Turns Out This is Not Cy Twombly’s First Picasso

A screenshot of Simon Watson’s photos of Nicola Del Roscio’s house in Gaeta, including a copy of a Picasso which Cy Twombly painted over one of his own works. image: nytimes.com

In 2015 T Magazine ran this feature on Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly’s partner, studio assistant, and the head of the Twombly Foundation, and his house and palm tree garden in Gaeta. On the dining room wall was a copy of a Picasso which Twombly made, painted over one of his own works.

This instantly reminded me of the big Arts & Leisure profile that Twombly dutifully sat for when he had his 1994 MoMA retrospective, where the artist talked of the first painting he recalled making: a copy of a Picasso portrait of Marie-Therese Walter. I always understood this to have been in his teens, under the influence of his first art teacher/mentor, the Spanish painter Pierre Daura, who settled in the rural Virginia of his wife’s family in 1942.

Continue reading “Turns Out This is Not Cy Twombly’s First Picasso”

Destroyed Cy Twombly Backdrop

The Ann Smith School’s Christmas 1953 performance of The Comet, with backdrop painted by Cy Twombly. image: The News-Gazette via Sarah I. Nexsen’s 2014 Honors Art History thesis

There is not a lot of time to get into this right now, but holy smokes, Cy Twombly painted the backdrop for the local elementary school’s Christmas play in 1953, and no one’s said boo about it except for one intrepid art history undergraduate.

In 2014, the interest of Washington & Lee art history student Sarah I. Nexsen was piqued by an archival photo in Lexington, Virginia’s local newspaper, The News-Gazette. It showed the December 1953 production of The Comet, a Christmas-themed play written by the Rev. Thomas V. Barrett, for the Ann Smith Elementary School. The backdrop was credited to local boy Cy Twombly, and that was all anyone wrote. The backdrop had never been mentioned in Twombly literature. Nexsen wrote about it for her senior thesis, titled, “The Land of the Stars: The Origin of Cy Twombly’s Aesthetic.” An ambitious project, to be sure.

Near as Nexsen can tell, Twombly got the gig while on leave from the Army, over the Christmas break. Twombly’s former art teacher attended the church where Barrett, the playwright, presided.

According to Nexsen’s research, which included interviewing the star of the show herself, The Comet tells the Nativity story from the point of view of a comet which becomes the Star of Bethlehem. But first it travels through The Land of Stars, meeting planets, raindrops, and Mary & Joseph along the way. Twombly’s backdrop depicts this Land of Stars.

The backdrop was in three panels; the largest, in the center, was approximately 7 x 12 feet wide. The stage right panel, showing Saturn, is partially visible in the only known photo; the stage left panel depicting Mars and Neptune is not documented. Nexsen says the backdrop was discarded and destroyed after The Comet‘s single performance on December 19.

We all owe this young scholar a great debt for bringing this massive, lost, early work to light, and for conducting vital, on-the-ground research to learn its history before the march of time robbed us of its witnesses. So let’s just say that it would indeed be amazing if this lost painting proved to be the momentous source for Twombly’s entire practice: his combination of text and graphic; his classical sourcing; his giant scale; his Lexington influences. 1953 was in the middle of Twombly’s emergence: after he and Rauschenberg ran off to Italy together, and showed at Stable Gallery together, and before he moved back to New York, and then on to Italy.

So it could totally be! But I am going to say it’s unlikely. And Twombly’s own apparent jettisoning of this work and any information about it into a black hole means the case is that much harder to make.

And anyway, rather than depicting Roman gods and their symbolic meanings, it seems more likely that Twombly’s painting of The Land of Stars shows stars, constellations, and planets. If I had the time–when I get the time–I feel like it would be possible to locate the star chart or vintage astronomical map that Twombly used as a source.

1956 hardcover edition of H.A. Rey’s The Stars: A New Way To See Them, which reconfigured the constellations, via abebooks

The constellation diagrams in my instant guess, The Stars: A New Way To See Them, the immediately popular, influential, and accessible beginner astronomy guide by H.A. Rey, the creator of Curious George, which was published in 1952, don’t really match. But whenever I get to recreating this destroyed Twombly, the deep blue night skies of Rey’s book will be as much inspo as the artist’s own blackboard paintings.

