'An active protest attempting to share and communicate my response to and concern with our grave times and place. Art can encourage individual conscience. Everyone's independent devotion is the only vehicle that can nourish the seed of sanity that is essential in the construction and change that makes only all the difference in the world.'
– Robert Rauschenberg, 1970
Krakow Witkin Gallery announces the opening of an exhibition of selected works from Robert Rauschenberg's Currents project of 1970. In 2012, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art's Britt Salvesen (curator and department head, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints & Drawings Department) wrote the following:
'One of the most important artists of the past century, Robert Rauschenberg famously declared himself to be working 'in the gap between art and life.' Currents is a superlative example of this radical approach. Hijacking the immersive scale of abstract expressionism, Rauschenberg channeled the energy and anxiety of the world around him. The Cold War, the civil rights movement, the conflict in Vietnam, and the rarafication of high culture: these and other divisive forces had opened the chasm he resolved to occupy.'
Salvesen goes on to say, 'Rauschenberg undertook to bring 'serious journalism' into the fine-art realm with Currents, which expresses his intention literally, insofar as it comprises screenprinted extracts from the January and February 1970 issues of major metropolitan newspapers. This fusion of high and low culture refers back to Picasso's incorporation of newspaper in his cubist collages, and to Rauschenberg's own renowned Combine paintings and sculptures of the mid-1950s. Currents deploys the material and meaning of newsprint, and the work's brash activism aligns it with the contemporaneous New Journalism. 'Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism,' according to Hunter S. Thompson, but for Rauschenberg, truth-telling was worth the risk:
'I want to shake people awake. I want people to look at the material and react to it. I want to make them aware of individual responsibility, both for themselves and for the rest of the human race. It has become easy to be complacent about the world.... I made [Currents] as realistically as I could, as austerely as possible, in the most direct way I knew how, because, knowing that it was art, people had to take a second look, at least, at the facts they were wrapping their garbage in.''
Rauschenberg's notes for the project included:
'Give the world a chance by changing it" The love of work makes things possible' 'The world's condition permitted me no choice of subject or color and method/composition'
As Salvesen so accurately wrote, 'the first themes to emerge from the welter of headlines are grim: murders and riots offer stark evidence of social upheaval. More sustained observation reveals an art-world subtext, with articles documenting Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, and a new work by Richard Serra. Art, Rauschenberg suggests, has constructive potential amid general disintegration.'
As the curator Ingrid Schaffner wrote years later in describing Currents, 'The issues that won't disappear have, if anything, escalated in intensity and seriousness.' She closed her essay on the project by writing that for Rauschenberg, making art that posits the potential for change is clearly an imperative to his living in the world
Press release courtesy Krakow Witkin Gallery.