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  • From the collection of Andy Warhol to that of Ruth O’Hara, Untitled, 1968, is a remarkable transfer drawing by Robert Rauschenberg that is not only distinguished by exceptional provenance, but also its embodiment of the frenetic pulse of mid-20th century America, both in content and form. Combining imagery primarily taken from the December 6, 1968 edition of Life magazine, the authoritative visual record of its day, Untitled provides an acute sense of a moment time as one of the most turbulent years in the United States was coming to a close. At the same time as the Apollo 7 mission continued to entrance the public’s imagination while advertisements lauded the newest consumer goods, the United States was in midst of socio-political upheaval—with investigations on the Chicago Police Riot and the Black Power movement dominating Life’s stories at the time. Juxtaposing a litany of found images, Rauschenberg simultaneously combines and obscures competing, but equally compelling, stories to create an artwork overflowing with an effect that Rauschenberg’s friend and mentor John Cage likened to “many television sets working simultaneously all tuned differently.”

     

    Andy Warhol & Robert Rauschenberg

     

    It is then not surprising that Andy Warhol, who similarly embraced artistic strategies of appropriation and was fascinated by the allure of mass media, chose to acquire this work from Bonnier Gallery in New York for his personal collection. Warhol had long admired Rauschenberg, who, while only 3 years his senior, had firmly established himself in the New York art world at a time when Warhol was still making a career as a commercial illustrator. It was in September 1962 that the two artists first met when Rauschenberg accompanied Ileana and Michael Sonnabend to Warhol’s studio, where only a few months prior he had created his first silk-screened works. Rauschenberg’s ratification of Warhol’s work cannot be understated, making this a galvanizing event for Warhol at the precipice of his meteoric rise to fame. This fateful studio visit marked only the beginning of an enduring friendship between these two artists, who, whilst working in very different idioms, shared similar artistic sensibilities.

    "I love Rauschenberg... I’ve always loved him. It’s somebody I liked a long time ago."
    —Andy Warhol

    Transfer drawings such as Untitled encapsulate the conceptual kinship and artistic respect shared by two titans of American art. Rauschenberg’s solvent-based transfer process, which he had fully developed by 1958, was arguably influential to Warhol as he explored his own strategies of appropriating and duplicating found imagery – culminating in 1962 with his pioneering silk-screening technique. Rauschenberg’s process-driven apotheosis of everyday imagery mirrors Warhol’s rendering of ubiquitous images in the mechanical medium of silkscreen; the work of both artists enshrines the contemporaneous as totems of the time and place of their creation. Yet if Warhol was fashioning icons from the omnipresent banality of fame and mass consumerism, Rauschenberg recreated the Shroud of Turin with television.
     

    Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol outside the Pergamon Museum; Andy Warhol contact sheets from March 2–5, 1982. Image copyright © 2020 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

    Drawing Television

     

    While Rauschenberg had previously juxtaposed found imagery through the medium of collage, his transfer process enabled him to not only play upon the ubiquity of images in the mid-20th century, but to also engage with his own role as an image creator – and manipulator. In Untitled, disparate text and image fragments primarily from the December 6, 1968 Life edition are juxtaposed in an equalizing process, with sources including an advertisement for Renault automobiles, a list of mafia police payoffs uncovered in an investigation of the Chicago Police Riot, photo stories on a West Virginia coal mine fire and the Apollo 7 mission.
     
    Yet, as is characteristic for Rauschenberg’s transfer technique, the specificity of these constituent sources—their scandal, intrigue, and allure—is obscured through artistic gesture. Untitled boasts the artist’s involvement in the creation of the artwork by veiling the ubiquitous visual traces of major news beneath the steely fog of the artist’s hand, all the while powerfully dramatizing the overwhelming concurrence of news of the early age of television in a manner that makes this work as timely as ever.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Boston
      M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York
      Bonnier Gallery, Ltd., New York
      Andy Warhol, New York
      His sale, Sotheby’s, New York, May 2, 1988, lot 3367
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Christie’s, New York, November 11, 2009, lot 118
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Offer Waterman, Robert Rauschenberg: Transfer Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s, December 2, 2016–January 13, 2017, no. 11, pp. 40, 70 (illustrated, p. 41)

Property from the Estate of Ruth O’Hara

212

Untitled

signed and dated “Rauschenberg '68” lower right
graphite, solvent transfer, and watercolor on paper
22 1/4 x 29 7/8 in. (56.5 x 76 cm)
Executed in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $138,600

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021