Two screen prints from Robert Rauschenberg's "Currents" series, published by Castelli Graphics in New York for Dayton's Gallery 12 in Minneapolis, 1970. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, gift of Joel Itman.

That time Robert Rauschenberg came to Mia

By Tim Gihring //

Robert Rauschenberg is having a moment. Again.

Rauschenberg, at right, at Mia with curator Gus Foster in 1970.

For the first time in thirty years, his 1980s series based on his travels to Chile, Japan, the Soviet Union, and half a dozen other countries—called the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, or ROCI—is on view, in a London gallery. And as the 60th Venice Biennale gets underway, a new documentary reveals the Cold War machinations behind his surprise win there 60 years ago, when he became the first American to take the Golden Lion, despite initially being disqualified.

His life would never be the same after the Biennale, as jealousies and imitators tested his creative spirit, and the ROCI project (pronounced “Rocky” after his pet turtle) nearly cost him his career. But as Mia’s podcast The Object explored in last season’s episode about the boundary-pushing artist (“How to Break the World”), Rauschenberg always managed to reinvent his way out of a slump and back into the spotlight. “You don’t like that anymore?” he seemed to say, “well, how about this?”

It was during one of these shapeshifting periods, in the late 1960s, that Mia began courting him for a show. Gus Foster, the museum’s curator of prints and drawings at the time, recalled a string of late nights in New York with the artist and his entourage. “A dozen people every night, with Rauschenberg holding court and cocktails flowing like water,” he told me in 2015.

The exhibition, “Robert Rauschenberg: Prints 1948/1970,” came together in 1970, running from August 6 to September 27 and gathering for the first time the artist’s enormous lithographs and other groundbreaking prints. It included the screen prints—now in Mia’s collection—made for Dayton’s Gallery 12, which once occupied the top floor of the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s store. “A magnificent artist,” Foster said, “and a master printmaker basically from day one.”

Rauschenberg’s “Currents” series of screen prints, drawn from newspaper headlines and created for Dayton’s Gallery 12.

The retrospective would mark the end of an era for Rauschenberg, who moved to Florida that fall. Foster, too, would soon reinvent himself, as a photographer in Los Angeles in 1972. He now lives in Taos, New Mexico, and in 2020 the Museum of New Mexico Press published a book of his panoramic photographs. Like Rauschenberg’s prints, his images sometimes stretch to monumental proportions, seeming to surround the viewer with 360-degree views of everything from Alaskan glaciers to Times Square. The work “turns in a circle,” wrote Evan Maurer, the late director of Mia in an essay for the book. “At one glance, you can see everything around you—to infinity from any point on the compass.”