Robert Rauschenberg on “Erased de Kooning”

With Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), Rauschenberg set out to discover whether an artwork could be produced entirely through erasure—an act focused on the removal of marks rather than their accumulation.

Rauschenberg first tried erasing his own drawings but ultimately decided that in order for the experiment to succeed he had to begin with an artwork that was undeniably significant in its own right. He approached Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), an artist for whom he had tremendous respect, and asked him for a drawing to erase. Somewhat reluctantly, de Kooning agreed. After Rauschenberg completed the laborious erasure, he and fellow artist Jasper Johns (b. 1930) devised a scheme for labeling, matting, and framing the work, with Johns inscribing the following words below the now-obliterated de Kooning drawing:

ERASED de KOONING DRAWING
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG
1953

The simple, gilded frame and understated inscription are integral parts of the finished artwork, offering the sole indication of the psychologically loaded act central to its creation. Without the inscription, we would have no idea what is in the frame; the piece would be indecipherable.

Erased de Kooning