Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon Lithographs: “Nothing Will Already Be The Same”

The words are Robert Rauschenberg’s, stripped-in alongside a photograph of Apollo 11 clearing its launch tower: “NOTHING WILL ALREADY BE THE SAME.” Oriented vertically, the typewritten phrase mimics the upward thrust of the rocket, setting it apart from all else within the composition of the page; it is one of twenty mock-ups of the artist’s never-realized Stoned Moon Book (1969), on loan from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Conflating past and present by altering the idiom’s familiar uttering, Rauschenberg collapses the extraordinary long game of the space race and its attendant technological advancements with the instantaneousness of the liftoff. A presidential promise, made in 1961, is here loaded into the few anticipation-ridden seconds during which millions of Americans held their breath at exactly the same time.

Rauschenberg was one of them. NASA invited him, along with seven other artists, to Cape Canaveral in July 1969 to observe the launch of Apollo 11. Since 1967, Rauschenberg had been working with Los Angeles-based artists’ workshop Gemini G.E.L. (and making prints elsewhere since 1962). His familiarity with the printed medium and relationship with Gemini allowed him to continue that collaboration to produce an impressive suite of prints that reflected upon his experience—he was granted unrestricted access—of NASA’s astronauts, complex machinery, and sprawling facilities for the occasion of the first manned flight to the moon.

A single-gallery show at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, “Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Stoned Moon’ Projects, 1969–70” (on view December 20, 2014 through March 16, 2015), exhibits thirteen of the thirty-four lithographs in the series, alongside rarely-seen archival material including photographs of Rauschenberg in the studio, notes he took during his visit to Florida, and twenty of the aforementioned collaged book pages. Taken together, they provide welcome access to the artist’s working process and state of mind. The show benefits from the clear focus of its curator, James Merle Thomas, who enables viewers to hone in on a discrete moment of intersection between artistic production and the shared experience of a monumental historical moment. The lithographs on view, in their varying degrees of abstraction, likewise represent a range of content, intelligibility, and what one could imagine as approximations of onlookers’ sensory impressions. The Stoned Moon works’ relative obscurity makes the Cantor’s a refreshing and gladly received showing, offering an even-keeled selection of the full series’ sensibility and iconography, even if it omits prints in the series that showcase the raw power and dynamism of the liftoff, that snapshot that best conveys the erupting anticipation of the Apollo mission. (It seems, indeed, that excitement was what Rauschenberg was after.) Missed in this regard, then, is a print like Waves (1969), whose vast surface is half-dominated by the enormous force of Saturn 5’s thrusters, surrounded by vapor-like exhaust that Rauschenberg inked in loose, brushy strokes.

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Waves (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA. Right: Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph and screen print, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L.  Image courtesy SFMOMA.

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Waves (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA. Right: Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph and screen print, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA.

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James Elkins in Conversation with Claire Brandon

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Screenshot of draft provided by James Elkins.

James Elkins, Professor in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, delivered a lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 10, 2015 as part of the Institute of Fine Art’s Daniel H. Silberberg Lecture Series. The lecture, “The End of the Theory of the Gaze,” explored the shortcomings of existing theories about the gaze and presented several aspects of Visual Worlds, the book that Professor Elkins is currently working on. IFA Ph.D. Candidate Claire Brandon spoke with Professor Elkins after the lecture.

Claire Brandon: Your lecture presented the failure of the theory of the gaze in the context of the new book you are working on, Visual Worlds.  Could you talk a little bit about the digital format for this project?  You mentioned that you and Erna Fiorentini are writing and editing this document using Google Drive, allowing for open-sourced authorship in some instances.  How does this process work?  How did you decide on Google Drive as a tool?

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Screenshot of Google Spreadsheet provided by James Elkins.

James Elkins: Well, we chose Google Drive (link here) just because it’s simple and it includes spreadsheets (which we need to keep track of word counts, illustrations, etc.). I have tried several WordPress sites, Nings (some are quite expensive), and other collaborative tools; they’re useful if you need video conferencing, separate discussion groups, etc.

The co-authoring part of the project works extremely smoothly: we have a document called “What’s new” where we exchange ideas; two spreadsheets to manage the many tasks of accumulating words, images, and arguments; a third spreadsheet for managing word counts; a document that records the Oxford Press “house style” (that’s something authors usually don’t see until the end, but we’re making our own “house style” for citations and usages).

