Lot 1089
  • 1089


32,000,000 - 40,000,000 HKD
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  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Cartoon
  • oil, wood, and metal on canvas
  • 72 by 36 by 5 1/2 in. 182.9 by 91.4 by 14 cm.
signed, titled and dated April 1962 on the reverse


Leo Castelli, New York
Daimitsu Foundation
Roger and Myra Davidson Collection, Toronto
Private Collection, Brazil
Daros Collection, Switzerland
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Paris, XVIIIe Salon de Mai, Musée d'art modern de la ville de Paris, May 1962
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Three Young Americans, January 1963
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Extended Loan, 1970
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Selections from the Roger and Myra Davidson Collection, January - March 1987, p. 57 (illustrated in colour)
New York, Blum Helman Gallery, Rauschenberg, Schwitters, Tuttle, February 1987
Hiroshima, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Robert Rauschenberg: The 2nd Hiroshima Art Prize, November 1993 - January 1994, p. 72, no. 22 (illustrated in colour)
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Paris, Musée national d'art modern, Centre Georges Pompidou; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, December 2005 - May 2007, p. 182, pl. 158, (illustrated in colour)

Catalogue Note

Combines: Cartoon
Robert Rauschenberg

An artist manufactures his material out of his own existence - his own ignorance, familiarity or confidence. I come to terms with my materials. They know and I know that we’re going to try to do something. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I would substitute anything for preconceptions or deliberateness. If that moment can’t be as fresh, strange and unpredictable as what’s going on around you, then it’s false. The nature of some of my materials gave me an additional problem because I had to figure out how they could be physically supported on a wall when they obviously had no business being anywhere near a wall. That was the beginnings of the Combines.” – Robert Rauschenberg 

Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines signaled a revolution in the history of American art. Through an embrace of non-traditional materials, a concern for formal composition, and a rejection of the contemporaneous art historical narrative, Rauschenberg redefined the traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, developing a new means of artistic expression and sensitivity toward the framework of modern art. These three-dimensional works, such as the present lot, Cartoon, reinvented the terms by which art was made and considered, deviating from a delineation of singular meaning and mode. Cartoon exemplifies Rauschenberg’s Combines series and his invention of a pictorial surface forged in society and the surrounding world.

An entirely free-standing combine-painting, the present work is a magnificent summation of Robert Rauschenberg’s most defining format of his utterly unique practice. Every inch of this superb piece’s richly variegated surface serves to describe Rauschenberg’s distinctive conceptual project, one that remained steadfastly creative and experimental for over sixty years. A quintessential artist in every sense of the word, Rauschenberg pursued a diversity of media, from oil paint to photography, sculpture and collage, in his embrace of the impulse of fellow artists in his generation to challenge the traditional notions of painting. As described by Calvin Tomkins, “Rauschenberg’s real motive was curiosity, an intense and constantly renewed curiosity about what a picture was or was not, and his curiosity led him to test, more and more radically, the boundaries that other people had set up around art.” (Calvin Tomkins, Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg, New York, 1980, p. 86) He worked tirelessly to disrupt these traditional distinctions, creating phenomenal works such as Cartoon, which are distinguished by the particular gestural dynamism and compositional elegance that define his inimitable career.

In the catalogue for Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, the acclaimed 2005 survey of the series organized by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Paul Schimmel recounts: “Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines represent the invention of a hybrid form of art that draws from the vocabularies of both painting and sculpture and invests objects with a sense of drama and theatricality as they become part of a larger whole…At a time when the primacy of New York School painting remained relatively unchallenged, the Combines paved the way for a new direction in art.” (Paul Schimmel, “Autobiography and Self-Portraiture in Rauschenberg’s Combines,” in Exh. Cat. Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, 2005, p. 211) Though the combine-paintings represented a groundbreaking approach to art, Rauschenberg’s aesthetic was deeply informed by the influence of both his forebears and his contemporaries. While he was establishing his own aesthetic Rauschenberg remained deeply involved with and connected to the work of his contemporaries, from whom he drew continual inspiration: in December 1949 he saw the work of Joseph Cornell at Egan Gallery; in Spring 1951 he met Cy Twombly in New York; he visited Alberto Burri in Rome in March 1953; he met Jasper Johns at the end of 1953 in New York; Marcel Duchamp visited his studio on Christmas Day in 1959; Edward Kienholz created Odious to Rauschenberg in 1960, intended as a gift for him; he collaborated with Jean Tinguely for an installation at the Museum of Modern Art in March 1960; he participated in the creation of a Niki de Saint Phalle “tir” near Värmdö, Sweden in May 1961. The best examples of his oeuvre benefit immensely from the personal and professional relationships he had with his fellow artists. These years also marked the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and Rauschenberg readily acknowledges the influence of the master painters of that genre, especially Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, both of whom he had developed a friendship with after proactively travelling uptown to the famed Cedar Tavern to make their acquaintance. Rauschenberg admired Kline’s bold gestural compositions, his starkly reduced, predominantly achromatic color palette, and insistence on a unified figure-ground relationship. He appreciated the grid-like nature of de Kooning’s compositions, particularly in works such as Asheville (1949), and likely noted the segmented gestural swathes of color, reflected in the composition of Cartoon.

Within the oeuvre of an artist whose work is unconditionally shaped and influenced by his immediate surroundings, Cartoon pronounces an abstract vernacular that is exceptionally particularized to—and intimately revealing of—Rauschenberg’s life in Lower Manhattan at the time of its creation. Emphatically architectural, the explicit elements which make up the present work speak to both the specifics of his downtown neighborhood and the rapid changes occurring there, the result of major urban re-development in New York in the early 1960s. Drawing upon the environmental ephemera and urban detritus of the artist’s New York environs, the Combines integrate found objects in a manner reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s anti-art and Pablo Picasso’s innovative sculptural oeuvre; furthering their example, Rauschenberg’s inclusion of personalized details in his amalgamated canvases introduced a new and wholly unprecedented element of autobiographical intimacy.

Rauschenberg distilled the fundamental philosophy of his practice when he said, “In most cases, my interest is in acknowledging the fact that man is able to function on many different levels simultaneously…yet intellectually for hundreds of years the idea of uninterrupted concentration has been considered the most serious attitude to have in order to use our intelligence…If we are to get the most out of any given time, it is because we have applied ourselves as broadly as possible, I think, not because we have applied ourselves as single-mindedly as possible.” (the artist cited in Richard Kostelanetz, The Theatre of Mixed Means: An Introduction to Happenings, Kinetic Environments, and Other Mixed-Means Performances, New York, 1968, pp. 93-4) With works such as Cartoon, Rauschenberg excelled at applying his artistic facilities as broadly as possible, incorporating exuberantly applied paint and sculptural forms with found everyday objects to create a dynamic viewing experience that operates on many different levels simultaneously.

With a celebrated sense of theatricality, Rauschenberg brilliantly fused the once disparate genres of painting and sculpture into a distinctive aesthetic, thus devising his own unique challenge to the preceding decades of innovation, as well as contributing the ultimate breakthrough for the visual arts in the second half of the Twentieth Century. In defiance of Renaissance perspective, he began to build his pictures out into the viewer’s space so that they came to operate somewhere between painting and sculpture, in a new frontier of the visual arts described by Rauschenberg as “combine-paintings.” He translated this dichotomy into his art with the use of found objects in the service of painting, merging them into landscapes of pigment, sculpture, and object.