The Exhibition: White to Black

Sheng Wang
Oct 20, 2014 5:04PM

White to black is an exhibition aiming to present the cohesive relationship between an American artist and a European artist, in this case, Robert Rauschenberg and Gerhard Richter. The pieces by these two well-known artists will be placed in a chronological and monochromatic orientation, to highlight the inspiration from Rauschenberg to Richter.

The idea for this exhibition came from the piece: Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953 (Fig.1), and the story behind it. From this particular piece, the artist provided us the transformation from simplicity to richness, then back to simplicity. Put aside the fact that the original drawing was a masterpiece created by William de Kooning with numerous information and various media; the erasure did not take away all the things that already existed, rather it reformed the way of representation. This also can be found in Rauschenberg’s earlier White Paintings, 1951 (Fig.2, Fig.3, Fig.4), which all consists of a different number of modular panels—there are one-, two-, three-, four-, and seven-panel iterations—that have been painted completely white.[1] Rauschenberg treated them as remarkable series allowed for the physical artworks to be repainted and even remade from scratch without his direct involvement.[2]

An artist engaged with two similar ideas, the famous composer John Cage, really supported what Rauschenberg has attempted. When he referred to the White Paintings in 1961, he viewed them as airports for lights, shadows, and particles, establishing an enduring understanding of the series as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them.[3] This kind of conceptual idea is like: Cage’s “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it”. [4] And Cage’s “Every something is an echo of nothing”,[5] which not just the best explanation of what Rauschenberg’s white paintings aimed to approach, but also effected the way Richter reviewed what paintings can be.

Gerhard Richter is known as the style-less artist, not because he doesn't have a style, rather he has tried various approaches. In his lexicon, the Grey series was painted with mute painted surfaces for subtle shifts in color, light, and texture. Take Grau (Grey), 1970 (Fig.5) as an example, the flatness and intense, violent brushstrokes really informed the content of these works; furthermore, the grey is the result of mixing multiple colors. As Richter claimed: “it's related to the fact that I think grey is an important color – the ideal color for indifference, fence-sitting, keeping quiet, despair. In other words, for states of being and situations that affect one, and for which one would like to find a visual expression.”[6] Moreover, later on when Richter started to use a squeegee as a tool to erase the oil paint that he first painted with brushes, it's kind of the same process as Robert Rauschenberg’s erasing process.

[1] San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Robert Rauschenberg,

[2] San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Robert Rauschenberg,

[3] San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Robert Rauschenberg,

[4] Good Reads, John Cage Quotes,

[5] Good Reads, John Cage Quotes,

[6] Dietmar Elger, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961-2007 (New York, D.A.P/Distributed Art Publishers Press, 2009)

Sheng Wang
Get the Artsy app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019