Robert Rauschenberg reintroduced recognizable imagery into contemporary art, and preferred employing popular mass media, such as newspapers, magazines and television, as his sources. Rauschenberg transferred these “found” media images to canvas, using commercially prepared photographic silk screens.
Retroactive I is widely considered one of the finest of Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings. Central to the work is an iconic portrait of President John F. Kennedy, a symbol of progress and promise. Ironically, Rauschenberg ordered the silkscreen of this image during the summer preceding the president’s assassination. He overcame his initial reluctance to use it following the trauma of November 1963, in part because he was committed theoretically to a non-hierarchical interest in all phenomena in the world around him. Nothing, however, can separate the power of this image from its emblematic reading as the embodiment of a national tragedy.
Retroactive I, 1963
Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas
Gift of Susan Morse Hilles, 1964.30