No he didn’t! Artist, Robert Rauschenberg did NOT just erase the work of another artist and call it art. [I know you are saying].
Oh yes he did. He did precisely that. And I love it! Let me tell you why.
Besides raising the question, what, exactly, is art; which is interesting to think about…it is just ingenious!
He had been working on a series of Monochromes which started with a series of completely white paintings, then went on to other colors. The purpose was to reduce painting to its most essential nature, thus getting a purer experience, he thought. The Erased De Kooning was in this tradition.
He wanted to erase one of his own works, but felt that it wouldn’t be creative enough. He wanted to erase someone who was “clearly an artist;” someone who’s work people would definitely recognize as a legitimate work of art. The act of erasing it, would create a new piece of art. In effect, he was creating a sort of “ready-made.”
He had also been working on what he called, the Combine series. He would pick up trash in New York City and bring interesting objects that he found back to his studio where he would combine them with his work. He claimed he “wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.”
He felt that it wouldn’t be enough to just erase one of his own drawings, so in 1953, he went to an artist he admired, William de Kooning, and asked for a drawing that he could erase. De Kooning was understandably dubious at first. Though after some persuasion, he came up with a heavily coated in crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal that would be hard for Rauschenberg to erase.
Rauchenberg had two criteria: He wanted to make sure it was a piece that he liked, so he wasn’t destroying something he hated. He also wanted it to be heavy enough that it was hard to erase.
I wonder what he De Kooning was thinking as he made it…
Indeed, it was quite an effort. It took Rauchenberg 2 months to erase it. He used a variety of different erasers as tools for the project. He kept it in the gold frame with de Kooning’s signature, so it would be obvious to viewers.
But he would only show it to visitors at his studio until 1963, when it was formally exhibited. By then, though, it was well-known. People were split in their opinions of it. Some thought it was vandalism, some thought it was genius.
It is displayed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.