Contextual focus point: Erased De Kooning

This work is an image of some faint lines and shading, in a simple frame with the following text added:


On initial inspection the main feeling is of curiousness about the image which was erased, there is nothing else there to interest you. Without the title it is just a blank piece of paper.

Rauchenburg was seeking an answer to the question of whether a work of art could be made through erasure. Could a blank sheet of paper be considered a work of art? He had tried erasing one of his own drawings, but felt it was unsatisfactory. For it to be complete, he needed to erase a significant drawing. So Rauschenburg asked De Kooning’s for one of his drawings with the purpose of erasing it. At the time, De Kooning was greatly admired and his drawings had great value. De Kooning agreed and when choosing a drawing, picked one he thought he would care about losing, as well as one which would be difficult to erase as it was heavily drawn in grease pencil, ink, charcoal and graphite. The process took 2 months to complete and even then, some ghostly marks were still visible.

He insisted that the work wasn’t a negation, it was a celebration (Cain, A., 2017). I tend to agree as I can only imagine that you would spend that much time erasing an artist’s work who you admire if it was in a spirit of celebration.

At the time it did not cause much of a sensation, but this and his black and white canvases were “an end to art and a beginning” (Kaprow, A. and Kelley, J., 2003). Showing blank works challenged what was art and opened up the way for anything and everything being art.

Whilst I find it hard to process that a blank image can be art, opening the door to experimentation and the infinite possibilities we now have for creating art has been a great step forward. In this light I can see how such works are pivotal in the history of art.


Cain, A. (2017). No. 60: Why Robert Rauschenberg Erased a de Kooning. [podcast] The Artsy Podcast. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2018].

Kaprow, A. and Kelley, J. (2003). Essays on the blurring of art and life. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

SFMOMA. (n.d.). Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2018].

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