Destruction & Ownership: Making through Unmaking

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Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) was probably the first time this discussion was seriously held in the fine arts world. Appropriation and repurposing of materials had been debated in the cases of Picasso and Braque’s Cubist collages and had been discussed to the point of exhaustion in the case of the Dadaists. In Rauschenberg’s case, however, a well-known artist’s work was involved. In fact, it had to be involved. Said Rauschenberg later:

I was making drawings myself and erasing them and that just looked like an erased Rauschenberg, and it was nothing. I figured out it had to begin as art, and Bill de Kooning was the best-known acceptable American artist that could be indisputably considered art. (Richmond)

De Kooning consented and supplied Rauschenberg with the drawing, wanting to give him an important, significant drawing that he would miss and that would be difficult to erase (Richmond). Despite the fact that Rauschenberg owned the drawing in question and had permission to do with it whatever he pleased, many people accused him of vandalism. Rauschenberg retorted by claiming he was “exploring a new kind of creative act—making a work of art through the unmaking of another” (Genocchio). In theory, Sam and Umanet’s work should follow suit, responding to and remaking old, established artworks. However, their attempts are instead seen as destructive, yet they are not accepted as being as legitimate as the destructivist artists. This is mostly due to issues with the ownership attached to the works altered.

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Megan Udell

Megan Udell lives in San Francisco, spending the majority of her time writing, sharing her love of art with anyone who will listen, and drinking entirely too much coffee.

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