Cy Twombly, Panorama, 1955, around 8×11 ft, image ganked from the internet

Nexsen’s 2014 Thesis, “The Land of the Stars: The Origin of Cy Twombly’s Aesthetic” is online [wlu.edu via Tom Cheetham’s Twombliana collection]

Previously, related: Jasper Johns Blue Ceiling by Matson Jones?

Cady Noland Zillow

Before anyone gives Cy Twombly on a dog crate the crown for greatest art in real estate listing photography, please check out the listing for the former Ice House of the Vanderbilt estate that was Dowling College, which went bankrupt in 2016 and was liquidated in 2018.

That is Cady Noland’s Tower of Terror (1993-94) in all its in situ glory. Can you even imagine? A pleasant walk past the massive, aluminum group stockade on the way to campus. I guess the bench was in the shed.

Cady Noland was not consulted and does not approve of these photos, but they have been certified by Douglas Elliman. The ice house sold for $376,938. The sculpture sold for $2,207,501. [Thanks greg.org reader dg]

Previously, related: Cady Noland GOAT

Twombly’s Schifano

That painting, no, the other one: Horst at the Palazzo Franchetti-Twombly, which is not the name, I know, but [points to wristwatch emoji], 1966

The subject of precariously perched Twomblys prompted Claudio Santambrogio to email, wondering about the painting on the left in this iconic 1966 Horst photo. Surely, it’s not a Twombly.

My first check, of Google, turns up many of the times this Vogue photoshoot of the House of Franchetti-Twombly has been re-published and discussed, and absolutely none of them have a caption or credit for this painting. This shoot is legendary, but atmospheric.

It is also marketable. I have not pinned down when it happened, but there is something swirling around the web in upscale, merchy places like 1stdibs and Artsy, called The Cy Twombly Rome Portfolio. Horst’s images, made for and owned by Condé Nast, are available in limited editions in various sizes, with the “authorization” of the Horst Estate. Interestingly, though, less than half the Twombly photos feature Twombly’s paintings. This feels like a mix of adding the entire contact sheet to the shopping cart, and the Twombly Foundation flexing its vetoing muscles.

Untitled #6, aka the Horst photo formerly known as Twombly’s Richter

Anyway, there is no such compunction to publishing the photo of Twombly’s Richter (Untitled #6), or a straight-on shot of this painting (Untitled #12). None of these photos have caption or credit information (or a Nicola del Roscio to keep them in line.)

These installation composite credits showing your five-figure, five-foot-wide limited edition print of an outtake, tho, no problem: Design Credit: Elizabeth Roberts Architecture & Design, Photo Credit: Dustin Aksland. image via: 1stdibs

Next step: the date of the photo puts a pretty tight constraint on who it could be, and so does Twombly’s circulation pattern. So it’s probably someone he knows in Rome, and likely someone he knows from his gallery at the time, Galleria la Tartaruga. Janis Kounellis made stark black on blank/white paintings around this time, but his are more expressionistic and brushy. Oh wait, Twombly and Kounellis showed together at la Tartaruga in 1961. with Mario Schifano. Who absolutely made paintings like this from 1960-61.

So this is Twombly’s Schifano, which seems to have been mentioned by no one, ever. Was it so utterly obvious that it didn’t need mentioning? Did Mario Schifano have a boyfriend who took over a foundation mighty enough to make even Google blink?

