WOW – Work of the Week – RAUSCHENBERG, Ape, from Stoned Moon

Robert Rauschenberg
Ape, from Stoned Moon
46 x 38 in.
Edition of 46
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:

“The bird’s nest bloomed with fire and clouds. Softly largely slowly silently Apollo 11 started to move up. Then it rose being lifted on light. In its own joy wanting the earth to know it was going. Saturated, super-saturated, and solidified air with a sound that became your body. For that while, everything was the same material. Power over power, joy, pain, ecstasy, there was no inside, no out. Then bodily transcending a state of energy. Apollo 11 was airborne, lifting pulling everyone’s spirits with it.”
Rauschenberg’s account of the launch of the Apollo 11 mission

Acclaimed as the first postmodern artist and a forerunner of the Pop Art movement, Robert Rauschenberg, invited by NASA, traveled to Cape Canaveral in July 1969 to document the launch of the historic Apollo 11 mission, the first manned spaceflight to the moon’s surface. While in Cape Cape Canaveral Rauschenberg enjoyed unrestricted access at NASA’s Florida facilities. He roamed the buildings and adjacent landscape, met with astronauts and other personnel, and was granted full access to official NASA photographs and technical documents.

This trip profoundly impacted the artist, who came away from the experience energized and with a renewed sense of optimism after having been deeply disillusioned for several years by the course of the Vietnam War and the growing social unrest in the United States.

After the launch, Rauschenberg began work on the Stoned Moon series (1969–70).

Conceptually named from the idea of the alignment of a moon rock (or lunar stone), and a lithographic stone, the Stoned Moon was a series of 34 lithographs that juxtapose hand-drawn passages with imagery that pairs the lush Florida landscape with the and the region’s tourist highlights against the crisp industrial aesthetic of the space race: scenes of astronauts and complex machinery

The surfeit of indigenous birds populating the Stoned Moon lithographs speaks to the blurring of the natural and the manmade. These familiar symbols rein in the otherworldliness of Cape Canaveral, where gigantic sophisticated machines intrude upon a vast, sparse landscape. Now that humans’ capacity for flight definitively exceeded that of any natural flyer, was nature rendered obsolete?

The Stoned Moon lithographs reflect upon the binaries of think/feel, natural/manmade, bodily/immaterial, earthly/heavenly. Rauschenberg is able to situate popular countercultural tendencies alongside the nationalistic aims of NASA’s project without overtly addressing either.

The thirty-four Stoned Moon lithographs provides a singular account of the space program and humankind’s first lunar landing. Rauschenberg’s impressions contain a mixture of trepidation and wonder that conveys the technological and astronomical sublime. The immensity (quantified in just about any way: by ambition, financial commitment, the literal size of the rocket or distance to the moon) of the mission exceeded the capacity of photography’s limited scale.

Apollo 11 Mission

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the Moon on July 20, 1969: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong was the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21, and he uttered the now-famous words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong spent about two and a half hours outside the spacecraft, Aldrin slightly less. The third member of the mission, Michael Collins, piloted the command spacecraft alone in lunar orbit until Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the spaceship for the trip back to Earth. Launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida on July 16, Apollo 11 was the fifth manned mission of NASA’s Apollo program. Apollo 11 effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled a national goal proposed in 1961 by the U.S. President John F. Kennedy in a speech before the U.S. Congress: “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

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