Robert Rauschenberg’s poster is part of a fifteen poster set commissioned by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) for the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad in 1984. The signed limited edition (750) prints were created by both internationally known American artists and young emerging local artists selected by the Committee to commemorate the Games, and Los Angeles’ and the United States’ unique contribution to the contemporary art scene.
The modern Olympic movement, founded by Baron de Coubertin, emphasized the development of a ‘total person’ and included art and a cultural Olympiad as a creative complement to athletic demonstrations. Posters have acted as a primary expression of the Games since the modern revival in 1896; each represented by an official poster. They have also served as announcements, souvenirs, fine art prints, and visual reminders throughout the history of the Olympics, ancient and modern.
Rauschenberg (1925-2008), born in Port Arthur, Texas, was a pioneer in American postwar modernism. He did not pursue art seriously until his 20s when he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute after serving in World War II. After further schooling at the Académie Julian in Paris and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Rauschenberg moved to New York where his career flourished. Moving to Florida in 1970, he maintained a prolific, innovative, and collaborative career until his recent death.
Rauschenberg’s work transitioned through many stages including monochromatic paintings and combines - literally combining multiple art mediums in one work. Although his early combines often merged painting and sculpture, this led to later experimentation across media, including photography, printmaking, silkscreen, papermaking, performance, and collage. In his poster, Rauschenberg mimics the Los Angeles Olympics logo by cutting through his work surface and fusing and taping contemporary popular images to the underside. Many of the images are representative of trends in modern movement such as skateboarding, basketball, boxing, soccer, cycling, boating, jump roping, and running. These are interspersed with industrial images of urban settings, traffic, and technological advancements such as medical imaging, and more natural elements such as fruit, vegetables, flowers, and animals
The 1984 Summer Olympics, also known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad were held in Los Angeles, California with 140 countries, 5,263 men and 1,566 women athletes participating. These Games were boycotted by fourteen countries, including the Soviet Union because of America’s boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. American Carl Lewis won four gold medals in track and field while Joan Benoit won gold for the U.S. in the first women’s marathon. Mary Lou Retton dominated women’s gymnastics becoming the first American to win the gymnastics all-around competition and the American men won the gold in the gymnastics team competition. With the addition of women’s only events of rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming and the addition of women’s events in track and field, shooting and cycling, women athletes were just beginning to see results from Title IX legislation of twelve years prior. The United States won the medal count with 174.