Rauschenberg enjoyed the trickery of word play and visual puns and often titled his works to create double meanings. This juxtaposition of seemingly disparate visual references forges enigmatic links to color a picture of everyday American culture. Upon close inspection, the imagery and composition of Cup does not necessarily evoke the quotidian kitchen object itself; instead, various meanings of the word dovetail from transferred images that appear within the drawing. Rauschenberg relied on images carefully selected from Newsweek, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Life Magazine to illustrate the various meanings and uses of "cup." For instance, 'cup' can refer to a golf hole, while "cup horse" refers to an animal qualified to participate in long distance races. Embedded within the cacophony of color and overlapping images throughout the composition, show horses pose, golf balls fly and runners race, all while Mary Magdalene, pulled from Rogier van der Weyden's Braque Triptych (circa 1452), looks on. The striated and pixelated images from Rauschenberg's transfer technique recall the rush of news, images and advertisements present in everyday life both during the 1950s and for decades to come. Rauschenberg's mastery includes vibrant brushstrokes in prismatic colors that add in his own artistic gesture to otherwise mass produced imagery.
Rauschenberg's Cup is one of the most significant solvent transfer works to come to auction and demonstrates the artist's ability to harness the complex virtues of American symbolism within the traditionally constricting confines of a two-dimensional sheet of paper. First acquired in 1960 from Leo Castelli Gallery by the legendary collectors Emily and Burton Tremaine, whose world-renowned indexical collection of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art was marked for its quality and depth, Cup has remained in the similarly distinguished collection of Blake Byrne since Byrne acquired it in 1988. Cup stands out among the very best of Rauschenberg's work and has been appreciated by the very best collectors ever since it was executed at the peak of the artist's artistic innovation.
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