Previously, related: Cy Twombly’s Gerhard Richter
Cy Twombly Rip

Find The Twombly

Honestly, I cannot say what is more shocking to me at this point: to see a Twombly propped on a dog crate in the spare bedroom, or that someone selling an Upper East Side pre-war has not staged their apartment before putting it on the market. I am thus convinced this is an epic staging flex, the equivalent of sprinkling some hay on your Mercedes Gullwing and calling it a barn find. Or maybe it’s just an homage to the way Twombly installed his Richter. [s/o Katie via Andy]

Where He Sat

Cy Twombly, Alessandro Twombly [via di Monserrato, Roma], 1965, 43.2 x 28 cm, ed. 5, image via artblart
In his biography Chalk, Joshua Rivkin includes a Cy Twombly story he heard in Lexington, Virginia, where the artist spent much of his later years:

One night the artist came over for dinner and after they sat together on the front porch of the house as lightning bugs flashed under a canopy of sycamores. The host’s small child, three or four years old, came out to the porch to say goodnight to all. The father gathered his son in his arms and took him upstairs, his bedroom just above the porch, and tucked him into bed. When he returned to his drink and their conversation, Twombly pointed up to the boy’s bedroom and said, of his own son, of Alessandro, “I don’t know where he slept.”

This anecdote came to mind when I saw this haunting 1965 photo of a young Alessandro, because at least Twombly knew where the kid sat.

Cy Twombly, Alessandro Twombly [via di Monserrato, Roma], 1965, 28.9 x 19.2 cm, ed. 6, photographed at the Centre Pompidou by Florence Briat Soulié
The photo, published at a date I can’t determine, in an apparent edition of five, was included in the Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective in 2016. Another, smaller version of the scene, which crops out the dark hallway entirely, was also included. It was apparently an edition of six. Florence Briat Soulié photographed it for her lyrical review of the exhibition. Alessandro has extricated his arm from the chairback, and has one leg up on the seat, but he maintains his gaze into the unlit hallway of the palazzo, where his father was snapping away.

Horst’s 1965 photo of Cy Twombly & Tatianna Franchetti’s bust of Nero and Gerhard Richter, Frau Marlow (1964)

The photos, and the setting, and the timing, immediately call to mind Horst P. Horst’s iconic Vogue photoshoot of la Famiglia Franchetti-Twombly. Except nothing so plain as that Thonet chair is to be found in Horst’s images. And neither is that fluted column. That bust of Nero, and the simple diamond patterned floor do appear, though, along with Twombly’s Richter leaning against a steel shelf.

Those locks, those umbrellas, it looks like the ingresso. But that floor and that doorway don’t match, and there’s no steps. And that bust sure moves around. And it looks slightly less like Trump in the light.

Horst’s 1965 photo of what appears to be Cy Twombly’s foyer, via mondo-blogo

I sat on these photos and this post for a couple of months, ngl, wondering if I wanted to deal with the possible blowback that might arise from the Fondazione Nicola del Roscio’s assertion of copyright over these and all of Twombly’s photos. Part of me wanted to just make a point by linking to them only on pinterest.

Buy Joshua Rivkin’s Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly from Amazon [amazon bookshop.org]
Previously, related:
Cy Twombly Rip
Cy Twombly’s Gerhard Richter

Cy Twombly Rip

Cy Twombly, Fifty Days at Iliam: Achaeans in Battle, 1978, collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 200px jpg displayed 800px wide.

Two weeks ago on the 378th episode of Modern Art Notes Podcast, Tyler Green discussed Cy Twombly: 50 Days at Iliam, a monograph published by Yale University Press and the Philadelphia Museum, which has the 10-painting series permanently installed in its own gallery. Green’s guest was Richard Fletcher, a classics professor and one of six contributors to the book, alongside PMA curator Carlos Basualdo and Nicola Del Roscio, who heads the Cy Twombly Foundation.

I’d anticipated an episode on Twombly, because Green had recently tweeted about the extremely small and useless images of Twombly’s paintings on the Philadelphia Museum’s website, which, word. I promptly tweeted back an unhelpful joke, by upsizing the jpeg of one of the paintings, Achaeans in Battle, into a uselessly pixelated mess [above].

This is something that has occupied my mind and work for more than ten years, when I first turned a tiny jpeg of a Richard Prince Cowboy photo into my own work as a critique of MoMA/Gagosian/Prince’s refusal to provide images for an exhibition review at Slate. A related concept was articulated a little later by Hito Steyerl as the “poor image,” a low-res image optimized for networked circulation by being stripped of information. A crappy, digital simulacrum of an original [sic], complete [sic], physical and visual experience with an artwork.

