Robert Rauschenberg

2 Dec 2016 — 13 Jan 2017 at the Offer Waterman in London, United Kingdom

13 DECEMBER 2016
Robert Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s. Courtesy of Offer Waterman
Robert Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s. Courtesy of Offer Waterman

Offer Waterman, in association with Jonathan O’Hara New York, is delighted to announce the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s.

The exhibition is the first in the UK devoted to this rarely seen aspect of his work, and coincides with the major retrospective of Rauschenberg at Tate Modern this winter. Regarded as among the most influential and iconoclastic artists of his day, Rauschenberg’s best known work is characterised by a fascination with and appropriation of contemporary media, which can be seen throughout the transfer drawings. Whilst the drawings anticipate his silkscreen paintings of 1962 – 64, they are also amongst Rauschenberg’s most original and playful works and represent a true innovation in the history of drawing technique.

The exhibition is comprised of twenty six drawings, including several works on loan from important international collections, and an equal number of exceptional works presented for sale, such as Headline (1962), previously part of the collection of Andy Warhol and shown at the Whitney Museum in the year it was made, and Complete Relaxation (1958) Rauschenberg began experimenting with the medium in 1952, before his landmark Combines, and at an increasing pace in the late 1950s. They are the fruit of his fascination with ‘the gap between art and life’. These were the artist’s first attempts to capture and repurpose mass media imagery, created by taking photographic images from newspapers and magazines and impressing them, in reverse, directly onto paper by hatching and rubbing with a dry pen nib. Whilst the drawings are not narrative in the traditional sense, they succeed in creating an evocative slice of contemporary life, embodying what Brian O’Doherty defined as Rauschenberg’s ‘vernacular glance.’

Of the humble beginnings of these and other works, Rauschenberg commented, ‘The strongest thing about my work, if I may say this, is the fact that I chose to ennoble the ordinary.’ - Barbara Rose, An Interview with Robert Rauschenberg, NY, Vintage, 1987.

The exhibition is especially rich in works from 1968 – many of which were first shown in a transfer drawings exhibition at Galerie Sonnabend, Paris that year. The global, political turmoil of this period was to prove particularly fertile ground for Rauschenberg, as seen in Political Folly, which captured the tumultuous protests at the Democratic party convention in Chicago, and was subsequently acquired by Ileana Sonnabend herself. These drawings are not so much historical documents, however, than the thrilling pulse of a moment conveyed through time, just as fresh and alive as the day they were laid down by the artist. Roberta Smith neatly captures the immediate appeal of these works in a review written for their last major exhibition:

‘The immediacy is thrilling: these works seem to come into being before our eyes as we trace and retrace their formation, their instantaneousness. They happen in a flash and never stop happening. It is an aspect of Mr. Rauchenberg’s genius that he folded history into the mix, making it part of a tumult that, for better and for worse, we can trace to the present.’ - Roberta Smith, ‘A Rarely Seen Side of a Rauschenberg Shift,’ New York Times, March 8, 2007.

The exhibition will be complemented by a fully illustrated catalogue with a new essay by art historians Lewis Kachur and Marco Livingstone.