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Erasing rules: Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Robert Rauschenberg
18 November, 2017 - 19 November, 2017
Major Retrospective Includes Vast Array of Work from the Boundary-Breaking Robert Rauschenberg’s Six-Decade Career
A fuse was lit in the 1953 art world when Robert Rauschenberg convinced artist Willem de Kooning to allow him to erase one of his drawings; fellow artist Jasper Johns executed the inscription within the frame: “ERASED DE KOONING DRAWING ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG 1953.” Now seen as a bombshell that shook the foundations of Abstract Expressionism, Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) is an outstanding example of Rauschenberg’s irreverent yet incisive style, and it famously pushes the limits of what art can be.
This special work was acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from Rauschenberg through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis, an instrumental member of the board of trustees who befriended Rauschenberg late in her life. It now anchors the museum’s exceptional holdings of the artist’s early work and is a highlight in the West Coast exclusive of Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, on view at SFMOMA from November 18, 2017 through March 25, 2018.
Formerly presented at Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the exhibition’s iteration in San Francisco pays special tribute to SFMOMA’s close and longstanding relationship with Rauschenberg. From hosting his first retrospective — organized by Walter Hopps in 1976 — to spearheading the recent Rauschenberg Research Project — an ambitious digital resource published on sfmoma.org that makes art historical and conservation research about Rauschenberg works widely accessible — SFMOMA has long been devoted to this extraordinary and trail-blazing figure. This presentation is also dedicated to Phyllis C. Wattis, in honor of her generosity and cherished relationship with the artist and SFMOMA.
A defining figure of contemporary art, Rauschenberg produced a prolific body of work across a wide range of media — including painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, photography and performance — frequently and fearlessly defying the traditional art practice of his time. Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules marks the first retrospective of the artist’s work in nearly 20 years, celebrating the depth and scope of his six-decade career. SFMOMA’s presentation emphasizes his iconoclastic approach, his multidisciplinary working processes and frequent collaborations with other artists.
Largely organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with the artist’s wide-ranging early work, from bold blueprint photograms and intimate photographs to his delicate Scatole personali (boxes filled with found objects). These galleries introduce Rauschenberg’s eagerness to experiment with and break from artistic conventions, his innovative approach to materials and his multi-disciplinary and collaborative nature, all of which were driving forces throughout his career. This early period plays out across three locales: Black Mountain College, a fertile ground for experimentation where Rauschenberg studied with Josef Albers and Hazel Larsen Archer, and undertook his first important collaborations with Susan Weil, Cy Twombly, John Cage and Merce Cunningham; North Africa and Italy, where Rauschenberg traveled with Twombly; and lower Manhattan, where he set up his early studios and worked in close dialogue with Jasper Johns.