Not knowing about the Iliam book, I assumed Tyler was going to be talking to Joshua Rivkin, who has a new biography of Twombly called Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly, which I’d recently finished. Rivkin’s book is a labor of love and pilgrimage; inspired by his regular presence in front of Twomblys at the Menil as a teacher and guide, the book documents his attempts to gain insights into Twombly’s life and work from the places he lived and worked: Rome, Gaeta, and Lexington. What Rivkin finds is the thwarting presence of Del Roscio, who disapproves of the biography project, silences sources, and denies Rivkin access to Twombly’s archive, as well as use of his images.

But no, it was Iliam. Green talked with Fletcher about details of Twombly’s marks and texts; his use of a Greek delta instead of an A to write Achilles and the Achaeans; the symbological vocabulary of the series’ colors; what’s going on with all those phalluses; and Twombly’s relationship to his literary source, Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad. [Fletcher also discussed a discovery he’d made, of a different source for some of Twombly’s texts. It’s hot, academic stuff.]

I mention all this scholarly and critical detail because of the sheer bafflement at learning, a few days after the episode was released, that the Twombly Foundation had sent Green a cease & desist letter demanding that images of the Iliam paintings be removed from the MAN Podcast webpage. Those would be the images of the 50 Days at Iliam works whose details were being studied and discussed. By an author of the book. Published by the museum and Yale. It’s an extremely impoverished attempt to exert control over consideration and discussion of Twombly’s work by an extremely interested party, using an extremely wealthy foundation. That it is being done in the name of one of the most important and formative artists in my own life is extremely disappointing.

As soon as I saw Green’s tweet about the C&D, and his removal of the Iliam images, I looked for it on Internet Archive. No luck. But I ripped a screenshot of the page from Google’s cache. In a couple of days, it had been replaced by the stripped down version. So except for anything Green might have archived himself, I think this screenshot is the only record of the original page. I printed it as Untitled (Foundation), an artist book in an edition of 10. The widest printer I could find was 36 inches, so it came out 3 inches wide and barely legible. The images are smaller than even the Philadelphia Museum’s website.

I am sending this artwork to people who appreciate the importance of fair use to progress of Science and the useful Arts; to the freedom of the press and expression; to the transformational creation of new art; and to the accountability to the public good that is expected of tax-exempt foundations and those who control and benefit from them.

Continue reading “Cy Twombly Rip”

This Is My Problem…Should Love Come First?

True Confessions, March 1951, the Slave Wife Issue?

The big score in my search for the collage elements of Robert Rauschenberg’s lost painting, Should Love Come First? was the magazine clipping that said just that.

It turns out to be from True Confessions, a women’s sex and relationship advice magazine. The article was written, apparently, by a reader named June soliciting advice for handling her man. I gave a brief recap of the article in Panorama, and there’s a picture which shows the pullquote, which does

My Problem: Should Love Come First? image: a freakin’ multiyear search

seem to resonate with the situation of Rauschenberg, his new, pregnant, wife Susan Weil, and Rauschenberg’s new squeeze Cy Twombly, at the moment the painting was made:

Will I be able to find happiness married to the man who once jilted me? Or will I always remember that I was second choice?

But I have transcribed the whole thing here. And I now feel sort of compelled to look for the responses that True Confessions readers gave “June” about taking her man–and his new baby–back. What do YOU think she should do? Leave your answers in the comments! Continue reading “This Is My Problem…Should Love Come First?”

Better Read #024: Betty Stokes Interviewed By Christie’s About Her Cy Twombly

Untitled (Rome), 1980-81, cast in 1990, ed 1/5 sold at Christie’s in 2013

The artist Elizabeth “Betty” Stokes di Robilant was interviewed by Christie’s in May 2013. Stokes was a longtime friend of Cy Twombly. Their story and relationship and collaboration, and her later erasure from Twombly’s official story, is discussed in Chalk, a biography of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin, which was published in October 2018. Rivkin quotes the interview by Robert Brown, which was published on the occasion of the sale of a painted bronze cast of a 1966 [or 1956, or 1959, or 1980 or 1981, or 1990] sculpture Twombly gave to dee Robilant for her 10th wedding anniversary. Twombly later reworked and cast the sculpture in 1990 in an edition of five. Di Robilant’s three children each got one; she got one, and Twombly got one. Ed. 1 of 5 was sold at Christie’s London on June 25th, 2013, for GBP 1.63 million.

