Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1963. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. Gift of Susan Morse Hilles, 1964.30.

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.

Robert Rauschenberg
American, 1925–2008
Retroactive I, 1963
Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas
Gift of Susan Morse Hilles, 1964.30

From Our Collection

1594, Caravaggio 1731, Canaletto 1749, Panini 1773, Wright

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Film: The Better Angels: Beginning circa 1817, the story spans three years of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood in the harsh wilderness of Indiana. Learn about the [...]
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Frohawk Two Feathers, On the tragic folly of Holofernes, replayed at the American Ophir two millennia later. [detail], 2014, acrylic on deer hide, 54 x [...]

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