Exhibition: Thursday, May 5 through Saturday May 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, May 8 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. 410. North Michigan Ave. Chicago, Illinois
Please click here to view the .pdf invite.
In the summer of 2010, Steve Dull approached Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. to conserve and frame an extended series of prints by Robert Rauschenberg. Mr. Dull, a corporate executive in Greensboro, North Carolina, is a noted collector who, over a period of nearly thirty years, has assembled a nationally recognized collection of American prints. He has sought to acquire the best works by major artists who emerged for recognition in the 1960s: notably Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol.
The series in question is Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon Series that the artist created in the late 1960s. At this time, Rauschenberg had achieved an international reputation. Soon to be considered one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century, he worked in a broad range of media. Rauschenberg was a painter, sculptor, draftsman, photographer, performance artist, choreographer, theater designer, and printmaker. His extensive work in printmaking—which covered a period of nearly 60 years—is a defining contribution to the history of the modern print.
In July of 1969, Rauschenberg was invited by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to witness the launch of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the beginning of the successful mission that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s promise to the nation eight years earlier to land Americans on the Moon by the end of the decade. After returning to New York from Florida, Rauschenberg decided to create a response to the event in the form of an extended print series of thirty-four lithographs. He traveled to Los Angeles to produce the series in collaboration with Gemini, G.E.L., the celebrated publishing workshop. Space exploration had been a major theme in Rauschenberg’s art during the 1960s. Its ultimate statement was the Stoned Moon Series.
The lithographs of the Stoned Moon Series are a printed collage of official photographs from NASA’s archive—including space rockets, astronauts, engineering diagrams, and maps—and transfer rubbings drawn from images of the natural environment and the history of flight from Leonardo da Vinci to the Wright Brothers. In what was characteristic of Rauschenberg’s tendency to juxtapose the artist’s hand with ready-made imagery, the prints of the Stoned Moon Series incorporate lithographic brushstrokes and drawing that embellish the photolithographic images. Technically innovative, the series contains what at the time were the largest lithographs ever made, Sky Garden and Waves, which measure nearly seven-feet high.
The Stoned Moon Series is Rauschenberg’s personal reaction to the moon shot and the global and historical implications of Apollo 11’s achievement. Not a straightforward documentary, the series is Rauschenberg’s poetic read of American history that is instilled with triumphalism, wit, tragedy, and complex perspectives on nature and man’s place in the universe. It is a cohesive work of art in its unity of purpose. The resulting achievement is an epic narrative tracing the American space program through the 1960s to the summer of 1969. In its technical inventiveness, grand scale, layered meanings, and evocative collisions of idea, brushstroke, and photographic image, the Stoned Moon Series figures among the great print series of the last century.
Richard H. Axsom
February 21, 2011