Robert Rauschenberg, Scanning, 1963
Robert Rauschenberg, Scanning, 1963; oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 55 3/4 in. x 73 in. (141.61 cm x 185.42 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Fractional and promised gift of Helen and Charles Schwab; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Overview

Scanning (1963) is part of an extended series of works Robert Rauschenberg produced between 1962 and 1964 that combine silkscreened photographic images with lush, gestural passages of paint. The imagery seen here—for example, animals, athletes, the urban landscape of New York, and various emblems of American culture—takes up many of the central themes that recur throughout his art. These broad references to nature and society are blended with the autobiographical: the pictured dancers are performers in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for which Rauschenberg designed costumes, lighting, and sets from 1954 to 1964. Through the combination of personal and universal references, Scanning encapsulates the artist’s sweeping, democratic engagement with the world around him.

Rauschenberg’s use of silkscreening in Scanning and other works from this period offered him a range of new ways of manipulating photographic imagery. Since the mid-1950s he had incorporated his own photographs and those of others in his art, either as discrete found objects—as in his Combines—or as dreamlike solvent transfer images that he integrated in drawings. Unlike earlier techniques, the silkscreen process enabled the artist to easily multiply, enlarge, and alter the same images for repeated use. In his silkscreen paintings of the early 1960s, images of mosquitos, an umbrella, and rooftop water towers recur in a variety of sizes, colors, and orientations.

Although Rauschenberg’s use of silkscreening proceeded naturally from his practice of repurposing and recontextualizing images, it was also aligned with the contemporaneous explorations of Andy Warhol (1928–1987), whose first silkscreens were produced just a few months before Rauschenberg adopted the technique. As a process that had previously been confined to the realm of commercial reproduction, silkscreening not only injected Rauschenberg’s work with new visual possibilities but also introduced the aesthetic of contemporary media that would come to define Pop art.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Scanning
Artist name
Robert Rauschenberg
Date created
1963
Classification
painting
Medium
oil and silkscreen ink on canvas
Dimensions
55 3/4 in. x 73 in. (141.61 cm x 185.42 cm)
Date acquired
1998
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
Fractional and promised gift of Helen and Charles Schwab
Copyright
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.302
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Essay

Scanning

By Roni Feinstein, July 2013
Part of the Rauschenberg Research Project

Scanning (1963) belongs to the extended series of silkscreen paintings (numbering about eighty in all) that Robert Rauschenberg executed between fall 1962 and late spring 1964. This series is devoted almost exclusively to photographic images, representing a departure from the artist’s immediately preceding Combines (1953–64), which incorporate all manner of found objects and materials—taxidermy animals, articles of clothing, automobile tires, working clocks and electric fans—along with photographs and images derived from mass-media sources.

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