Last month, after putting together a list of all the times Johns and Rauschenberg mentioned working on each others’ work, and wondering, “SERIOUSLY, DOES NO ONE ASK FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS?” I decided to start asking follow-up questions.
In particular, I’ve been asking around, trying to document the early history of Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953-5). Remember, the first public exhibition of it wasn’t until 1964; its measurements seem to have changed over the years; and the first known image of it didn’t come until 1970.
So I wondered how people knew or saw it in that first decade. And I really wanted to know whether folks knew that Johns had helped finish the work. Which, presumably, would only have happened while they were together, between 1954-59 or 1960 or so. Right?
And so far, my results are fascinating but mixed.
Johns told me that Erased de Kooning Drawing was actually included in a show in 1958, which was the impetus for his contribution. He helped conceive of the frame and label, and then drew the label while Bob got a store-bought frame.
The show was at Poindexter Gallery, a group drawing show in Dec 1958 – Jan 1959. Ellin Poindexter had been working with Charles Egan Gallery for a few months, but ended up opening her own space. This big group drawing show was one of her first.
Which is all HUGE, I figured. [Johns had a work in the show, too, apparently. A footnote in Fred Orton’s Figuring Jasper Johns mentions a Flag drawing with 64 stars, which seems like a lot of stars. It also seems not to exist anymore; so maybe Johns destroyed it. He didn’t say one way or the other.]
I went diving in the Poindexter Gallery papers at the Archives of American Art, but there’s nothing at all about the show. There is no documentation of it anywhere, that I can find. Well, that’s not quite true. Dore Ashton reviewed the show for the NY Times, but she didn’t mention Rauschenberg or Johns. I asked her if she remembered seeing Erased de Kooning Drawing in the show, and she didn’t. She didn’t recall the first time she saw the work, either, except that she did figure it was probably in Bob’s studio.
I asked around a bit more, looking for any documentation of this show–maybe one of the dozens of other artists has saved a checklist in a box somewhere? And it turns out I’m not the only person Johns has mentioned this exhibit to; it’s just that no one can find documentation to back it up.
Which makes me realize that there is an entire layer of art historical information out there, stuff that people who know know, but can’t write about. I wonder how much of this information gets lost before it’s written or published or transmitted somehow.
Anyway, the other day, while surfing along through a Swann’s photo auction catalogue I came across the great Dan Budnick portrait of Johns from 1958. Budnick’s a Magnum photographer and still alive, and he was clearly on the scene at the right time. So I started poking around. And BAM.
Budnick did take pictures of Rauschenberg, too. This Budnick photo of Bob in his studio, in fact, is listed as 1958. And what is that behind the car door? Does that not look like Erased de Kooning Drawing? In a mat and frame? Case closed. Also, check the frame profile; it IS different from the current one.
Except that that is not the Front Street studio; it’s Broadway. And so that is not 1958. It’s probably 1964-5. Because that’s when and where Alexander Lieberman took this very similar photo of Rauschenberg. [Which, amazingly, Matt from RO/LU had posted just a day or two before I found it. Eerie.]
Even though the photo of Merce dancing is tacked in the same place, Lieberman’s bigger shot doesn’t include Erased de Kooning Drawing. There’s an early 50’s painting from his Betty Parsons show in its place. [There’s also a little plastic American flag hanging to the left. A memento, perhaps?]
Which is all a way to say that if you–or more likely, your artist grandfather–was in this Poindexter Gallery show in 1958-9, and has some checklists or installation photos, definitely drop a line.