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Erased de Kooning

Robert Rauschenberg

Erased de Kooning

Robert Rauschenberg
  • Date: 1953
  • Style: Neo-Dada, Conceptual Art

In the early 1950s, Rauschenberg explored the boundaries and the definition of art, following from the radical modernist precedent set by Marcel Duchamp's earlier Dada readymades. In this "drawing," he set out to discover if erasure, or the removal of a mark, constituted a work of art. He realized in order for the piece to succeed, he required an already notable work of art. Willem de Kooning was an established, leading figure in the New York art world when the young Rauschenberg asked him for a drawing that he could erase. De Kooning eventually acquiesced to Rauschenberg's request, albeit reluctantly. He intentionally made Rauschenberg's act of erasure difficult by deliberately choosing a heavily marked drawing filled with charcoal and pencil. Rauschenberg needed two months, and dozens of erasers, to complete the herculean task of erasing the drawing; even after he finished, traces of De Kooning's work were still present. Through the erasure of De Kooning's drawing, Rauschenberg acknowledged his admiration for his predecessor, but also signaled a movement away from Abstract Expressionism. He framed the erased drawing within a simple, gilded frame, with a mat bearing an inscription typed by Jasper Johns that identified the significance of the seemingly empty paper. The absent drawing is presented as an art object, designating the act of erasure as belonging to the realm of fine art - a typically Neo-Dada act of questioning the definition and import of the art object.

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