Caroline Roux at The Economist:
Earlier this year Robert Rauschenberg’s famous visual narrative, “The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece” – the longest artwork ever made – was exhibited in its entirety for the first time. It was not shown in Texas, where Rauschenberg was born, nor in New York where he worked as a young man after the war and became close to Jasper Johns, nor even on Captiva – the island off the coast of Florida where he ended his days. It was displayed in Beijing at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA). Philip Tinari, UCCA’s director, knew his history and was convinced that the show would help persuade visitors that Rauschenberg was the first global contemporary artist.
In 1985 Rauschenberg became the first Western artist to exhibit in communist China. For the Chinese who had been raised on a diet of Soviet-style socialist realism, the show was a breath of fresh air. Ask any artist of a certain age – Xu Bing, former vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, or Qiu Zhijie, chief curator of the 2012 Shanghai Bienniale, for instance – and they can tell you just how the exhibition was hung at the National Museum of China on the east side of Tiananmen Square. “We had never seen anything like it,” Qiu says.
In considering America’s post-war artists, Rauschenberg has always been overshadowed by Andy Warhol, the man most Westerners see as the bellwether of the art world and the prism through which Western art of the past half-century is always viewed. But this may be about to change. A new exhibition, opening first at Tate Modern in London before travelling toMoMA in New York and San Francisco, will argue that Rauschenberg’s work was the compass that first showed where contemporary art was heading.