The artist Robert Rauschenberg is best known for his multi-disciplinary creativity, bold use of Americana imagery and provocative assemblages – an aesthetic we explored in our review of his first major UK retrospective at the Tate Modern earlier this year.
But it’s his fervour for collaboration and lifelong activism that eyewear brand Warby Parker chose to highlight in a capsule line of frames. Christened ‘ROCI’ after the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange – a social project that the artist started in the 1980s – the limited-edition frames distill both Rauschenberg’s visual style and philanthropy through one lens.
From 1984 to 1991, Rauschenberg visited ten countries where the freedom of expression was withheld. His intention was to inspire dialogues and spark greater understanding through the creative process. The results of the endeavour, known as the ROCI project, were presented at an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
‘Robert Rauschenberg was dedicated to creating art that served as a catalyst for positive social change, which aligns closely with Warby Parker’s ongoing commitment to doing good in the world,’ explains Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker. ‘In his honour, his foundation shares that same philosophy, which made for a seamless and meaningful partnership.’
Daydream / ROCI MEXICO, by Robert Rauschenberg, 1985. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Art partnerships are a recurring theme for the brand, who in July 2015 collaborated with New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on a pair of optical frames, inspired by Andrew Carnegie.
Fellow Warby Parker co-founder Dave Gilboa adds, ‘From the ROCI assortment, we selected our favourite paintings and created a series of colour-blocked sunglasses that emulates the palette found in each of the pieces.’ Available in four different colour combinations, the limited-edition ROCI frame uses bright crystal acetates to emulate the vibrancy of Rauschenberg’s paintings.
‘We arranged them in a colour-blocked design to reflect the layered materials within [the] ROCI project,’ Gilboa continues. ‘The frame's shape is a little modern [and] a little retro, harkening back to Rauschenberg's era.’
To commemorate the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition ‘Robert Rauschenberg: Amongst Friends’, Warby Parker has created a ruby and navy coloured frame, that will be exclusively available in the three New York City MoMA Design Stores and on the shop’s website. The remaining three colourways will be available in all Warby Parker stores and online.
As always, Warby Parker donates a frame to someone in need with every pair sold. But the good work doesn’t end there: Warby Parker has also made a donation to the Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artist as Activist grant programme, which provides fellowships, travel and research stipends and other organisational support to artists and organisations of all disciplines, who address global challenges through their practice.