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signed, titled and dated 'FORGE RAUSCHENBERG 59' (on the reverse)
oil, printed paper, fabric, sock, necktie, paper plate and found metal object on canvas
73 x 31 in. (185.4 x 78.7 cm.)
Executed in 1959.
Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan
Achille Cavellini, Brescia
Donald Marron, New York
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Fukuoka Jisho Co., Ltd., Fukuoka
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 16 May 2007, lot 41
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
A. Forge, Rauschenberg, New York, 1969, p. 62 (illustrated).
T. Taki, "Robert Rauschenberg," Contemporary Great Masters 14, Tokyo, March 1993 (illustrated).
L. Wainwright, “Robert Rauschenberg's Fabrics: Constructing Domestic Space,” Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture, New York, 1996, p. 202 (illustrated).
Biennale de Paris: Une anthologie: 1959–1967, Paris, 1977, n.p. (illustrated)
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2005, pp. 104 and 297, pl. 89 (illustrated).
Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, First Biennale de Paris, October 1959, no. 25.
Paris, Galerie Daniel Cordier, Robert Rauschenberg, April-June 1961.
Milan, Galleria dell'Ariete, Rauschenberg, October-November 1961.
London, Whitechapel Gallery, Robert Rauschenberg: Paintings, Drawings and Combines, 1949-1964, February-March 1964, no. 20 (illustrated).
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, New-Dada e Pop Art Newyorkesi, April-May 1969, p. 35, no. 3 (illustrated).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Acquisition Priorities: Aspects of Postwar Painting in America, October 1976-January 1977, no. 48 (illustrated).
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Twelve Americans: Masters of Collage, November-December 1977, no. 139 (illustrated).
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Second Hiroshima Art Prize, November 1993-January 1994, p. 63, pl. 14 (illustrated).


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


Executed in 1959, Robert Rauschenberg’s Forge is a striking example of a series of Combines that the artist made between 1959 to 1961. Gathering materials from everyday life, including the industrial detritus of the streets around his studio in lower Manhattan, Rauschenberg assembles a profound work that references the artistic process of its own making. In Forge, no single object takes priority over the other. A flattened metal drum, a single sock, a dark necktie and a paper plate are given equal purchase alongside lavishly applied swathes of thinned-down oil paint, applied with a wide brush, and ranging from semi-translucent to thick impasto. The Combines are Rauschenberg’s unique contribution to the field of postwar art, essentially combining aspects of both painting and sculpture into an utterly new, unique and wholly ‘Rauschenberg-ian’ creation. As the artist once observed, “Painting relates to both art and life. ...I try to act in the gap between the two” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted in Robert Rauschenberg, exh. cat., Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 558).

Forge was included in many of the seminal exhibits that helped to establish Rauschenberg’s artistic career in the early 1960s. Shortly after it was created, Forge was selected for Rauschenberg’s important solo exhibition at the Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris in 1961. This exhibit boosted the artist’s reputation among European critics. A few years later, the work was chosen for the artist’s first European museum retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1964. It was also illustrated in the 1969 monograph on the artist, with an essay penned by the British art critic Andrew Forge. Although it is tempting to conclude that the painting’s title might be in some way related to the critic, given its title, it more likely is a reference to Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and the divine patron of the forge, as several works between 1959 and 1960 relate to Greek mythology, and Rauschenberg was working on the Dante drawings at the time.

In Forge, Rauschenberg has created an extraordinary, ominous, and monolithic Combine, brimming with poetic allusions to the artist’s daily life and the process of art-making itself. Here, an industrial metal piece is paired with other more humble, everyday items, including a single sock, a dark necktie and a paper plate. The plate is topped with a thick glob of white oil paint that projects off the surface of the painting, almost like a comedian’s pie plate loaded with whipped cream. Along the lower register, areas of thinned-down pigment are lavishly brushed onto the surface, partially concealing the imagery beneath them. A single upper-case letter “D” is visible just beside the paper plate, and the phrase “CALCIUM CARBIDE DANGEROUS IF NOT KEPT DRY” remains just legible on the corroded surface of the metal drum. The beauty of the paint, however, is lovingly applied with a wide brush, and allowed to drip in thin rivulets down the surface of the painting. These expressive passages of paint, limited to the colors black, white and red, pay subtle homage to Rauschenberg’s prior work—the White Paintings (1951), Black Paintings (1951-53) and Red Paintings (1953-54). The subtlety and warmth of the artist’s hand is a welcome respite from the dark barrage of metal, fabric and paper objects.

That the Combines have stood the test of time to remain some of the greatest artistic creations of the postwar period is due to the sensitivity and prescience with which Rauscheberg selected the objects around him. This was both different from, and yet similar to, the way that Marcel Duchamp used found objects in the creation of his Readymades. The urinal that Duchamp turned upside down in La Fountaine (1917) is brash, wry and subversive; it is the ultimate Dada object. Rauschenberg’s objects, however, are certainly “readymade” in the Duchampian sense, but they are imbued with a subtle, poetic character that connects them back to the artist himself, often with veiled allusions to his personal life or his relationships at the time.

Even though Rauschenberg sought to distance himself from the gesture and gravitas of the Abstract Expressionists by incorporating real world objects, his Combines are nevertheless very painterly, filled with lush brushwork and tender, almost elegiac drips of paint. “Some images absolutely insist on being themselves, no matter what you do with them,” he once observed, in conversation with Calvin Tomkins (R. Rauschenberg, quoted in C. Tomkins, “The Sistine on Broadway,” Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-1964, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 16).

Certain items that feature so prominently in Forge are in fact recurring motifs in other examples of his Combines. Aside from the corroded metal drum in Canyon (1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York), Rauschenberg includes a man’s necktie in at least three other works, including Rhyme (1956; Museum of Modern Art, New York), Summerstorm (1959; Private Collection) and Gift for Apollo (1959; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). Socks also recur in at least one other painting, the large-scale, predominantly white Combine with parachute called Untitled (c. 1955), now in the Art Institute of Chicago. These humble, utilitarian objects are both ordinary and also personal, connecting them back to the human body in the same way that the homespun quilt and pillow in Rauschenberg’s Bed (1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York) forms an intimate window into the artist’s life, acting as a sort of self-portrait. This echoes a sentiment that the artist’s friend, the musician John Cage, once asserted, that art should be an “affirmation of life--not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a wake-up to the very life we are living” (J. Cage, quoted in M. Kotz, Rauschenberg/Art and Life, New York, 1990, p. 89).

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