Robert Rauschenberg’s Most Ambitious Artwork Arrives in Beijing

The 1,000-foot artwork took 17 years to create.

Robert Rauschenberg,The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98), in
Robert Rauschenberg,The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98), in "Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective," at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in 1998. Courtesy photographer Erika Barahona Ede, © FMGB Gugggenehim, Bilbao.

When Robert Rauschenberg was attempting to create the longest artwork in the world in 1981, he could only dream that the first viewing would be in China. This June, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation is teaming up with Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) to present The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98).

The artist spent nearly two decades at work on the massive project, made up of 190 parts that collectively measure over 1,000 feet. It has not been publicly exhibited since 2000, and has never before been shown its entirety.

The ambitious artwork will be included in the upcoming exhibition “Rauschenberg in China,” opening June 12, which will also include photos Rauschenberg took during a 1985 trip to China.

Robert Rauschenberg working on The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98) in his Laika Lane studio in Captiva, Florida, circa 1983. Courtesy of photographer Terry Van Brunt, © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg working on The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98) in his Laika Lane studio in Captiva, Florida, circa 1983. Courtesy of photographer Terry Van Brunt, © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

The upcoming show is the artist’s first major exhibition in the country in 34 years, when “ROCI China,” part of the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, was presented at Beijing’s National Art Gallery as part of the artist’s efforts to promote global cultural communication.

At the time, the exhibition is said to have heavily influenced the “85 New Wave,” an important generation of local avant-garde artists who were a key factor in the development of the Chinese contemporary scene.

Detail from Robert Rauschenberg’s The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

Detail from Robert Rauschenberg’s The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

“We are thrilled to revisit Rauschenberg’s unique position in China’s contemporary art history through a substantive presentation of a major work which was created at exactly the moment of this encounter,” said Philip Tinari, director of UCCA, in a statement. “We hope that this exhibition will illustrate not only how Rauschenberg inspired China, but how China inspired him.”

The UCCA show is not the only major Rauschenberg exhibition slated to open this year. A retrospective co-organized by Tate Modern, London, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which will also travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opens at the Tate December 1, 2016.

Robert Rauschenberg with The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg with The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98). © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, licensed by VAGA, New York.

Rauschenberg considered The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece a “self-contained retrospective,” because it included many different types of techniques and materials, with references to various series he worked on throughout his career. The components of the work include include both panels and freestanding elements, and feature photographs, textiles, neon, and other media.

Robert Rauschenberg in China,” featuring The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece will be on view at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing from June 12–August 21, 2016.


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