Lot 5
  • 5

Robert Rauschenberg

40,000 - 60,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • polapan prints mounted to aluminum
a composition of 4 unique bleached Polaroid Polapan prints, mounted to aluminum, signed and dated in silver ink on the mount, in a frame designed to the artist's specifications, an Innovation/Imagination exhibition label on the reverse, 1988


San Francisco, The Friends of Photography, Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography, May - July 1999, and traveling to 11 other venues through 2007 (see Appendix 1)


Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography (The Friends of Photography, 1999), p. 91 (this object)

Catalogue Note

The critic Jonathan Green observed in the 1980s, 'Perhaps the most important, and least acknowledged, photographer of the past decade is Robert Rauschenberg.  Rauschenberg's position in the world of painting has so overshadowed his role as a photographic innovator that he is usually overlooked in discussions of the history of photography.  Yet his achievement as a painter is essentially photographic in method.  His painting recapitulates the sensibility of the major photographers of the fifties, parallels photography's preoccupations of the sixties, and anticipates the ''mixed-media'' and conceptual work of the 1970s' (American Photography: A Critical History, 1945 to the Present, p. 131).   

The two Rauschenberg works in this catalogue (the present lot, and Lot 195), illustrate the inventiveness with which the artist approached photography, specifically Polaroid photography, and his desire to push past the normal bounds of the camera and combine elements of other media into his work.  Rauschenberg had incorporated photographs, many taken from the mass media, into his paintings from the very beginning, as photo-transfers, silk-screens, or photolithographs.  Rauschenberg also took his own photographs, and his portraits of his famous colleagues at Black Mountain College, his 1980 Rauschenberg/Photographs portfolio and 1981 Photographs book, show his talent, and appreciation, for the straight photographic approach.   

In 1988, Rauschenberg was given the opportunity to work with Polaroid's massive 20-by-24-inch camera, which was brought to him in Florida.  The Bleacher series has its genesis in this first encounter with the large format camera.  The large sheets of Polapan film Rauschenberg used during these sessions required, like Polaroid's smaller consumer-market black-and-white film, a coating after development that arrested the action of the developing agent and created a hard protective surface for the print.  Curious about what would happen if this coating were not applied, or was only selectively applied, Rauschenberg asked Polaroid technician John Reuter what the results would be.  Reuter replied that the uncoated areas would become effectively bleached.  Rauschenberg subsequently experimented with selectively coating his prints and leaving them in the sun to hasten the effect of his treatment.  Frustrated that this did not result in an immediate or sufficient change in the appearance of his photographs, Rauschenberg devised a strategy that was wholly new.  Using a paintbrush, he selectively applied bleach to the surface of the prints.  This had the effect of altering the appearance of certain areas, creating a multi-layered image that operates as both a literal depiction of its subject and an abstract riff upon it. 

The present image, Japanese Sky I, consists of four 20-by-24-inch Polapan prints treated with bleach.  They are mounted to aluminum, and placed within the same type of metal frame Rauschenberg used at that time for his paintings. 

Sotheby's wishes to thank Peter MacGill for sharing his knowledge about the creation of the Bleacher series.