In the Hobart and William Smith Collections, we have
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
People Have Enough Trouble without Being Intimidated by an Artichoke, 1979
Lithograph, 77 x 58 cm.
Gift of the George D. and Freida B. Abraham Foundation
Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg imagined himself first as a minister and later as a pharmacist. It wasn’t until 1947, while in the U.S. Marines that he discovered his aptitude for drawing and his interest in the artistic representation of everyday objects and people. After leaving the Marines he studied art in Paris on the G.I. Bill, but quickly became disenchanted with the European art scene. After less than a year he moved to North Carolina, where the country’s most visionary artists and thinkers, such as Joseph Albers and Buckminster Fuller, were teaching at Black Mountain College. There, with artists such as dancer Merce Cunningham and musician John Cage, Rauschenberg began what was to be an artistic revolution. Soon, North Carolina country life began to seem small and he left for New York to make it as a painter. There, amidst the chaos and excitement of city life Rauschenberg realized the full extent of what he could bring to painting. Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm for popular culture and his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. He found his signature mode by embracing materials traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. He would cover a canvas with house paint, or ink the wheel of a car and run it over paper to create a drawing, while demonstrating rigor and concern for formal painting. By 1958, at the time of his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, his work had moved from abstract painting to drawings like “Erased De Kooning” (1953) (which was exactly as it sounds) to what he termed “combines.” These combines (meant to express both the finding and forming of combinations in three-dimensional collage) cemented his place in art history. As Pop Art emerged in the ’60s, Rauschenberg turned away from three-dimensional combines and began to work in two dimensions, using magazine photographs of current events to create silk-screen prints. Rauschenberg transferred prints of familiar images, such as JFK or baseball games, to canvases and overlapped them with painted brushstrokes. They looked like abstractions from a distance, but up close the images related to each other, as if in conversation. These collages were a way of bringing together the inventiveness of his combines with his love for painting. Using this new method he found he could make a commentary on contemporary society using the very images that helped to create that society. From the mid sixties through the seventies he continued the experimentation in prints by printing onto aluminum, moving plexiglass disks, clothes, and other surfaces. He challenged the view of the artist as auteur by assembling engineers to help in the production of pieces technologically designed to incorporate the viewer as an active participant in the work. He also created performance pieces centered around chance. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s Rauschenberg continued his experimentation, concentrating primarily on collage and new ways to transfer photographs. In 1998 The Guggenheim Museum put on its largest exhibition ever with four hundred works by Rauschenberg, showcasing the breadth and beauty of his work, and its influence over the second half of the century. Rauschenberg lived and worked in New York City as well as on Captiva Island, Florida until his death from heart failure on May 12, 2008.
Project ARTICHOKE (also referred to as Operation ARTICHOKE) was a CIA project that researched interrogation methods and arose from Project BLUEBIRD on August 20, 1951, run by the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence.A memorandum by Richard Helms to CIA Allen Welsh Dulles indicated Artichoke became Project MKULTRA on April 13, 1953. The project studied hypnosis, forced morphine addiction (and subsequent forced withdrawal), and the use of other chemicals including LSD, to produce amnesia and other vulnerable states in subjects. ARTICHOKE was a mind control program that gathered information together with the intelligence divisions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and FBI. In addition, the scope of the project was outlined in a memo dated January 1952 that stated, “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?