Robert Rauschenberg

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

Automobile Tire Print

1953
print | paint on 20 sheets of paper mounted on fabric
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  • Automobile Tire Print

    Robert Rauschenberg, Automobile Tire Print, 1953; paint on 20 sheets of paper mounted on fabric, 16 1/2 in. x 264 1/2 in. (41.91 cm x 671.83 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

  • Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Automobile Tire Print showing heavily painted tread mark

    Robert Rauschenberg, Automobile Tire Print, 1953 (detail of first sheet)

  • Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Automobile Tire Print showing the imprint of an unpainted tire tread

    Robert Rauschenberg, Automobile Tire Print, 1953 (detail)

  • View of Robert Rauschenberg's Automobile Tire Print showing the ends of the work gathered on scrolls

    View of Robert Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953) showing an alternate installation format with the ends of the work gathered on scrolls, ca. 1960. Photo: Bevan Davies

  • Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's Automobile Tire Print, SFMOMA, 2001

    Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953) in Points of Departure II: Connecting with Contemporary Art, SFMOMA, November 17, 2001–June 9, 2002

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Automobile Tire Print (1953) records one of Robert Rauschenberg’s most intriguing collaborative efforts. In 1953, the artist directed composer John Cage (1912–1992) to drive his Model A Ford in a straight line over twenty sheets of paper that Rauschenberg had glued together and laid in the road outside his Fulton Street studio in Lower Manhattan. The car’s front tire left a faint embossed impression, while the rear tire, which had passed through a pool of paint Rauschenberg had poured in the street, deposited a juicy black tread mark that stretches in a diminishing line along the twenty-two-foot length of paper. Over the years, Automobile Tire Print has been interpreted as a monoprint, a drawing, a performance, a process piece, and a distinctive exploration of indexical mark making. In its serial imagery (it records nearly three revolutions of Cage’s wheel) and its exceptional length, the tire print is one of the earliest examples of Rauschenberg’s interest in the visual and psychological dimensions of temporal experience, themes he revisited in works such as Hiccups (1978) and The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece (1981–98).

Like Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, which was also created in fall 1953, Automobile Tire Print challenges traditional understandings of art and authorship. As such, it must be understood as a response to the aesthetics and practices of Abstract Expressionism, the movement then dominating the New York art world. Although the black line of paint made by the tire print held to the abstract expressionist ideal of capturing direct artistic expression, the fact that the mark was created not by Rauschenberg’s hand but through the action of an automobile driven by a friend proposed a new definition of what it meant to be an artist. Cage executed Rauschenberg’s concept much as a master printer collaborates with an artist by operating a printing press. Yet there was a particular history and connection underlying Rauschenberg’s choice of partner. At the time the tire print was made, the two artists were deeply engaged in a heated exchange of ideas that would continue to energize their respective work into the mid-1960s.

In its connection to the streets of New York, Automobile Tire Print relates to Rauschenberg’s Elemental Sculptures, a series dating from 1953 that incorporates rocks, wood, and scrap metal the artist gathered from the neighborhood around his studio. Such scavenging and reuse of found materials lent Rauschenberg’s art a sense of place and came to define the aesthetic of his Combines (1953–64), a group of works that blur the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and collage. With Automobile Tire Print, Rauschenberg picked up a trace of the city streets in another way, creating an artwork that strikes an irreverent balance between abstract gesture and deadpan humor.


16 1/2 in. x 264 1/2 in. (41.91 cm x 671.83 cm)
Acquired 1998
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
98.296

Ownership, Exhibition, and Publication Histories

Marks and Inscriptions


Tags

tires, treads, lines, cars, automobiles, performance, horizontal, scrolls

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