Lawrence Voytek began working for Robert Rauschenberg in 1982, right out of RISD. He set up a workshop in Captiva, Florida, and for decades was involved in helping the artist fabricate his work and solve complicated technical challenges.
Yesterday, artist Eric Doeringer sent me an Instagram Reel Voytek posted for Memorial Day. Voytek shows off a small, bright Jasper Johns-style American flag on a wood panel, which he holds with one hand while recording with his phone in the other. I’ve transcribed the Reel for Art History:
Happy Memorial Day, everybody. This is an encaustic flag. There was a painting that Bob did [Short Circuit, obv] that had a Jasper Johns that was stolen, and it was at Captiva for a while. Bob asked me to make a kind of a copy of the Jasper, doing the real encaustic. He didn’t use it on it; they had a Mary Stravant [sic, Sturtevant] flag that had newspaper and stuff. But this was kind of fun. I melted Crayola crayons, and I had hot wax, and I made a Jasper Johns flag so there you go. Happy Memorial Day.
in 1954 Bob was with Jasper when Jasper had the dream of painting an American flag, and that really sort of was a gamechanger.
Indeed it was, Lawrence, indeed it was.
Voytek’s oral history doesn’t mention Johns, Short Circuit, or Flag (this one or any others). Rauschenberg’s story from Voytek’s caption, though, about asking to paint some of the original Flag is out there. Johns’ story about the dream is, by definition, solitary. But I think this is the first account I’ve seen that acknowledges someone else was in the bed.
[The anti-Semitic defacement of Lincoln, the 1958 Robert Rauschenberg combine sold last week at Christie’s, was first reported yesterday in Kenny Schachter’s post-auction recap on artnet. Schachter said Lincoln was “infamous” for the racist vandalism that took place at some as-yet-unconfirmed point, when the work was owned by the Art Institute of Chicago. IYKYK, but so far, I’ve found no news or art text mentioning it. So what happened, and when?
Until 2018 Edisto Island meant one thing in the contemporary art world. Then after, it meant another. Or rather, it meant two things. On August 6, 2018, Cameron Rowland bought an acre of land that had once been part of an enslaver’s plantation; then was part of a “forty acres and a mule” Freedmen’s reparations order; and then was almost immediately repossessed by the former enslavers. Rowland bought the land and placed restrictive covenants on its deed that remove any use or monetary value. The land and the deed constitute their work, Depreciation, and Dia just announced stewardship of it.
The work comprises the land and the deed, but that is not all. Depreciation is owned by 8060 Maxie Rd, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation Rowland established to execute the work. The company is named after the land’s address on a road named after the enslavers. Rowland maintains the corporation, and thus ownership of the work, and has put it on extended loan with Dia.
Trying to trace the whereabouts of Jasper Johns’ 1960 Painting With Two Balls around 1987, when Sturtevant made her Johns Painting With Two Balls, I note that it was reproduced in color in Michael Crichton’s catalogue for Johns’ 1977 Whitney Museum retrospective.
From the notes in the Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonée, I see that the painting has been on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, beginning March 1979.
Also, that some of the collage pieces date from December 1959.
Also, the construction is as follows: “four mending braces are attached to the canvas with screws, and a strip of wood runs under the bottom edge of the painting.” [Sturtevant’s version has no such strip.]
Also, THOSE ARE NOT JASPER JOHNS’ BALLS. THE BALLS WERE STOLEN. TWICE. AND REPLACED. TWICE.
When the painting returned from a traveling exhibition in November 1962, the original balls were missing and had to be replaced.
That exhibition, 4 Americans: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, traveled from the Moderna Museet to the Stedelijk to the Kunsthalle Bern, presumably went off without incident until the end. Presumably, the artist made the replacement balls.
The second set was later stolen while the painting was on view at the Venice Biennale in 1964. According to the artist, the balls were replaced again and paint was applied to them with his approval.
So these balls were handled by Italians. They are, in fact, Italian balls. Palle di Venezia. Meanwhile, four of Jasper Johns’ balls are on the loose, last known location: someone’s pockets in Europe. Keep an eye out, I guess.
If you were thinking we just saw Sturtevant’s Johns Painting With Two Balls at auction, you were right. Gerald Finberg bought the 1987 work in late 2019 at Phillips, and, I assume, had a couple of great years with it.
Now it’s on the rebound at Christie’s, who spice things up a bit by letting us hit it from the back. The three panel construction and the tapered cross bars are clearly visible and—presumably—like Johns’ 1960 original.
