Stoned Moon” Projects, 1969–70 brings together examples of these works along with a sampling of Rauschenberg’s source materials and working notes and a selection of photographs documenting the creation and debut of the Stoned Moon Series lithographs. The exhibition draws its title from a line in a serialized account of the Apollo launch penned for Life magazine by Norman Mailer, who wrote of his own experience at Cape Canaveral: “He was loose in some real tropics at last with swamp and coconut palms. It was encouraging. Technology and the tropics were not built to hide everything from each other.” Like the Mailer quotation, the Stoned Moon works—which layer scenes of astronauts and rockets, imagery of the lush Floridian landscape, and depictions of complex machinery—illuminate an important moment in artistic, scientific, and American history. Capturing the sensory overload of the Apollo era, Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon projects highlight the impact of technological innovation on American culture in the 1960s and prompt reexamination of the ways technology continues to shape our relationships with the natural world.

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

December 20, 2014–March 16, 2015

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