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Sturtevant: The Troublemaker

In early February, Curatorial Assistant Ingrid Langston and IFA MA Candidate Ashley McNelis toured the MoMA galleries. Langston assisted MoMA PS1 Curator Peter Eleey in organizing the exhibition Sturtevant: Double Trouble at MoMA, which runs from November 9, 2014 to February 22, 2015. Double Trouble is timely not just in light of the artist’s recent passing, but also because it is only Sturtevant’s second American-organized solo show since the 1970s. The intervening four decadesin which Sturtevant was largely ignored by the art worldhave afforded her audience the time and hindsight to catch up with her intelligently penetrating vision. Sturtevant: Double Trouble also juxtaposes traditional art historical narratives (represented by works in MoMA’s permanent collection) against works from Sturtevant’s reactionary oeuvre. The exhibition will be on view in the third floor Special Exhibitions Gallery and the fifth floor Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Painting and Sculpture Gallery at MoMA until it heads to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles from March 21 to July 27, 2015.

Ashley McNelis: I understand that Sturtevant actively combated the use of curatorial strategies at other institutions. What was working with her at MoMA like?

Ingrid Langston: Unfortunately, I never got to meet her personally. She was working with Peter Eleey closely and was planning to come out for the installation before she passed away in May 2014. Peter went to Paris every few months to meet with her, but by the time I came on the project she was not really traveling much. So I never worked with her directly, which is a shame, but probably also made my life a lot easier. We did work closely with her daughter, Loren, too, who, along with her gallery in Paris, is the executor of the estate and the co-producer of Sturtevant’s video works.

In starting with the long hallway to the exhibition space that we were given, there is a puzzle right off the bat. It can be a challenge to draw people in and to make them understand that there’s an exhibition at the end. One of the very first pieces that Peter and Sturtevant placed was the dog, Finite Infinite (2010). It’s striking, like you’re literally running along with the dog down the hallway to the target at the end [Sturtevant’s Johns Target with Four Faces (study) (1986)]. The dog runs again and again into the wall; it’s endlessly repeating. It sets up the notion of the frustration of progress, related to how her whole project went against the idea of a straight, progressive narrative of art history.

Here, in Study for Muybridge Plate #97: Woman Walking (1966), she strides in front of the lens like in an Eadweard Muybridge, positioned in front of her own versions of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist. It’s a nod to photography, the most “copying” medium. It’s about action, the circulation of images and the frustration of circular motion like this wallpaper of an owl whose head keeps turning. It’s so weird—we’re pretty sure she just grabbed it off the internet for her 2013 Serpentine show. The exhibition is trying to speak to the consistency of her project. It’s almost shocking how she stuck to her guns pretty much from 1964 when she began recreating the works of other artists.

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Light, Smoke, and Acid: John Van Hamersveld on His Psychedelic Posters

On January 8, 2015, IFA PhD Candidate Elizabeth Buhe sat down with John Van Hamersveld in his Rancho Palos Verdes studio to discuss his work as a graphic designer, and, in particular, his 1960s psychedelic posters designed for Pinnacle Productions. 

ifacontemporary John Van Hamersveld in his San Pedro Studio January 2015

John Van Hamersveld in his San Pedro studio, January 2015. Photograph by the author.

EB: To start, why don’t you tell me a little about your artistic formation.

JVH: I was guided into graphic arts and communication of American and worldwide design at Art Center. At Art Center I would go to this store in Westwood called Flax, and they had an international magazine stand there. I was able to see even further how typographical design, photographs, and the communication process were European and went back to the Bauhaus. But then—boom—you know, it was something that was very contemporary and everywhere with Life Magazine and all that.

EB: So what years are we talking about here?

JVH: That’s in the 50s, from the 50s going into the 60s. 1961 I go to Art Center. The second part is that I leave Art Center early, one year after my education there, and I’m taking off the summer. My father gets me a job at Northrop Aviation. Between the director and himself, they guided me into publication making. They would make these books up that they’d show to generals on all the secret information on developing and testing. So at home, I decided after learning all that I can do my own surfing magazine. So I created a surfing magazine in my bedroom. I gathered up people from around the community and made the stories up, and then basically put it all together in my bedroom and took it down the street and had a printer—just an ordinary store-front printer—print it. So out of that, all the sudden, I was at Surfer Magazine. And then I was at another magazine called Surf Guide. So there’s three magazines that I’d been designing over a three-year period of time. I decided that I’m going to go to Chouinard, and get back into my art education. So I go to Chouinard, which is just turning into CalArts, and changing all of the sudden. At Chouinard I was anticipating becoming a painter, and I showed my canvases there. This was in 1965. The counselor who starts me out says you can take photography, you can take film, you can take video, and you can take animation. You can take all these other things that would be complementary to your communication classes of graphic design. So all the sudden it was like art! But it was media art. That was then developed into a thing called Pinnacle, which was this big promotion that I was able to do.

