View full screen - View 1 of Lot 20. ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG | PHOTEM SERIES 1 #29.




- 90,000 GBP





- 90,000 GBP


1925 - 2008


signed, titled and dated 81 on the reverse

gelatin silver print collage on board, mounted on shaped aluminium

125 by 59 cm. 49¼ by 23¼ in.

framed: 141.5 by 77.5 cm. 55¾ by 30½ in.

Please note: Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot

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The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly cooler in the original. Please note the colours in the online catalogue illustration may vary depending on screen settings.


This work is in very good condition. All collaged elements are stable. Extremely close inspection in raking light, reveals a fine an extremely fine pattern of craquelure throughout, which is associated with the artist's working process and to be expected in the artist's work from this period. Very close inspection reveals a few minute specs of loss, mostly to the extreme edges of the work and towards the lower center of the right edge and towards the lower center of the left edge.

The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.

Galería Weber, Alexander y Cobo, Madrid

Private Collection

Christie's, New York, 1 April 2008, Lot 223

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Madrid, Galería Weber, Alexander y Cobo, Robert Rauschenberg, Photems/ Fotografías, February - April 1993, p. 40, illustrated

“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” (Jonathan Green, American Photography: A Critical History, 1945 to the Present, 1984, p. 131).

Totemic in form and mounted upon aluminium, Robert Rauschenberg’s Photems abolish the line between photography and sculpture. Rauschenberg has never been one to shy away from unorthodox combinations; his renowned Combines fused painting and sculpture together in ways that shocked audiences and reinvented the medium. Photem Series 1 #29 is a key example of the artist’s photographic investigation, uniting his experimentation of mediums with his interest in American life and culture.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenberg went on to become one of the pillars of contemporary American painting. It was at Black Mountain College, under the watchful eye of Josef Albers, where Rauschenberg was first taught of the wonders of photography. In fact, Rauschenberg went on to spend his career toying between being a painter and a photographer. Rauschenberg developed an obsession with an impossible project: to photograph his country inch by inch.

In Photem Series 1 #29, three images of American life are merged together, each of which touch on the key concerns for Rauschenberg; light, surface and texture. A shovel, drenched in the morning light, grounds the work at its base. Its handle guides the eye upwards as it merges with the wooden fences of the middle image. Atop the work, a wooden bench stands tall like an altar. Joined without margins or separation, the three images offer a snapshot into American life, untouched by Rauschenberg’s hand, observed only by his eye.

The name of the series – Photems – implies a combination of ‘photos’ and ‘totems’. Vertical and often monumental in size, the Photems take on the form of historical totems: a symbol of a community, a repository of life. Rauschenberg’s clan, the urban clan, keeps its memory in the form of photographs, fragments of American existence. Photographs are an imprint of reality and Rauschenberg, by placing his photographs on a metallic surface, imbues the images with its own reflectivity. Thus, the present work not only addresses Rauschenberg’s key concerns as an artist but contemplates the medium of photography as a whole. The Photems become symbols of urban life, totems of the modern experience.