Robert Rauschenberg, Collection, 1954/1955


A “Combine” is neither a sculpture nor a painting but rather a hybrid of the two. Robert Rauschenberg developed the term to describe a series of works he began in 1954 that eluded traditional art media categories. Collection (1954/1955) is the artist’s first “Combine painting,” an early type of Combine that hangs on the wall like a traditional painting but reaches into three dimensions with various elements attached to the work’s surface—such as the silk veil over the mirror attached just off-center and the found wood scraps along the top edge. This work also marks a new approach to color. In a decisive move away from the experimental monochromatic series of white, black, and red paintings he created between 1951 and 1953, Rauschenberg began Collection by covering three panels with red, yellow, and blue fabric and layering them with innumerable collaged, drawn, painted, and sculpted elements. The same year that Rauschenberg began Collection he started to experiment with extending the three-dimensionality of the Combines, incorporating both wall and floor components and even creating fully freestanding works, such as Untitled, in the Panza Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Collection is distinctive for the range and variety of materials it incorporates. In contrast to the approach seen in his Red Paintings (1953–54) and his Black paintings (1951–53), where the collage papers and fabrics typically play second fiddle to the painted passages, here Rauschenberg gives everyday objects the same prominence as conventional art materials. Comic strips, squirts of oil paint, art magazine illustrations, and a host of textiles jostle for attention, and gestural paint strokes drawn directly from the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism carry the same compositional weight as newspaper clippings of car thefts and department store advertisements. Rauschenberg creates a sense of equality across this diverse visual field in part through the work’s structure. The three vertical panels, in addition to referencing the traditional triptych format, appear to be horizontally subdivided into three regions: a relatively quiet area along the top, bordered by a long squeeze of red paint that crosses the surface from left to right; a densely layered strip across the center, where the majority of the collaged elements are concentrated; and a band of brightly colored stripes that fills the bottom. The resulting three-by-three grid both consolidates and unifies the work’s otherwise chaotic surface.

During preparations for Rauschenberg’s 1976 retrospective at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, D.C., organizing curator Walter Hopps approached the artist about naming several Combines that until that point had remained untitled. Rauschenberg’s choice of Collection as the title of this work can be read in a number of ways. Hopps suggested that the artist was paying homage to the National Collection of Fine Arts, the first venue on the retrospective tour. Interpreted more literally, the title could reference the collection of wayward scraps scattered across the composition, from the tiny fabric reproductions of masterpieces by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) to the print of Nicolas and Guillaume Coustou’s bas-relief Le Passage du Rhin (ca. 1733) and the Re Umberto Brand food packaging in the upper left corner. Through such acts of gathering and combining, Collection bridges cultural references high and low. It also links Rauschenberg’s early artistic explorations with a new phase of experimentation. The Combines brought Rauschenberg international success, and their innovative approach to blending materials and categories remains one of the most significant developments in the history of twentieth-century art.

Ownership, Exhibition, and Publication Histories

Marks and Inscriptions

Recto: None

Verso: On upper right corner of wood element attached to top of strainer, inscription in white chalk: “6 ½ x 8′ 1″ $900”; on upper secondary support spline, near left edge, inscription in white chalk: “CAT No 286 R 19”; on upper secondary support spline, below chalk inscription, French customs stamp in dark blue ink: “Douane Paris Chapelle”

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Robert Rauschenberg
Date created
oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas
80 in. x 96 in. x 3 1/2 in. (203.2 cm x 243.84 cm x 8.89 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture Since 1900

Research Materials

Views of the Artwork (16)

Primary View

View artwork image

Artwork Detail

Photograph of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection prior to 2012 conservation treatment

Artwork Detail

View of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection highlighting alterations made after it was first exhibited

Artwork Detail

Views of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection documenting changes in appearance from 1969 to 2013

Artwork Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection showing the mirror without the fabric veil

Artwork Detail

Details of fabric in Robert Rauschenberg's Collection with a shirt of similar material

Artwork Detail

Details of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing fading of fabric

Artwork Verso

View of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing traces of glue or sizing

Artwork Verso Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing the abutment of two panels

Artwork Verso Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing curved wooden element

Artwork Verso Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing red wooden element

Artwork Verso Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing 1964 catalogue number

Artwork Verso Detail

Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (verso) showing notation of price

Archival Image

Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection, Charles Egan Gallery, New York, 1954–1955

Archival Image

Photograph of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection (second state) published in 1961

Installation View

Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's Collection, SFMOMA, 1978

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