EB: Right. Before we start with Pinnacle, can we go back to some of your earlier influences?

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Mark Your Calendars! Upcoming Events at the IFA

January 29 – March 14, 2015
New York University Curatorial Collaboration (IFA-Steinhardt)
Absence / Presence, curated by Anna Blum, Riad Kherdeen, Eloise Maxwell, Tola Porter, and Patryk Tomaszewski, on view January 29 – February 14, The Commons & Rosenberg Gallery
Days with Frog and Toad, curated by Katherine J. Wright, on view February 18 – 21, 80WSE Gallery
still, curated by Ksenia M. Soboleva, on view February 18 – 21, 80WSE Gallery
Hi, Boys!, curated by Halston Bruce, on view February 25 – 28, 80WSE Gallery
Unwanted Sexual Conduct Shouldn’t Be Part of Anyone’s Commute, curated by Ashley McNelis, on view March 4 – 7, 80WSE Gallery
I Would’ve Ripped It Out and Kept It Forever, curated by J. English Cook, on view March 11 – 14, 80WSE Gallery

Thursday, February 5, 2015, 5:00PM at the Steinhardt Barney Building (34 Stuyvesant Street)
Keeping it Real: A Panel Discussion for Absence/Presence, part of the NYU Curatorial Collaboration. The NYUCC will host a conversation about the thematic genesis for the exhibition. A core sampling of the artists and curators will participate, moderated by Ian Cooper, Faculty. A reception will follow celebrating the release of the publications for both Absence/Presence as well as the forthcoming Senior Honors Studio exhibitions at 80WSE.

Monday, February 9, 2015, 6:00 PM
Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies Lecture
Salvador Muñoz Viñas, Professor and Head of Paper Conservation, Universitat Politècnica de València
Pride and Prejudice and Patina

Tuesday, February 10, 2015, 6:00 PM
The Daniel H. Silberberg Lectures
James ElkinsE.C. Chadbourne Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The End of the Theory of the Gaze

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 – Thursday, February 12, 2015
CAA 2015: Field/Work: Object and Site: 
The Art of Archaeology; an Art Historical Perspective
A panel discussion in conjunction with the CAA annual meeting.
These events takes place at the IFA Lecture hall.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 6:30 PM
Colloquium on Art in Spain and Latin America
Denise Birkhofer, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
The Body and the Void in the Art of Mira Schendel and Eva Hesse

Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 6:30 PM
Artists at the Institute
Sharon Hayes 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 6:30 PM
Artists at the Institute
Tehching Hsieh

Thursday, March 5, 2015, 6:00 PM
Colloquium on Art in Spain and Latin America
Rachel Weiss, Professor of Arts Administration and Policy, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Uses and Re-Uses of the Radical Pasts

Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 6:00 PM
Latin American Forum
A Round Table on Curating Modern and Contemporary Arts of the Americas
Speakers: Richard Aste, Curator of European Art, Brooklyn Museum; Gabriela Rangel, Director of Visual Arts, The Americas Society; Pablo León de la Barra, UBS MAP Curator of Latin American Art, Guggenheim Museum; Iria Candela, Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Modern Latin American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Please check back for RSVP information.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 6:00 PM
The Daniel H. Silberberg Lectures
Carol Armstrong, Professor, History of Art, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Yale University
Lecture Title Forthcoming

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 6:00 PM
Latin American Forum
Artist Liliana Porter in Conversation with Edward J. Sullivan

Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:00 – 5:30 PM
(at the IFA)
Saturday, April 18th (at The Frick Collection)
IFA-Frick Symposium

Tuesday, April 21, 2015, 6:00 PM
The Daniel H. Silberberg Lectures
Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Exhibiting Failure(s): Architecture’s paradoxical life on display at MoMA since 1932

Tuesday, May 5, 2015, 6:00 PM
Latin American Forum
Digital Torres-García 
A special panel discussion on the Uruguayan modernist artist, Joaquín Torres-García, moderated by Edward J. SullivanHelen Gould Sheppard Professor in the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts and College of Arts and Sciences, NYU
Speakers: Luis Pérez-OramasEstrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art for the Department of Drawings and Prints, Museum of Modern Art; Mari Carmen RamírezWortham Curator of Latin American ArtDirector, International Center for the Arts of the Americas, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Cecilia de Torres, Scholar and head of the catalogue raisonné project on artist; Susanna Temkin, IFA Ph.D. Candidate and Research and Archive Specialist, Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.