Get Better Read #024: Betty Stokes interviewed by Christie’s, [6:52, 3.3mb, mp3]

The Something Of Achilles

Cy Twombly, The Vengeance of Achilles, 1962, Kunsthaus Zürich

I somehow had not seen or noticed this 1962 Cy Twombly painting, The Vengeance of Achilles, in the Kunstmuseum Zürich. And I did not see it–or anything, tbh–at the Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective a couple of years ago. But its mountain-like, or volcano-like, form is amazing. Also it’s huge, three meters tall. Most of those marks are within an arm’s reach, but some of them look like they required Twombly’s full wingspan.

Cy Twombly, Fifty Days At Iliam: Vengeance of Achilles, 1978, at the philamuseum, image via flickr/hanneorla

Then while looking up more information about it, I realized that one of the equally huge paintings in Fifty Days at Iliam, which Twombly painted 16 years later, and which are at the Philadelphia Museum, is also titled Vengeance of Achilles. Aaaannd I guess that is not a mountain.

[10 minutes later update: Wait, what? I go Googling for some vintage Nine Discourses of Commodus reviews, only to find a Twombly biography that quotes the same Menil Collection conservation interview and the same Nicola del Roscio T Magazine profile I’ve had open in my browser tabs for three years? How did I not know this? Because it is brand new, and dropping in a couple of weeks.]

Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly, by Joshua Rivkin, comes out October 18. [amazon bookshop.org]

Johnson On Johns

Ray Johnson, Untitled (Letterbox), 1964, correspondance with David Bourdon, collection: NGA

[UPDATE: WE KNOW.]

It’s hard to process Ray Johnson’s work, there’s so much of it. It’s intentionally slight and esoteric. It often feels like a quick visual read. But it can also reward a slower look, even when it’s sort of stuffed and strewn about.

The National Gallery has a 1964 piece, Untitled (Letterbox), which is actually a mailbox stuffed with a few years’ worth of correspondance art pieces Ray Johnson sent to the critic David Bourdon. If I remember the label correctly, the stuff was piling up, so Bourdon got a classic brownstone-sized three-unit mailbox to hold it all.

Ray Johnson drawing & notes on Jasper Johns’ #5 from 0–9 Color, 1960-63, in Untitled (Letterbox), collection: NGA

Anyway, I’ve seen but not really looked at it since it was installed way back before the world ended, but the other day I noticed that unlike other pieces, this was not a Jasper Johns exhibition announcement; it was a Jasper Johns.

And not just any Jasper Johns. This is from 0–9 (1960-63), the foundational series with which Johns began making prints, and with which he began his extensive relationship with Tatyana Grossman and Universal Limited Art Editions. [Though other prints were completed and published before 0–9, I think it was the first one he started.] It’s signed and numbered–and folded up and stuffed in an envelope at some point, apparently.

Grosman wooed Johns to start making prints with her fledgling contemporary foundry by sending him a lithography stone to play with. Over years, Johns worked his stenciled numbers on the stone’s surface, printed some, and then wiped and started drawing and printing again. The sequential prints in 0–9 trace the changes and palimpsests of the process, capturing the lithographic process the way Johns’ encaustic froze the mark of the brush that applied it. This ambitious series was published in three versions: a rainbow of colors, black, and grey.

The print Ray Johnson used here is #5 from C/C 1/10, which means it’s from the first edition of the color set. Johnson took this first print of his friend’s massive project, and started circling and labeling individual lines in the print as “snakes.” Then Johnson signed his name and date next to Johns’. And then he folded and taped it up and mailed it to Bourdon.

