Robert Rauschenberg
Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965


In 1965, Robert Rauschenberg created Sleep for Yvonne Rainer as a testament to his friendship and mutually inspiring collaborations with dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer (b. 1934). Although the story of Rauschenberg’s connection to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company is better known, his own performances of the 1960s were arguably more influenced by his work with the collective of dancers and artists known as Judson Dance Theater, and particularly with Rainer. Rauschenberg was introduced to the world of modern dance through Cunningham, and he designed costumes, sets, and lighting for Cunningham’s dance company between 1954 and 1964. But by the end of his tenure there he was also working closely with Rainer. He designed the lighting for the premiere of her Terrain (1963) and later performed in several of her compositions, including We Shall Run (¾) (1963) and Parts of Some Sextets (1964–65). Rainer’s focus on untrained dancers and mundane motions such as walking, crawling, and the ritualistic handling of everyday objects clearly resonates with Rauschenberg’s embrace of everyday materials and images in his artwork. Indeed, his performances and choreography with the Judson group from this period reflect the impulse he and Rainer shared to blur distinctions between dancers, audience, sets, and props.

Sleep for Yvonne Rainer is structured by a large panel to which various images silkscreened on paper have been attached. A repeating series of military transports, echoed in red, black, and blue, anchors the composition, while a single photograph of a crate of Sunkist oranges hovers mid-frame. These collaged elements—along with images of pillows and a detail from a Baroque relief—are sealed within a clear Plexiglas casing that acts as a support for the surprising array of three-dimensional objects suspended from the work’s surface, ranging from tin cans and a spent tube of paint to assorted empty plastic tubes and salvaged wooden chair rungs. Many of these items can be rotated or adjusted, suggesting a variability that finds it fullest expression in the three small panels—each containing smaller collages and similarly sealed in Plexiglas—that connect to the main panel by way of thin chains. The panels may be repositioned to hang from a series of hooks on the work’s surface or even mounted on surrounding walls within reach of the chains; both actions are encouraged by the artist in the inscription that appears on the reverse of the painting. Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’s potential for endless rearrangement within a set of predefined limits reflects a compositional approach that pays tribute to Rainer’s choreography and to the energizing effect her work had on Rauschenberg’s art.

Ownership, Exhibition, and Publication Histories

Ownership History

Phillip Johnson, purchased through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, March 1966

Ralph Schoenman, purchased through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, November 1973; sold Sotheby’s London, April 1974

Offered by Sotheby’s, New York, November 1978; bought in

Bruno Bischofberger sometime between 1974 and 1980

Beatrice Monti della Corte sometime between 1974 and 1980

Monti della Corte placed on consignment with Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, December 1980

Mr. and Mrs. Paul Anka, purchased through Paula Cooper Gallery, San Francisco, March 1982

Private collection, purchased 2000

Exhibition History

Art Across America, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., September 16–October 1, 1965. Traveled to: Toledo Museum of Art, OH, October 1965; Cleveland Institute of Art, November 1965; Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, NY, December 3, 1965–January 2, 1966; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, January 15–February 15, 1966; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, March 1–22, 1966; Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI, April 1966; Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, Memphis, May 1–22, 1966; Pepsi-Cola Exhibition Gallery, New York, June 1966; J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, September 1966; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, October 4–22, 1966; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, November 1966; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, December 1966; Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, January 1967; Commercial Museum, Philadelphia, February–March 1967; Henry Art Gallery, March 26–April 16, 1967; Portland State College, OR, April–May 1967; La Jolla Museum of Art, CA, June–July 1967; Tucson Art Center, July 16–August 13, 1967. *Inclusion in all venues has not been confirmed.

Eleven Paintings and Two Sculptures from the Sixties, Kornblatt Gallery, Washington, D.C., November 7–December 10, 1981.

In addition to appearing in the special exhibitions listed above, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer was shown in SFMOMA’s galleries in 2016 as part of Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art: The Fisher Collection, a rotating presentation of the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at SFMOMA.

This listing has been updated since the launch of the Rauschenberg Research Project and is complete as of August 31, 2016.

Publication History

Peter Selz, Art Across America (Dayton, Ohio: The Mead Corporation, 1965), n.p. (ill.).

Nan Rosenthal, “Art Across America,” Art in America 53, no. 5 (October–November 1965): 108 (ill.).

“Contemporary Featured at Art Center,” Tucson Daily Citizen, July 15, 1967 (ill.).

Eleven Paintings and Two Sculptures from the Sixties (Washington, D.C.: Kornblatt Gallery, 1981), n.p. (ill.).

Jo Ann Lewis, “Strokes of ’60s Nostalgia,” Washington Post, November 7, 1981.

Susan Davidson and David White, eds., Rauschenberg (Ferrara, Italy: Ferrara Arte, 2004), 46n32.

Susan Davidson, “Robert Rauschenberg,” Guggenheim Bilbao Museum Collection (Bilbao: Guggenheim Bilbao, 2009), 96n27.

This listing has been updated since the launch of the Rauschenberg Research Project and is complete as of August 31, 2016.

Marks and Inscriptions

Recto: None

Verso: Upper right, titled and signed by the artist: “SLEEP FOR YVONNE RAINER RAUSCHENBERG 1965”; followed by inscription in the artist’s hand: (1 5’ x 7’ UNIT + 3 SMALL UNITS) SMALL UNITS MAY BE HUNG ON ANY HOOKS ON FACE OF LARGE UNIT OR ON THE WALL WITHIN REACH OF CHAIN. IN NO CASE SHOUD [sic] ANY PART BE DETACHED.”; center vertical support bar, “20” inscribed and encircled in white, with “60 x 84” below in black; upper horizontal support: “BOSTON” (left) and “x236” (right)

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Sleep for Yvonne Rainer
Artist name

Date created
mixed media and paper collage with screenprint
84 1/2 in. x 60 1/2 in. x 7 1/4 in. (214.63 cm x 153.67 cm x 18.42 cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
Not on view at this time.

Research Materials

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