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The Collection of Senator Herb Kohl


oil, paper, printed paper and fabric collage on canvas
50 x 50 in. (127 x 127 cm.)
Executed in 1960.
William C. Janss, California, acquired directly from the artist through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, 1962
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1974
Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1997, pp. 558 and 560.
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2005, pp. 142 and 302, pl. 120 (illustrated).
Robert Rauschenberg, exh. cat., Rome, Galleria Mucciaccia, 2008, p. 117 (illustrated).
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Robert Rauschenberg, March-April 1960.
Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, Robert Rauschenberg, May 1961.
Milan, Galleria dell'Ariete, Rauschenberg, October-December 1961.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 4 Amerikanare: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, March-May 1962, n.p., no. 37.
Milwaukee Art Museum, Hidden Treasures: Wisconsin Collects Painting and Sculpture, September-November 1987, pp. 68 and 124, no. 125 (illustrated; titled The Hawk).
Further Details
“Rauschenberg was the man who in this century had invented the most since Picasso.” Jasper Johns

Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines are among the most radical and influential works in the postwar canon, with nearly all examples from the series housed in major museum and institutional collections. Hawk, executed in 1960, sees the artist mixing robust painterly gestures with fragments of printed papers and pieces of fabric to create an intoxicating assemblage that is much more than the sum of its parts. With works such as this, Rauschenberg stated that his aim was to infuse art with “objects from life”, in addition to combining the previously separate genres of painting and sculpture. Rather than creating illusionistic worlds as had been the purview of artists for centuries, the artist sought to capture—in physical form—the immediacy and energy that he witnessed every day on the streets of New York. This revolutionary new language of artistic expression led to his friend and fellow artist Jasper Johns stating that, “Rauschenberg was the man who in this century had invented the most since Picasso” (J. Johns, quoted by L Steinberg, in R. Krauss, “Rauschenberg and the Materialized Image,” in B. W. Joesph, Robert Rauschenberg, Cambridge, 2002, p. 40). Acquired in 1974 by the businessman, United States Senator, and philanthropist Herbert Kohl, Hawk remains one of the last of Rauschenberg’s historic Combines to remain in private hands, and is a rare opportunity to acquire an example from one of the most important bodies of work in the twentieth-century canon.

Excavating the artist’s complex composition begins with an examination of the layer of paper fragments affixed to the surface of the canvas. Some are plain and unprinted, utilized for their texture; others are printed papers—some cut, some torn—that are arranged vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. From this arrangement, letters begin to emerge: an ‘S’ here, and an ‘N’ to the right, others only partially visible in their collaged state. Just as Jasper Johns used the familiar motifs of a flag, a target, and numbers to encourage close examination of their formal qualities, Rauschenberg harnessed this method of concealment to inspire the viewer to truly examine what they see. This use of newsprint by Rauschenberg was a deliberate choice, as newspapers too (as his Combines did) contain—and retransmit—aspects of daily life and culture. Interspersed amongst elements are pieces of fabric, with pieces of pant fabric collaged alongside pocket squares. The final elements are lavish application of paint, brushed, smeared and squeezed onto the surface, leaving deep furrows of impasto. In some areas, these paint applications are fields of black; in others they are pools of cerulean blue mixed with ample qualities of lead white, or deep—blood-like—reds which adds a sense of depth and three-dimensionality to the composition.

Unlike some of Rauschenberg’s other paintings, for example Canyon (1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York), Satellite (1959, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), and Inlet (1959, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) there are no taxidermized birds in Hawk. Painted in 1960, at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions particularly in Vietnam and the Cold War, and given Rauschenberg’s increasing interest in politics, the escalating Vietnam War and the “hawkish” foreign policy title might reflect global tensions of the era. Although the “hawk” and “dove” terminology didn’t come into common usage until 1962, it may have still struck a chord with Senator Kohl, who acquired the work in 1974. Rauschenberg always declared that individual elements in his canvases and, on occasions his titles too, remained enigmatic and their interpretation should be left open to the viewer.