Snakes were a thing for Johnson. That same year Dick Higgins published a compilation of his correspondance works from Johnson in an artist book he titled The Paper Snake. But this is ultimately less surprising than his readiness to treat an artwork from a friend like a cigarette wrapper or rubber stamp, as an element of his own production. [Of course, Johnson was friends with Rauschenberg and Sue Weil, too, so he certainly knew of Bob incorporating Johns’ and Weil’s paintings into his own combine. And don’t forget Twombly drawing all over everything. So maybe surprising should not be the word.]

So far two of the three artist proofs of 0–9 (Color) (ULAE 19) have sold at auction: Merce Cunningham & John Cage’s set, in 2009, and last year, the set Johns gave to art historian Robert Rosenblum, who wrote the accompanying text. [Awesomely, on four of Rosenblum’s ten prints Johns inscribed, “Proof to replace stolen.” So keep your eyes peeled for four rogue prints.]

Jasper Johns, 5 from 0–9, 1963, ed. C/C 1/10, collection: MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art has one of each variation, of course, because back in the day MoMA and ULAE made it so the museum could get the first print from every edition they published. And hey, look at that, MoMA’s print of 0–9 (Color) has the same number as Johnson’s. Did someone mention rogue prints? How’d this happen?

A FEW DAYS LATER UPDATE: Thanks to some attentive folks at the National Gallery, we know how this happened.

Curator Jennifer Roberts explains that the Johnson Johns is not a print, but a page from a Vogue Magazine article on Johns by Harold Rosenberg  (“Jasper Johns: Things the Mind Already Knows,” Vogue, February 1, 1964, 174-175.)

Johnson has annotated a paragraph on the reverse (page 175)  in pencil, adding half-brackets, three underlined selections, and a notation in the margin that says, “this paragraph could be sent to May Wilson.”

There is nothing commonplace about an 8.

The symbols selected by Johns are separated from the banal by their abstractness and dignity, qualities which are also outstanding in Johns’s personality. In the absence of his big grin, he reminds me of William S. Hart, the deadpan sheriff of the silent Westerns. Johns has Hart’s long, flat poker face, thin lips and alert eyes slanting up at the outer corners. Like Hart he gives the impression of one who sizes things up, keeps mum, and does his job. Johns’s detachment is of the era of the beats, the cool cats, and Bohemian Zen, as Hart’s belonged to that of “Howdy, stranger” and the cardsharp. With his level stare Johns paints targets: Hart perforated his with a six-shooter.

Roberts also notes that Johnson has covered half an illustration of a Johns lightbulb sculpture on the back (p.175) by taping an ad for a George Overbury “Pop” Hart watercolor exhibition held at Frederick Keppel and Co., New York, over it. Thanks to Stephanie, as well as to Anabeth Guthrie and Peter Huestis of the NGA for noticing the mystery and sharing these details.

 

Erased Twombly Drawing

twombly_delian_ode_pfreeman.jpg
Untitled (Delian Ode), 1960/61, pencil, ballpoint pen, and grease crayon on paper, image: peter freeman
I mean, can you even imagine doing it? I admit it, I can, and I just cannot. De Kooning said he wanted to give away one he’d miss. And one that’d be hard for Rauschenberg to erase. If there’s any other kind of Twombly drawing, I haven’t seen it.
We’ll put this one in the “Think about it”/”Unrealized” category.
Previously, related, badly titled: Ghetto Erased de Kooning Drawing

‘A True Short Circuit’

I’m not alone! It’s not just me! In the introduction to the catalogue for her 2008-9 show, “Robert Rauschenberg | Travelling 70-76,” curator Mirta D’Argenzio wrote:

His favorite means of self-expression were always inclusive of change, travel, and collaboration. He seems from the very beginning, paraphrasing words of his own, to have committed his entire activity to the task of defining an ever more ample concept of collaboration, always in a state of becoming, that nearly made it possible to do away with the very notion of subjective behavior on the part of the artist,
Rauschenberg made a decisive contribution to superseding the notion of the individuality of the author: a notion very much emphasized by modernism, and then virtually discarded by post-modernist thought. His absolute freedom in this respect found expression from the very beginning in the intersubjective approach that permitted him– from his first works with Susan Weil, and then in his relationship with Cy Twombly, and immediately thereafter with Jasper Johns– to set up a true short circuit that questioned the modus operandi of western art and the very concept of the individuality of the author. This attitude, however, was in any case to lead him to preserve a specific identity that found paradoxical reinforcement in its own self-negation.

