'Stoned Moon' opens at Stanford

Robert Rauschenberg created a 'hallucinatory' homage
to the Apollo 11 mission with his 'Stoned Moon' prints.
Peter and the Starcatcher GETTING HIGH: Robert Rauschenberg created a 'hallucinatory' homage to the Apollo 11 mission with his 'Stoned Moon' prints.

The elegant curvature of a great egret, juxtaposed with the rigid and towering white Saturn V rocket. Both share at least one similarity beyond their chalky pallor—the ability to spring from muggy terra firma of Florida's Atlantic coast and soar heavenward. This shared capability is just one way of interpreting the images shown in "Sky Garden," one of the many prints in Robert Rauschenberg's Stoned Moon series, which chronicled the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.

Many of these lithographic prints will be on display at Stanford University starting this weekend, when "Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg's 'Stoned Moon' Projects, 1969-70" kicks off at the Cantor Arts Center. The exhibit will also feature rarely seen works to further contextualize the prints, including collages Rauschenberg created for a never-published Stoned Moon book, as well as pictures of him working on the prints.

NASA invited Rauschenberg to observe and create artwork based on his experiences watching the launch. Norman Rockwell and other artists had been invited to do the same. The idea, according to the exhibit's curator, James Merle Thomas, was to represent aspects of NASA's activities that photography and film—wouldn't capture. But with Rauschenberg, NASA was to take a major departure from all prior officially sanctioned artistic endeavors.

"It was sort of a surprise that he would be invited to do a project for a government agency like this," Thomas, an art historian and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Southern California, says.

The avant garde artist lived up to his reputation shot. In sharp contrast to what most Americans pictured when thinking of NASA—patriots in crisp space suits boarding sterile, black and white rockets—Rauschenberg found a new way to contextualize the country's charge into the void.

The artist combines official NASA images—schematic drawings of rockets, landing modules—with the things he saw in the natural world surrounding Cape Canaveral (then Cape Kennedy). The drawings were splashed with vivid, tropical colors and the asymmetrical forms of palm trees, birds and marshlands.

Seeing the work, it is clear that the experience was quite impactful on Rauschenberg, who recalled "The incredibly bright lights, the moon coming up, seeing the rocket turn into pure ice, its stripes and USA markings disappearing—and all you could hear were frogs and alligators."

Stoned Moon

Dec 20-Mar 16, Various Times, Free

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford

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