In its fiftieth anniversary year, the National Gallery, Washington, will host the last leg of one of the few world tours in recent years that has managed to avoid being sponsored by Pepsico, or some other marauding multinational. The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (roci), which has toured to Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Japan, Cuba, the Soviet Union, Berlin and Malaysia since 1985, is almost entirely funded by Robert Rauschenberg, to the tune of more than $6 million (£3.4 million).
In each venue Rauschenberg has met local artists, gathered images and materials, and taken photographs, while his entourage videotape him in action. An exhibition would then be held, including both earlier works and works made in situ, one of which was donated to the host country. Now twenty-nine roci works have been donated to the National Gallery, giving it the broadest holdings of Rauschenberg’s work. These are included in a show of some 150 roci paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and videotapes, to be held from 12 May until 2 September. Rauschenberg will also collaborate with Trisha Brown on a dance piece from 15 to 18 May.
He has written: “I feel strong in my belief, based on my varied and widely travelled collaborations, that a one-to-one contact through art contains potent peaceful powers, and is the most non-elitist way to share exotic and common information, hopefully seducing us into creative mutual understandings for the benefit of all”.
roci follows on from projects like change, set up by Rauschenberg in 1970 to enable artists to pay for medical treatment with artworks.
Nonetheless, he is relived it is all coming to an end: “I’ll admit with some embarassment that I’m looking forward to winding it up because I have great curiosity about the exploration of unprogrammed activities again. I took on a great responsibility: in Russia fifteen to twenty thousand people a day queued up to enter. It was the first exhibition ever held running in Tibet. In China we had the entire National Museum and fifteen videos simultaneously, things that people had not experienced before”.
The National Gallery’s Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, Jack Cowart, is quoted in the press release as saying that the show includes some of “the best work Robert Rauschenberg has produced in decades”. Curiously enough, he seems to be saying that the roci works will revive a flagging career.