In the discussion for Paper Monument’s Social Medium anthology Sunday, I tried to make this exact point about Rauschenberg’s collaborative works, especially in the earliest days of his career. And here it is/was, right there in 2008. 2009. In an Neapolitan exhibition catalogue about works from the early 70s, when Rauschenberg was traveling the world and absorbing influences and materials and references.
D’Argenzio goes on

Rauschenberg insisted: “Ideas are not real estate.” And then he continued: ” “In collaboration one can accept the fact that someone else can be so sympathetic and in tune with what you’re doing that through this they move into depths which might not be obvious if that person had been working alone in a studio with the door shut…I think part of our uniqueness is the fact that we are ill-equipped.

Except that this is a quote from a 1974 interview with Rauschenberg about printmaking. Prints are inherently collaborative and technically contingent, and foundries are always good about namechecking. But that is not anything like questioning the concept of authorship. If anything, it’s auteurist. As Walter Hopps saw it in the catalogue for the 1999 retrospective, “in collaborations, Rauschenberg simultaneously functions as composer, orchestra conductor, and first violinist.”
Rauschenberg and Johns might have been hoping to question the modernist notion of authorship when they hid a flag painting behind the door of a work that was first known as, Construction with J.J. Flag. But when faced with the decision, rather than short circuit their individual careers, they ended up pulling the plug. It was self-negation as self-preservation. [h/t @andrewrusseth, whose tweet about that real estate quote set me on this hunt.]
Buy Robert Rauschenberg. Travelling ’70-’76 [amazon]

In The Palm Of Your Hand

johns_untitled_rosenthal_hirshhorn.jpg
Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1954, collection hirshhorn
I went to a gallery talk at the Hirshhorn by Amy Boyer, of the museum’s education department, on their rare, early Jasper Johns work, Untitled (1954). It’s one of just four known Johns works to survive destruction by the artist in 1954, because it was in someone else’s possession. That someone was Rachel Rosenthal, an important friend and collaborator of Johns, whose face is cast in plaster there in the bottom. [Rosenthal sold the work to the Hirshhorn in 1987.]
In his 1996 conservation interview at the Menil with Carol Mancusi-Ungaro Johns noted that the collaged element in Untitled, probably shared paper and stationery from various “exotic,” foreign sources with the work he made next, Untitled (Green Painting), which first belonged to Rosenthal’s mother. [Asked her name, Johns replied with a laugh, “Mrs. Rosenthal.”] The torn printed bits are overlaid with similarly sized fragments of brown tissue paper that veils but doesn’t obscure the texts. A piece of glass is fitted over the collage, held between pairs of tiny nails in a fashion similar to Star, the Star of David-shaped painting Johns made for Rosenthal.
johns_untitled_hirshhorn_verso.jpg
bad photo of a laserprint of a 2006 photo of the back of Johns’ Untitled, 1954 via hirshhorn
But today the party was definitely in the back. Bower presented images taken at the Hirshhorn in 2006, which showed two images Johns had affixed, one to the canvas, and one to a wooden backing. They were identical white-on-black palm reading diagrams printed with the caption, “Hand of Accidents and Travels.” Bower wondered if this indicated the work was originally intended to stand, like a sculpture, or possibly to be handled.
johns_untitled_hirshhorn_verso_palm.jpg
same, a detail: “Hand of Accidents and Travel”
Seeing the palm reading hands, along with the shape of the Untitled collage (16.4×7-inches), made me think of the Shirtboards collage/drawings Rauschenberg made in 1952 while traveling through Italy and Morocco with Cy Twombly. Bob would glue etchings and illustrations he found or bought in street stalls onto the leftover cardboards folded inside his laundered shirts. Hopps wrote that because Rauschenberg never framed the Shirtboards, “they exist potentially as hand-held objects.”
rauschberg_destroyed_shirtboard_palm_hopps.jpg
Robert Rauschenberg, Shirtboard collage with palm reading diagram, 1952, lost or destroyed, image: Walter Hopps’ Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s
Of the eleven elongated (14×5-in.) Shirtboards included in Walter Hopps’ 1990 catalogue, ten were in the collection of the artist, the Sonnabends, or Sue Weil. The other one was listed as “lost or destroyed.” It had a palm reading diagram, in black on white, the inverse of Johns’s.
Did Johns bury Rauschenberg’s Shirtboard palm down under the collage of Untitled, only to bring it back as an X-ray, or was he just giving Bob a secret high five?
Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1954 [hirshhorn.si.edu]

