Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)

Johanson's Painting

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
Johanson's Painting
titled and inscribed 'This is Johanson's Painting' (upper right)
oil, metal, fabric, wood, paper, twine, picture frame, shaving brush and tin can on masonite in artist's frame
56 x 48 1/4 x 6 7/8 in. (142.2 x 122.5 x 17.5 cm.)
Executed in 1961.
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, acquired directly from the artist
By descent to the present owner
A.R. Solomon, "Robert Rauschenberg," Louisiana Revy, September 1980, p. 33 (illustrated in color).
The Sonnabend Collection: From Pop Art On, exh. cat., Electa, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, 1989, p. 63 (illustrated in color).
J. Jäger, Das Zivilisierte Bild: Robert Rauschenberg Und Seine Combine-Paintings Der Jahre 1960 Bis 1962, Vienna, 1999, p. 47, pl. 18 (illustrated in color).
B.W. Joseph, ed., Rauschenberg and Sweden: Essays, Documents, Comments, Stockholm, 2007, p. 74 (illustrated).
Robert Rauschenberg & Jean Tinguely: Collaborations, exh. cat., Basel, Museum Tinguely, 2009, p. 101 (illustrated in color).
R. Wetzel, "Robert Rauschenberg-Jean Tinguely: Collaborations," Artinside, 2009, p. 6 (illustrated in color).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Rörelse i konsten (Art in Motion), May-September 1961.
Venice, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice Biennale 1978: From Nature to Art, From Art to Nature, 1978, p. 32, pl. 63 (illustrated).
Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Frankfort, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum and London, Tate Gallery, Robert Rauschenberg: Werke 1950-1980, March 1980-June 1981, pp. 335 and 386, no. 36 (illustrated in color).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Rauschenberg, March-May 1984, pl. 5 (illustrated in color).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March and Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Robert Rauschenberg, February-May 1985, cat. no. 12 (illustrated in color).
Bordeaux, CAPC musée d'art contemporain; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Art Cologne; Hamburger Bahnhof; Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna; Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto; Geneva, Musée Rath; Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art; Sendai, Miyagi Museum of Art; Hiroshima, Fukuyama Museum of Art and Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Collection Sonnabend: 25 Années de Choix et d'Activités d'Ileana et Michael Sonnabend, October 1987-February 1991, p. 104 (illustrated in color).
Baltimore Museum of Art, July 1990-March 2015 (on loan).
Baltimore Museum of Art, Robert Rauschenberg Combines: Painting + Sculpture, December 2000-May 2001.
Ohio, Wexner Center for the Arts, Part Object, Part Sculpture, October 2005-February 2006, p. 92 (illustrated in color).
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Paris, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne and Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Robert Rauschenberg Combines, December 2005-May 2007, pp. 178 and 307, pl. 155 (illustrated in color).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Executed in 1961, Robert Rauschenberg’s Johanson’s Painting is a remarkable work of art with a rich and storied history. The artist first started creating his iconic Combines in the early 1950s when he brought together a multitude of objects and different media onto one canvas. In Johanson’s Painting, Rauschenberg includes such mounted elements as a shaving brush, a tin can dangling from a strand of twine and piece of chain, a bit of faded, flocked fabric, a funnel-shaped metal object embedded to its rim, with a rusted nut wired to it, the top of a wooden dowel pegged into what looks like the bottom of a paint can and a small picture frame. As Rauschenberg himself put it, “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. I try to act in the gap between the two” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted by C. Tomkins, Off The Wall, Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World of Our Time, New York, 1980, p. 183). An outstanding example of its type, Johanson’s Painting clearly expresses Rauschenberg’s dictum.

Johanson’s Painting acquired its rather unusual title during a trip Rauschenberg took to Sweden in 1961. While he was in Stockholm installing Black Market in an exhibition, he also created another, untitled work, which was hung next to it. During the show’s opening, a young woman, not realizing that Rauschenberg was within earshot, dismissively remarked that the painting might as well have been done by Ingemar Johansson, a Swedish boxing champion. Rauschenberg immediately responded by strolling over to his painting, and starting to scrawl on it, “This is Johanson’s Painting” [sic] much to dismay of the young woman, who tried to intervene—but not before the artist had added the word “Painting,” to complete his playful retort. The label has endured.

With works such as this, Rauschenberg took the concept of collage, promulgated by Braque and Picasso, and the Assemblages of the Dadaists, into a new, and particularly American, direction. Influenced by Kurt Schwitters, Rauschenberg’s Combines continued the evolution of the form by combining mixed media canvases with three-dimensional objects. And, in keeping with the ethos and imagery of Pop, Rauschenberg found his material—and inspiration—in the everyday objects and advertising of America. “I want to incorporate into my painting any objects of real life,” the artist said (R. Rauschenberg, interviewed by A. Parinaud, Paris New York Paris, exh. cat., Musee national d’art modern, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1977). The Combine—both as an art form and as an art-historical term—are both pure Rauschenberg inventions. While many artists since have incorporated three-dimensional objects into their canvases, the Combine as a genre belongs to Rauschenberg alone.

While some of the artist’s Combines incorporate much larger objects—in several instances even stuffed animals, such as the angora goat in Monogram, 1959, and, most famously, the stuffed eagle employed in Canyon, 1959, Combines like Johanson’s Painting are more typical, utilizing ordinary found objects. As Calvin Tomkins wrote, “He [Rauschenberg] had always had a great fondness for the commonplace, the castoff, the worn-out and forgotten. An old sock, a piece of shirt, a paper restaurant mat, a child’s drawing rescued from the trash—humble relics like these turned up in combine after combine, where they entered another life in a strange balance between beauty and ugliness, the real and the abstract” (C. Tompkins, op. cit., p. 136). In a famous 1955, combine, Bed, he even used an old quilt that originally belonged to another artist, Dorothea Rockburne, who attended Black Mountain College at the same time he was there.

The names Rauschenberg and Sonnabend have a long history. The artist first came to the attention of an international audience at the 1964 Venice Biennale, where the 38-year-old artist famously won the Golden Lion, the grand international prize in painting—a first for an American artist. Thanks to the efforts of the Sonnabend Gallery, founded by Ileana and her second husband, Michael Sonnabend, as well as her first husband, Leo Castelli, with whom the Sonnabends continued to work, Rauschenberg soon became a household name.

Although generally more is written about the various materials used in the Combines than the process of making them, their creation resonates with the contemporary discourse on process itself, since one can follow the various individual steps the artist has taken in creating these works, using scavenged objects. With its muted palette and its prosaic adornments, Johanson’s Painting is an excellent example of this classic form. Its date, 1961, also marks a pivotal year for Rauschenberg, who just a year later had begun to move away from creating the Combines, focusing instead on innovative silk screens and lithographs, in which he continued to incorporate his signature elements of collage.

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