One of the more notorious and inexplicable works of art of the last sixty years is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Influenced by a resurgence of interest in the work of the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp and performance art, Rauschenberg (1925-2008) explored the limits of art making during the first few years of his career in New York. One of the explorations consisted in erasing a drawing by the larger-than-life Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning.
But Erased de Kooning Drawing is more than just an exercise in theory or philosophy, or as others have claimed, an adolescent, gratuitous, even violent gesture.
Rauschenberg’s fascinating account of how Erased de Kooning Drawing came to be reveals that it was an expression of poetry and love.
Even an erased drawing is more than meets the eye.