The higher-res images also help make legible some of the fragments of the International Herald Tribune Sturtevant used (from April 23, 1987 at least, when the Stanley Cup was also underway) as she painted this thing in Paris[?].
The way we understand Sturtevant’s practice is that she repeated works but didn’t reproduce them, painting from the image in her mind, if not exactly “memory.” But the placement, shape, and even the layering of the brushstroke knots here makes me suspect that’s not how Two Balls went down. I think she used a color image for reference, and maybe even projected it. This is a stroke-for-stroke remake—a drip-for-drip remake, even—which feels categorically different from Sturtevant’s other projects [or at least how they’re presented and understood.]
It feels like there’s a Rauschenberg Factum reference here I can’t quite tease out. It’s not just as if two different people made Factum I and Factum II. It’s two different people made paintings with two balls, 27 years apart, and both of them were there when Rauschenberg made the Factums in the first place. But only one made this comparison possible, decades later, and that’s Sturtevant.
Which all turns out to be the tangent here, because Robert Rauschenberg cut out the aerial photo of Vick’s treasure trail and, in 1958, working in the gap between LIFE and art, he collaged it to the center of a small combine titled, Lincoln. Lincoln is one of at least seven small combines Rauschenberg made in 1958, along with a similar number in 1957. [I wrote about another of these little personal combines, State, in 2020.]
Jasper Johns has one of Barnett Newman’s first lithographs, Untitled, 1961, which Newman made at the urging of Cleve Gray, his artist friend who taught at Pratt.
Johns included the Newman print as an element in several of his trompe l’oeil-style paintings in the 1980s. The first, I think—I will doublecheck the catalogue raisonné later; right now I’m just trying to procrastinate something else—was Racing Thoughts, in 1983. That painting is now at the Whitney.
[CORRECTION: The Twombly sculpture is in Chicago, see below.]
This Cy Twombly photograph of Robert Rauschenberg has been around. He is in his Fulton Street studio, the crumbling walk-up he moved into when he returned to New York from his Italian romp with Twombly in the Spring of 1953. Clearly, he’s settled in a little bit, put some interesting stuff up on the wall.
When Douglas Cramer sold this Jasper Johns painting at Christie’s in 2012, he told the story of its creation, as a thank you to a doctor for making a house call the artist didn’t have the money to pay for. But that feels incomplete, since, if Johns filled Dr Wilder’s prescription for Paregoric at the Sande Drugs on 76th Street, doesn’t that mean he was living in his penthouse on Riverside Drive by then? I think there’s more to the relationship with Dr. Wilder than, “If I live I’ll pay you Tuesday.” [If nothing else, they stayed in touch enough for Dr & Mrs. Joseph Wilder to loan the painting to the artist’s solo show at the Jewish Museum in 1964.]
It wasn’t right there there all along, but it was somewhere. It being the question of whether this is Cy Twombly’s first painting, a copy of a Picasso.
We know now that it is not, that this Twombly copy of 1939 Picasso—in Nicola del Roscio’s house in Gaeta, published in the NY Times in 2016, and haunting me unexplained until 2021—was made in 1988. Part of the confusion came from the artist’s comments in a feature in the Times in 1994, around the opening of his MoMA retrospective.
So I was close, and yet. Because this paragraph was in the 1994 feature in Vanity Fair around the opening of his MoMA retrospective, written by no less than Edmund Wilson:
In Lexington he was taught by a Spanish artist, Pierre Daura, who had lived for years in Paris. The first painting Twombly recalls doing was a copy of Picasso’s portrait of Marie Therese Walter. In the course of interviewing Twombly, I saw a Picasso-ish portrait—perhaps the same one—on the dining-room wall in the house of his closest friend. “Oh, have you seen Cy’s Picasso?” he asked.
“the first painting Twombly recalls doing,” “Picasso-ish portrait,” “perhaps the same one,” “his closest friend.” There is useful truth to be found in the way these words do not say what’s actually going on.
It’s weird to see a work of art without knowing the artist, and then to find out it’s by someone you know. The familiar overtakes the novel or, in the case of Publicon Station I, the lmao baffling. As soon as this gold leafed oar with a blue light bulb in its belly, standing in a geometric fabric-lined rhomboid cabinet was identified as a 1978 Robert Rauschenberg, its obviously a Rauschenberg, and from the 70s.
