LACMA Presents Rauschenberg’s ‘1/4 Mile’ Opus

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Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) produced a diverse body of artwork characterized by his use of varied mediums, methods, and multi-media imagery. His magnum opus, Rauschenberg’s monumental ”The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece,” presented for the first time in its entirety at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art LACMA now through June 9, 2019, depicts the artist’s diversity and evolving body of work.

Created over 17 years, the over 1.000-foot series, composed of 191 panels or sections of freestanding sculptures, is an amazing retrospective of the pioneering artist’s career. Rauschenberg himself considered the effort to be an artistic self-portrait that bridged the gap between his art and his life. Even the title was a symbolic bridge; it was the distance between Rauschenberg’s home on Captiva Island, Florida, and his studio.

The “rather complicated installation,” as co-curator Katia Zavistovski pointed out, includes a wide-ranging array of techniques and materials, and has not been seen in entirety in the U.S. for 20 years. “The interesting thing about it is not just it’s monumental size but it quite literally is a world of images unto itself,” she added.

There are textiles, media images, photographs and bold reflective panels, intermingled with everyday objects that reinforce a connection to the outside world like cardboard boxes, chairs, books and traffic lights. Rauschenberg was a “master of taking nothing and making it into something,” noted Michael Govan, LACMA CEO/Wallis Annenberg Director, who co-curated the exhibition.

Exploring the ‘1/4 Mile’

Visitors can meander in any direction. However, a handout is available in the exhibit entrance that contains a map and details to walk them from panel 1, completed in 1981, to panel 191, completed in 1998.

The initial panel was started at the time a Rauschenberg retrospective was traveling around Europe. So, the artist peppered with the panel and others from the period with references to his past bodies of work, other famous artworks as well as travel- or motion-related images including rocket ships and birds. He also used patterns of doubled imagery with slight differences, such as fingers pointing in different directions.

Two large sections with about 20 panels the artist equated with the Chinese terracotta warriors. The panels feature figures traced of family members, employees, friends and himself that are adorned with attributes or works that relate to them. Examples include:

  • Two people named David have Michelangelo’s “David” in their collage sections.
  • A photographer has a picture in his image.
  • Dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham (whose work is shown in another LACMA exhibition) is depicted with a costume Rauschenberg designed for one of his dances.
  • Rauschenberg’s collage of himself includes his dog, images that recur in his work and mangos to represent his Florida home.

Fourteen panels deal with his Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) project. The artist traveled to 10 countries with authoritarian regimes or suppressed public expression to stage exhibitions or engage with locals. Panels 105 to 109, for example, were from a mid-1980s trip to Chile.

Walking through the exhibit, it is obvious the artist shifted the style of his collages over time. The early mass media imagery was no longer employed. Later on, he used semi-reflective brightly colored panels. The material allows people looking at these panels to appear as part of the collage.

LACMA is presenting Rauschenberg’s “1/4 Mile” opus until June 9. However, visitors through Feb. 10, 2019, should also stop in another exhibit on the artist in a different part of the museum. “Rauschenberg: In and About L.A.” features a selection of works that Rauschenberg made about the period of his life spent in the city, including some that are part of LACMA’s collection.

By Dyanne Weiss

Exhibition Preview and Press Event Oct. 24
LACMA Press Advisory: Rauschenberg: The 1/4 Mile
Artnet: Robert Rauschenberg

Photo of Robert Rauschenberg’s “The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece,” 1981–98, installation view, 
courtesy LACMA and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation