ROCI China and the Prospects of "Post-West" Contemporaneity

  • Paul Gladston (Author)


This article reassesses the critical significance of Robert Rauschenberg’s collaboration with artisans and government institutions in the People’s Republic of China as part of the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (ROCI), which culminated in the exhibition ROCI China at the China Art Gallery, Beijing, in 1985. Artworks by Rauschenberg showcased in ROCI China have been internationally upheld as seminal contributions to the establishment of a cosmopolitan and technically diverse modern/contemporary art in the PRC. The works bring together Western/ized post/modernism with localized Chinese cultural thought and practice. The present article describes actions and events related to the staging of ROCI China, and then situates the exhibition in relation to an imbricating succession of modernizing artworlds particular to China during the twentieth century. In that light, a case is made for the interpretation of ROCI China as part of an extended relay of mutually constitutive transcultural interchanges between the artworlds of China, and Euro-America and other Western/ized spaces. The article thus demonstrates that the impact of ROCI China was subject to the diffractive effects of multilateral appropriations-translations and parallaxes pertaining to divergent Chinese and Western/ized discursive perspectives on the significance of art. The intersectional combination of these forces can be understood, by turns, to deconstruct the supposedly seminal standing of ROCI China, while also reinforcing a historically dominant cultural exceptionalism in the PRC, which is now amplified by the intensely interconnected and conspicuously factional condition of “post-West” contemporaneity. The article concludes by projecting ROCI China beyond this seeming paradox, as the index of a multi-dimensional non-synthetic criticality resistant to Chinese and Western authoritarianism.