Robert Rauschenberg

American (Port Arthur, Texas, 1925 - 2008, Captiva, Florida)

Untitled [glossy black painting]

ca. 1951
painting | enamel and newspaper on canvas
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  • Untitled [glossy black painting]

    Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled [glossy black painting], ca. 1951; enamel and newspaper on canvas, 71 15/16 in. x 53 in. (182.72 cm x 134.62 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; photo: Ben Blackwell

  • View of Robert Rauschenberg's Untitled [glossy black painting] showing white paint drips

    View of Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled [glossy black painting] (ca. 1951) showing white paint drips, from a slide taken ca. 1970. Image courtesy the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

  • View of Robert Rauschenberg's Untitled [glossy black painting] with the second coat of black paint

    View of Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled [glossy black painting] (ca. 1951) with the second coat of black paint. Photo courtesy Pace Gallery

  • View of Robert Rauschenberg's Untitled [glossy black painting] (verso) showing conservation handling frame

    Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled [glossy black painting], ca. 1951 (verso)

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Untitled [glossy black painting] (ca. 1951) is part of a body of work known as the Black paintings that Robert Rauschenberg began in 1951, while he was a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and developed intermittently over the next two years. Although the Black paintings are not a discrete series in the same sense as the artist’s White Paintings (1951) or Red Paintings (1953–54), they are all composed of layers of newspaper and dense black paint, and together they represent Rauschenberg’s extended study of the boundary between painting and collage. One the most lustrous of his Black paintings, Untitled [glossy black painting] is believed to date from the earliest phase of Rauschenberg’s involvement with this group of works, but the chronology of his production in the years 1951 to 1953 remains somewhat loosely defined. The painting reveals its complex construction and texture as light reflects off of the collaged, dipped, and painted newspaper fragments teeming on its highly articulated surface. The individual curls and ripples of paper echo the contours of traditional brushstrokes, in some passages even taking on the gestural quality of abstract expressionist paintings.

Spots of red-orange and pink visible along the work’s tacking margins indicate that Untitled [glossy black painting] was created on top of another work, possibly one of his own or that of a friend. Rauschenberg frequently painted over previous efforts, both out of economic necessity and because he considered his artworks to be living, changing entities. This highly unconventional belief led him to substantially repaint Untitled [glossy black painting] sometime in the 1980s, adding a fresh coat of black over much of the left side in order to cover up some drips of white paint that had accidentally marred the work’s surface.   

In a 1963 interview Rauschenberg noted that he wanted his Black paintings to have “complexity without their revealing anything.” Although the dark surface of Untitled [glossy black painting] has been associated with destruction or burning, the color black did not carry such negative connotations for the artist. The use of dark pigment was simply an ideal means of highlighting the texture of the newspaper while concealing its text. Here Rauschenberg’s skillful use of black resulted in an austere, inky surface that plays with notions of expression and gesture, challenging the very idea of what makes a painting a painting.


71 15/16 in. x 53 in. (182.72 cm x 134.62 cm)
Acquired 1998
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
98.306

Ownership, Exhibition, and Publication Histories

Marks and Inscriptions


Tags

black, minimal, monochrome, layers, crackle, cracks, drips

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