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Presentation at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

a second composition discovered beneath a work by Robert Rauschenberg- presented by SFMOMA paintings conservator Paula De Cristofaro


Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled [glossy black painting] in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of a series of the artist’s monochromatic paintings from the early 1950’s. Glossy Black is constructed of torn paper collage elements covered by a thick layer of enamel paint which was poured over the collage overall, effectively adhering the paper fragments to the underlying support. The presence of vibrantly colored paint on Glossy Black’s tacking margins inspired the Conservation Department at SFMOMA to x-radiograph the work, with surprising results. It was assumed that the underlying composition was executed by Rauschenberg or by artist Susan Weil, to whom Rauschenberg was married. The composition revealed by the radiograph is closely related to early paintings created Cy Twombly (many of which have been lost or were destroyed). It is apparent that Rauschenberg, who was a friend of Twombly’s and a fellow student at Black Mountain Collage in North Carolina in 1951, appropriated one of Twombly’s canvases to create Glossy Black.

This presentation explored a pivotal moment in the oeuvre of these two artists who would become important figures in the 20th century art world.

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