Robert Rauschenberg, Pyramid Series, 1974
Robert Rauschenberg, Pyramid Series, 1974; embossed paper and fabric, dimensions variable; Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Overview

Robert Rauschenberg’s Pyramid Series (1974) comprises seven untitled works that combine uniform sheets of paper with irregularly shaped pieces of fabric. Made with the assistance of Robert Petersen at Untitled Press, Inc., a print workshop the artist established at his studio on Captiva Island, Florida, these works were created by pressing partially folded swatches of cheesecloth between sheets of paper that had been treated with adhesive. This process sealed the triangles of folded cloth between the paper sheets, allowing the remaining lengths of fabric to hang below. The action of passing the folded cheesecloth and paper layers through a printing press produced the raised pyramid shapes that give the series its name.

Rauschenberg was drawn to the shape, texture, and material history of the pieces of cheesecloth commonly used by printers to clean lithographic stones and etching plates. The cloths in the Pyramid Series works came from his own print studio and are marked by stains and dabs of ink that convey their former purpose. Like the unconventional use of the printing press in these works, this recycling of cast-off studio supplies was typical of Rauschenberg’s open-minded and experimental approach to his art materials.

Although Rauschenberg considered the seven units in the Pyramid Series to be independent artworks that could be exhibited individually, he preferred that they all be shown together, with the order and spacing left to the discretion of the curator. His installation instructions state: “Depending on the space one ‘line-up’ looks better than another. Play by eye.” Together the works project a shared sense of graceful tranquility. The pared-down aesthetic of the series and its responsiveness to changes in surrounding light and air currents recall the artist’s White Paintings (1951) and are consistent with much of his other work from the early 1970s. Following his move from New York to Captiva Island in fall 1970, Rauschenberg began to work with a restricted palette, spare shapes, and a narrow range of simple ephemeral materials such as cardboard, paper, and sand, a shift that reflected both his change of environment and the emerging vocabulary of Postminimalism. Representing Rauschenberg at his most restrained and refined, the Pyramid Series stands as a moment of quiet elegance in his often exuberant body of work.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Pyramid Series
Artist name
Robert Rauschenberg
Date created
1974
Classification
collage
Medium
embossed paper and fabric
Dimensions
dimensions variable
Date acquired
1998
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
Copyright
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.300.1-7
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Essay

Pyramid Series

By Robert S. Mattison, July 2013
Part of the Rauschenberg Research Project

Robert Rauschenberg’s Pyramid Series (1974) consists of seven units of embossed paper and fabric, each of which is nearly two and a half feet wide, while the tallest is more than six and a half feet high. Each is constructed of two sheets of Arches paper and a cheesecloth rag that was used previously in the artist’s printmaking studio.

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