Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Untitled’, Sotheby's

Magnificent Gestures: Masterworks from The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection Full Proceeds to Benefit a Not-for-Profit Charitable Foundation

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From the Catalogue
Embodying a rich energy that reconciles dynamic abstractionist mark-making, a deeply technical mastery of material, and a profound conceptual appropriation of contemporary imagery, the present work is a superb presentation of the most salient and celebrated aspects of Robert Rauschenberg’s corpus of solvent transfer drawings. Bearing the ghostly traces of a striking selection of found images, combined with the gestural splendor and serendipitous dispersal of paint washes, the artist displays a masterful combination of image making techniques. Created in 1965 following a decade of profound experimentation in which the artist pushed the medium of painting across new boundaries, this work brilliantly showcases the critical technical innovation of solvent-transfer techniques. Through its visual vocabulary that speaks pointedly to the experience of modern America, Untitled permeates Rauschenberg’s personal filtration of the engulfing cultural consciousness of the 1960s.

Having first discovered image transfer techniques when visiting Cuba in 1952, it was not until 1958 that Rauschenberg fully devoted himself to the method. After collecting photographs from various sources, Rauschenberg imprinted these found images onto the surface of his own work by soaking the printed material in turpentine, placing it against a paper sheet and applying pressure across surface using a blunt object, leaving behind shadowy imprints. As seen in the present work, Rauschenberg used an empty ballpoint pen to transfer his chosen images onto the surface of the paper. The character of his pencil lines exudes palpable velocity, as we sense the explosive back-and-forth movements of Rauschenberg’s hand across the surface of the paper. Such forceful scrawls and scribbles recall the motion-based automatism of Giacometti Balla and Cy Twombly alongside the gestural vigor of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Rauschenberg’s chosen imagery, however, is utterly Pop in nature, echoing the concerns of Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenberg to provide a mirror of the current times, thus reflecting society’s preoccupations and desires back to those who blithely partook in the change of the sixties without actively processing the implications of such change. Describing Rauschenberg’s masterful synthesis of stylistic tropes, Richard Meyer says that the artist’s mark-making and chosen imagery “reroute the visual traffic of mass culture by interweaving multiple forms of photographic imagery and painterly abstraction” (Richard Meyer, "'An Invitation, Not a Command:' Silk-screen Paintings" in Exh. Cat. New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Robert Rauschenberg, 2016, pp. 196-197).

Growing in tandem with his other pioneering genre, the Combine, Rauschenberg juxtaposed disparate visual references, forging enigmatic links to color a picture of everyday American culture. Roberta Smith eloquently described the artist’s grasp on the visual culture of his surroundings, saying: “Rauschenberg’s art functioned as a kind of sieve in which he caught and brilliantly composed the chaotic flood of existing objects or images that the world offered” (Roberta Smith, “An Artist of Selective Abandon,” The New York Times, 6 July 2011). In the present work, we see the dome of the U.S. Capitol building, a sports car, a toddler’s portrait, a truncated arm, two ballpoint pens, the outline of the state of Texas (the artist’s birthplace), and a excerpt of Titian’s Young Woman at her Toilet, c. 1515 from the Musée du Louvre. Most conspicuous is the reverse image of the words "Click/Click/Click" in the upper right corner. Presiding over the composition in poignant visibility, these searing words are the most accurate encapsulation of the disparate visual clues stamped across the picture plane. "Click/Click/Click" murmurs the onomatopoeic sensation of this particular cultural moment of the mid 1960s, where the clacking of a typewriter, the shutter of a camera, the rotation of a radio dial, and the punching of a telephone keypad all resound the changing of the times. Overlapping these words is the image of an eye that is perhaps Rauschenberg’s wry visual pun underscoring his personal proclamation at the heart of this painting: the "Click/Click/Click" is not only a metaphor for society, but for Rauschenberg himself. Here, he asserts 'I (Eye) am the camera' that takes pictures of the world and stores them, indelibly, through the lasting medium of art (A.L.G., in Exh. Cat., New York, 65 Thompson Street, Master Drawings 1520-1990, 1992, p. 171).
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated 65

New York, 65 Thompson Street, Master Drawings 1520-1990, April - May 1992, pl. 54, pp. 116-117 and 170-171, illustrated in color
New York, Andrea Rosen Gallery, Looking at Words: The Formal Use of Text in Modern and Contemporary Works on Paper, November - December 2005

Private Collection, Pittsburgh
Collection of Carolee Schneemann, New York
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# D603)
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in April 1968)
Janie C. Lee Master Drawings, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm for popular culture and, with his contemporary Jasper Johns, his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. A prolific innovator of techniques and mediums, he used unconventional art materials ranging from dirt and house paint to umbrellas and car tires. In the early 1950s, Rauschenberg was already gaining a reputation as the art world’s enfant terrible with works such as Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), for which he requested a drawing (as well as permission) from Willem de Kooning, and proceeded to rub away the image until only ghostly marks remained on the paper. By 1954, Rauschenberg completed his first three-dimensional collage paintings—he called them Combines—in which he incorporated discarded materials and mundane objects to explore the intersection of art and life. “I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world,” he said. In 1964 he became the first American to win the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale. The 1/4 Mile or Two Furlong Piece (1981–98), a cumulative artwork, embodies his spirit of eclecticism, comprising a retrospective overview of his many discrete periods, including painting, fabric collage, sculptural components made from cardboard and scrap metal, as well as a variety of image transfer and printing methods.

American, 1925-2008, Port Arthur, Texas, based in New York and Captiva Island, Florida