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)

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