SFMOMA: Robert Rauschenberg has a very long history with SFMOMA. What does it mean to show a retrospective of his work, now, based on where we are and his place in art history?
Gary Garrels: This is the first retrospective to be organized since Rauschenberg died in 2008. There was a massive retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York in 1997–98, which he was deeply involved in, along with Walter Hopps, the curator there. They had worked very closely on his first big overview exhibition, let’s call it a mid-career retrospective, in 1976 at what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
SFMOMA: So is this the first time that Rauschenberg has not been involved in a major exhibition of his work?
GG: Right. It’s common for an artist to be most interested in their newest work — what’s driving them at the moment. So those exhibitions where Rauschenberg was most involved were heavily weighted toward his more recent work. We’ve tried to create a balanced continuum from the beginning of his career right through to the very last work that he made. You’ll see the continuity, the textures, the relationships — it’s the web of his sixty-year career.