The impetus for Rauschenberg’s “desire to integrate into my canvas any objects from life whatsoever” dates from the realization early in his career that “ painters use colors that, themselves are also fabricated” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted by B. W. Jospeh, “’Disparate Visual Facts’”, in L. Dickerman & A. Borchardt-Hume, Robert Rauschenberg, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 141). This understanding freed the artist from the representational aspects of art. Building on Malevich’s radical geometric abstractions that rejected the illusions of representational painting and Picasso’s early-Cubist collages and the work of Dada artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch, Rauschenberg began to challenge centuries old ‘illusionistic’ traditions of painting. He developed what the art historian and critic Leo Steinberg called the ‘flatbed picture plane,’ in which art was orientated on a horizontal plane, rather than a vertical one, “The new pictures ‘no more depend on a head-to-toe correspondence with human posture…’” (P. Peiffer, The Slip: The New York City Street that Changed American Art Forever, New York, 2023, p. 216). This is mostly clearly seen in another Combine from the period, Bed (1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Steinberg argued that these new paintings reflected a new, modern approach to painting rather than the ‘staid’ approach of the past.

Hawk also sits at an important juncture in the progression of Rauschenberg’s Combines. Untitled c. 1954/58 is the artist’s first foray into properly investigating the material properties of art. By 1955, works such as Charlene and Collection blur the lines between his previous series of Red Paintings and his fully fledged Combines which date from 1955. By the time he completes Rebus in 1955, he begins to instigate the use of “blurred” colors of the fleeting street encounters that would influence these paintings so much, and when mixed with the darker, more saturated colors that he introduced in 1958, add an altogether different effect. It is here that Hawk takes its place.

It has also been argued that Hawk sits at a pivotal moment in the trajectory of the wider twentieth-century canon. The harmony of the chromatically rich painterly gestures working in concert with Rauschenberg’s supreme compositional skill evokes the 1977 canvases of Willem de Kooning. These robust compositions are widely regarded as being the pinnacle of American abstraction, and contain many qualities that can also be seen in Hawk. What began with Schwitters and Hoch, has been condensed by Rauschenberg into a form that that would continue to live on in the work of some of the twentieth centuries greatest paintings, thus Hawk becomes a painting of the past, the present, and the future.

The present work was exhibited in Leo Castelli’s show of the artist’s Combines in 1960. Strategically hung between Allegory (1959-60, Museum Ludwig, Cologne) and Inlet, it truly reflects the radical nature of these new works. They summarized Rauschenberg’s core belief that art was not about creating enduring masterpieces for the elite, but instead should be a perpetual process of discovery in which everyone should be able to participate. He wanted to break down all barriers between life and art, stating, “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made! (I try to act in that gap between the two)” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted by M. L. Kotz, Rauschenberg / Art and Life, New York, 1990, p. 89). Of the seven Combines included in the 1960 Castelli show, all but Hawk are now in institutional collections, these include: Broadcast (1959, Powers Art Center, Colorado), Canyon (1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York), Gift for Apollo and Inlet (1959, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), Winter Pool (1959, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Allegory (1959, Museum Ludwig Cologne). Following the New York exhibition, in 1961 Hawk was in Europe at Cordier in Paris and the Galleria dell'Ariete in Milan, where it was exhibited alongside eleven other Combines, the majority of which are now in museum collections. Thus, Hawk is among the last examples from this museum quality series to remain in private hands.

“I want it to look like what it is. And I think that a picture is more like the real world when it is made out of the real world, the artist once said.” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted in C. Tomkins, Off the Wall, Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World of Our Time, New York, 1980, p. 87). With its incorporation of powerful painterly gestures, found objects, fragments of newsprint, and discarded objects from the city streets, Hawk is a consummate example from the artist’s Combines series. These works encapsulate Rauschenberg’s contribution to the canon of twentieth-century art; his appropriation of objects taken from the world around him provided a crucial bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, and signaled the beginning of a fresh direction for a new generation of postmodern artists.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

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