Publicons are a series of six wall-mounted sculpture editions Rauschenberg made with Gemini G.E.L. “Related to the Stations of the Cross”, the Rauschenberg Foundation explains, “the Publicons are cabinets, each of which opens to reveal an enshrined object. The title merges ‘icon,’ a reference to medieval reliquaries and Renaissance altarpieces, and ‘public,’ since sculptures can be manipulated by the viewer. “
Those religious references are all distinct, of course–stations, icons, reliquaries, altarpieces–and don’t neatly map to Publicons. My guess is Rauschenberg was not hung up on dogmatics of symbolism, narrative, or procession, &c.; he was going for a vibe.
There’s a common vocabulary of beige auto lacquer on the exterior, and geometric fabric panel collages on the interior. Three have lights: I, IV and V. Four have objects “enshrined” in them. The gold leafed oar feels the most religious; the mirror, wheel and dangling brick are all found in Rauschenberg’s earlier work. (Of course, what isn’t?)
Though their 1978 exhibition at Castelli Graphics did get a review in Artforum, not much seems to have been written about Publicons. Rauschenberg had bigger shows, and bigger work–and lots of it. In Artforum, Leo Rubinfien, always hard to please, wrote:
The central device with which the “Publicons” work is the difference between their blank and unyielding exteriors and their exuberant contents. Since they are modeled on icon cases, a hint of the sacred still adheres to them, reinforced by their individual titles—Station 1, Station II, etc. Thus one approaches and opens them a little cautiously, to find a crazy Pop/Surreal confusion inside. They are, in fact, as much jack-in-the-box as icon: Station I, when opened, reveals a canoe paddle covered with gold leaf, with a glowing blue light for a navel—it is as if the piece has stuck its tongue out at one for treating it respectfully.
I think a good part of what the “Publicons” are about is this mockery of their own audience of culture-lovers.
If it’s irony one seeks, one should look at the outside of the Publicons, not the interior. These aggressively blank, glossy boxes feel like a comment by Rauschenberg on an academic minimalism, deadpan sculpture with roots in the gestalt materialism of folks like Robert Morris or Donald Judd. The interiors of Publicons are exuberant in comparison to anything except other Rauschenbergs. They feel like the artist trying to relate, if not assimilate, to the art of his time.
Most reproductions of Publicons show only the most “interesting” part: the inside, and usually only one work. I wanted to see what could be seen by putting all the Publicons on one page, open and closed, in order, the way you might find them in a church gallery.
The Publicons contain as many references to Rauschenberg’s own work as they do to any religious mode. But maybe that misses the point; why couldn’t they instead reveal the reliquarian and altarpiece vibes of earlier combines, works where holy relics hide behind cabinet doors.
I went to the Philadelphia Museum today to see the Jasper Johns exhibition before it closes. There’s a lot to like, and a few things to love. The absolute winner for me was a little painting, rarely shown, which Johns has kept for himself since making it in 1959. Small Numbers In Color is extraordinary, one of two superlative works in the gallery devoted to Johns’ use of numbers.
It’s small, around 10 x 7 inches, and painted in encaustic on wood. The catalogue raisonné (P74, btw) says the wood is “the reverse side of a printer’s block with metal type.” [Which, a block would have cast metal affixed in a permanent way. A case would hold the sorted metal type, and a frame would hold type that has been set. Even though the metal type is not listed as part of the work, it does make me wonder what it says. Or looks like.]
None of that is evident from looking at the front; all you see is a tiny riot of color with an over-all grid, and then, the shapes of individual numbers coalescing into a whole. It looks to me like it replicates the basic color composition of Numbers In Color, a large (67 x 49.5 in.) painting from 1958-59 which went into the Albright Knox Museum collection soon after it was completed. Given the CR chronology (P58 vs P74), Small Numbers is presumably a documentation, or a memorialization, of Numbers, maybe made before the large painting shipped off to Buffalo. [In Roberta Bernstein’s 1975 dissertation that was the first published catalogue of all Johns’ paintings & sculpture to that point, Numbers in Color comes first in the 1959 works list, and Small Numbers comes almost at the end.] Who knows? There is almost no discussion of the work online. Actually, Johns Friend Craig Starr might know; the last time it was exhibited publicly was at the inaugural show of his gallery, in 2004.
The other standout from the same gallery is even smaller. Figure 3 (P84), from 1960, is Johns’ only double-sided painting. The 9×6 painting is framed so that both sides are visible. The verso is an approximation of the front, reversed, as if it were painted on a transparent ground, not canvas. The precise-enough brushstrokes of the back make their simulating point in the same way Small Numbers echoes Numbers.
