Robert Rauschenberg: Surface Series

From Currents

"I want to shake people awake. I want people to look at the material and react to it. I want to make them aware of individual responsibility, both for themselves and for the rest of the human race. It has become easy to be complacent about the world. The fact that you paid a quarter for your newspaper almost satisfies your conscience: Because you have read your newspaper, you have done your bit. And so you wrap your conscience in your newspaper just like you wrap your garbage. . . . I made [Currents] as realistically as I could, as austerely as possible, in the most direct way I knew how, because, knowing that it was art, people had to take a second look, at least, at the facts they were wrapping their garbage in."

—Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008)

This exhibition presents Surface Series (1970), an important group of eighteen screen prints by Robert Rauschenberg. He made the prints at the threshold of a new decade, to “shake people awake,” to open their conscience to the world around them. For each of the prints in the series, Rauschenberg overlaid images and headlines drawn from contemporary newspapers—some shown as negatives, others as positives, all of them black and white. Many of them display large moiré dot patterns, which are usually unwanted products of commercial printing processes. In this context, however, they take on an artistic quality, much like the half-tone dots used in the Pop-inspired works of Roy Lichtenstein. Each of the prints measure forty by forty inches. 

Initially, Rauschenberg envisioned the Surface Series prints as part of a larger project, one that included a second set of twenty-five prints—known as Features—which were to be hand-sewn together to make a colossal paper quilt that was to hang at Dayton's Gallery 12 (Minneapolis). The quilted print project was not realized; however, the prints were published as separate editions. 

The Surface Series was printed on Aqua B 844 paper, 1970, signed and dated in pencil. Co-published by Dayton’s Gallery 12 (Minneapolis) and Castelli Graphics (New York). Image: 35 x 35 in.; paper: 40 x 40 in. Edition: 100 plus 4 artist’s proofs and 2 printer’s proofs.

Robert Rauschenberg, Surface Series from Currents, screen prints. Gift of Lawrence and Carol Zicklin, 1982.13.1.1–18.