Robert Rauschenberg, Dad

I’ve been reading the transcript from Susan Weil’s interviews for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Oral History Project. It’s four sittings over several months, so stories are retold with slight variations depending on who’s there, more Thanksgiving chestnut than Rashomon, but still interesting.
One example, in her first interview session, Weil talked about the collapse of her marriage to Rauschenberg in the Summer of 1951, just as Christopher was being born, and of the aftermath, raising him as a single parent. [Bob was at Black Mountain College during the birth, then soon took up with Cy Twombly and headed to Europe for 17 months. By 1953-4, Rauschenberg was back in New York, way downtown, and in a relationship with Jasper Johns.]:

And was Bob able to see him from time to time?
WEIL: Yes. Particularly when he was in New York, that worked out. He would see him from time to time. But Christopher, he always–they’d try to do things together, and of course at that time, Bob was really into making his art life bigger and broader. So he’d often cancel meetings with Chris, because he would have a meeting with a museum person or something.
And so Bob was supposed to take Chris to the circus, and he said, “Well, Mom, he probably won’t be able to come, because he’ll have something more important.” And I felt so terrible. And of course he did come, but Christopher had it all in his head that he was not at the top of the list.

Ouch.
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The circus reminded me of this letter, which is collaged to the face of one of Rauschenberg’s earliest combines, Untitled (1954) [above], and which was mentioned in two essays in Paul Schimmel’s 2005 Combines exhibition catalogue:
“I hope that you still like me Bob cause I still love you. Please wright me back love LOVE Christopher.” And there’s a circus clown in the corner. Same circus? Who can say? What’s notable is not whether Rauschenberg was a good dad, but that he incorporated the letter in his artwork, and how.
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Untitled (1954-58), also called Untitled (Man with White Shoes) and Plymouth Rock, collection: MOCA, image: RRF
The letter is just below and to the left of an overexposed headshot of a toddler Christopher, but the handwriting is not that of a 3-year-old. Though it’s dated 1954, Rauschenberg clearly kept working on Untitled for several years. This photo of the artist’s studio shows that Christopher’s letter and photo were on there by 1958, though, the year of his (and Johns’) breakout shows at Castelli.
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Rauschenberg in his Front St. studio in 1958, with various combines behind him. photo: Kay Harris via RRF
In reviewing Schimmel’s show and catalogue, Yve Alain-Bois mocked the idea of seeking insights into Rauschenberg’s combines from close readings of their collaged elements, even as he pointed out the photo of Johns and the Twombly sketch on Untitled.
When I first connected Weil’s story with Christopher’s letter, it was tragic and infuriating. Rauschenberg wasn’t busy meeting any museum people between 1954-58, he was just not seeing his son. But in Weil’s later tellings, with her son sitting alongside her, a much more sanguine version emerges; as he got a little older Christopher recalled hanging out at his dad’s and helping him make work. He was a teenage studio assistant on screenprinting, rollerskated inside, and helped unleash the turtles at E.A.T.’s 9 Evenings. In short, it got better. And in retrospect, putting his son’s letter and photo on a sculpture meant he saw it every day; Rauschenberg used his combine as the studio equivalent of the refrigerator door, sitting right in that gap between art and life.
Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project [rauschenbergfoundation.org]
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, the catalogue from Paul Schimmel’s 2005 exhibition, is great [amazon]
Previously: The Orgies of Art History