Which is interesting, but is only a part of the fascinating intimacy of the very small artworks Johns created (creates?). The Whitney had a whole gallery of them, miniature examples of some of Johns’ most relevant motifs. In addition to the tiny silk flag encased in wax Johns made for Merce Cunningham, barely the size of a credit card, my favorite was the 3-inch encaustic Figure 2 (1959) made for Astrid and David Myers to celebrate the birth of their second child.
Besides the major concerns of Johns’ practice, these instantly recognizable works come with bonus content–like 2 for the second–and bonus context, marking the artist’s social network, his community of supporters and interlocutors. [Philadelphia has a vitrine filled with small artworks he received as gifts from Japanese contemporary artists he met while visiting in 1964. The so-called “hermit of Sharon” in fact trades art with his colleagues, and makes art for his friends.]
Part of the appeal of these works is that they exist outside the market–or at least they were created and first exchanged that way. Their miniature size is still determined by the market, though; even by the end of 1958, it would feel a bit much for someone to give a full-scale, “real” [sic] artwork, one that could be seen as having “real” market value. [Or worse, one that doesn’t, in which case, you’re assuming and asking a lot if you give a whole-ass painting to someone as a gift.] So they have to function on an emotional, personal level, as a gift, a gesture, but also as something the mind already knows–in this case, a Johns painting.
And of course, like the question, “Is it a flag or a painting of a flag?” these gift works are both gifts and works: Figure 2 has traded hands seven times and been auctioned twice since little Coco Myers turned 18.
In early March 1969, a sculpture by Marc Morrel of a pillow made of US flags hanging in chains brought the cops to the Decatur Arts Center in central Illinois. The director and president of the board were charged with flag desecration, and the work was confiscated.
The traveling group show, titled, “Patriotic Images in American Art,” was organized by Elizabeth C. Baker, managing editor of Art News Magazine, for the American Federation of Arts, and had been shown in previous venues around the country without incident. @br_tton tweeted the story after finding it in the AFA’s files at the Archives for American Art.
The two men fought the charges as unconstitutional restriction of free speech, but it would be twenty years before another artist, Dread Scott, could get enough judges to agree. But that’s another story.
Because just look at Doug Gauman’s photo for the Decatur Herald’s feature on the exhibition, showing a man looking at “Flag in Chains”: doesn’t that flag in the background look like a Jasper Johns?
And so it should. The AAA file doesn’t have a checklist of the show, but the Herald’s story mentions the title of the 48-star throwback: “Jasper Johns Flag for 7th Ave. Garment Rack.” That Johns flag is by Elaine Sturtevant.
I don’t have her CR handy, but until now this has been the only image of the works in this show, her first, at the Bianchini Gallery (later the site of Ubu Gallery on East 78th St). But it sounds like this Johns Flag went on a nationwide tour, extended title and all. Now on the internet, for the first time ever!
This untitled acrylic and watercolor seemed to stand apart from the several series of new works on paper Jasper Johns is showing at Matthew Marks this month.
It shows the “Green Angel” motif, an abstracted outlined form Johns used for a group of work only used around 1990, and whose source he long refused to disclose. [Artist Cristóbal Lehyt identified it this year: a photo of an unusual, little mashup of a Rodin sculpture of a minotaur holding a centauress torso.] But the date is 1990+2019, implying Johns revisited an old work.
The motif is there, apparently drawn out in dark lines on a multicolored ground, and then all the spaces are blacked out, right up to the lines. When any of this happened, or the impetus for returning to a decades-old work and reworking it, was not known. It would be interesting to check the drawings CR, though, and see how the “original” (sic) Green Angel work on paper fits into the flow.
When John Yau wrote about the Rodin discovery in May, I imagined this year would see a bounty of Johns reveals. We now know some of what Johns knew when he made this work, and when he reworked it. But as this photo of the artist’s studio from June shows, now Johns knows that we know, and he included it…anyway? As a little treat?
Shoutout to Brian Dupont, who yesterday flagged a recent challenge by Blake Gopnik to identify the comic strips Jasper Johns painted over in his small 1958 work, Alley Oop. Turns out one of Blake’s readers already did the same thing I just did: follow the second Google Images search result to a 20+ year-old flickr post by a guy whose self-appointed mission was to take down Roy Lichtenstein by tracking down all his comic book source images.