Robert Rauschenberg’s work from the late 1970s reflected his renewed interest in the methods and imagery of his early Combine, silkscreen, and solvent-transfer works from the 1950s and ‘60s. His Spreads series emerged in 1976 after the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, honored Rauschenberg with his largest retrospective up to that point on the occasion of the Bicentennial of American independence. The series title Spread suggests both a stretch of land and a fabric covering (as in a bedspread), as well as the two-page spread of a newspaper. Combining found objects, textiles, painting, and transferred images, the expansive Spreads reflect the artist’s love of wordplay that parallels the shifting signification in his deployment of materials and images in his work.
With a title derived from the prized decorative tapestries woven in Arras, France, during the 14th and 15th centuries, « Arras (Spread), » (1978) partakes both of the materiality of textiles and their rich pictorial tradition. The largest element is an off-white piece of fabric that hangs across the work to the right of the compositional center; its slackness contrasts with the tautly stretched canvas and its blankness diverges from the heterogeneous imagery that surrounds it. Above this fabric is a long, wavering brushstroke in red, while hand-drawn pencil lines circumscribe it, demarcating its form and casting into relief the distinction between the fabric’s physicality and the painted and drawn form. Flanking the textile is a multiplicity of imagery from magazines and other printed sources, transferred to the canvas using a chemical solvent—a technique the artist first developed in 1958. Featuring images of a quail, a jackal, a University of Notre Dame football player sporting 13 on his jersey, a Soviet fighter jet on the runway, and various circular motifs, « Arras (Spread) » exemplifies the eclecticism and inventive spirit that Rauschenberg brought to his artmaking.
Proceeds from the sale of « Arras (Spread) » will go directly to supporting Swiss Institute’s exhibitions, public programs, as well as its ever-expanding education and community engagement initiatives in New York’s East Village. As a small yet influential center for contemporary art that is open to the public free-of-charge, Swiss Institute provides not only an international platform for today’s most dynamic artistic minds, it also functions as a forum for local audiences to explore contemporary culture’s most vital questions.