Erased de Kooning Drawing

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Erased de Kooning Drawing is an early work of US artist Robert Rauschenberg: an almost blank piece of paper in a simple gilded frame. The work was created in 1953 by Rauschenberg erasing a drawing he obtained from American artist Willem de Kooning. Rauschenberg asked his friend Jasper Johns to add a written caption to the frame, which reads: "Erased de Kooning Drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953”. It is considered a Neo-Dadaist conceptual artwork, with similarities affinities to Added Art, although with material removed from the original work rather than added. It has been held by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art since 1998, which describes the work as a "drawing [with] traces of drawing media on paper with label and gilded frame".

The work is a development from Rauschenberg's early monochrome white paintings that he first created in summer 1951. After creating a series of completely blank white paintings, Rauschenberg set out to discover whether an artwork could be produced entirely through erasure. He started with erasing his own drawings, but felt that the result was not sufficiently creative, so he decided to seek a drawing from another more established artist - clearly already a work of art - that he could erase. He approached de Kooning, an artist he admired, to ask for a drawing that he could erase to create a new work of art. After some persuasion, de Kooning gave Rauschenberg a densely worked drawing in crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal, deliberately steering away from works that he did not like, or simple pencil drawings that would be too easy for Rauschenberg to erase. It took Rauschenberg approximately two months to obliterate as much of de Kooning drawing as he could, using a variety of different erasers. The plain gilded frame and inscription by Jasper Johns are important parts of the work: without them, a viewer would struggle to interpret the work.

No photographs exist of the de Kooning work before its erasure, but digital photographs made by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2010 enhanced the remaining traces of the underlying drawing, although some may have been erased by de Kooning as part of the initial creation of the work before he gave it to Rauschenberg. De Kooning's original drawing appears to be studio sketch, with several figures facing in different directions, including at least one female, probably made with pencil and charcoal.

The work, including its frame, measures 25.25×21.75×0.5 inches (64.1×55.2×1.3 cm). It was not exhibited in public until 1963, but Rauschenberg would show it to visitors to his studio, and it became well known. Some considered the destruction of a de Kooning drawing to be an act of vandalism; others recognised the concept of Rauschenberg's new work. It was bought by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1998 using a gift from Phyllis Wattis.

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