Robert Rauschenberg and Ileana Sonnabend
Gallerist, collector and art patron Ileana Sonnabend was one of the most influential and provocative figures in the art world, helping to shape the course of post-war art in Europe and America. Sonnabend championed artists who pushed the confines of the status quo and launched the careers of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and many other significant artists of our time. Sonnabend and her first husband, art dealer Leo Castelli, were at the forefront of the American art scene in New York in the 1950s, eventually opening a gallery in their Manhattan apartment in 1957. The Castellis were part of the creative avant-garde in New York, socializing with Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Sidney Janis and the young Robert Rauschenberg. After their divorce in 1959, Ileana married Michael Sonnabend and opened Galerie Sonnabend in Paris in 1962. It was in Paris that Sonnabend and Rauschenberg cemented their relationship and developed the mutual respect and admiration that would be central to their working relationship in the decades that followed.
Galerie Sonnabend set the European art scene ablaze with its shows of American Pop Art in the 1960s by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein at a time when Abstract Expressionism was seen as the progressive highlight of contemporary American art. Acting as an art-ambassador, Sonnabend created a market in Europe for these artists, and later a market for new European artists in America, and would continue to promote young artists on both sides of the Atlantic throughout her career. In February 1963, Sonnabend hosted the second exhibition in Europe of works by Robert Rauschenberg titled Rauschenberg: Premiere Exposition (Oeuvres 1954-1961). A year earlier, in 1962, Rauschenberg shifted his focus from the Combines he had been making in the late 1950s to works that he screenprinted on canvas. His interest in the silkscreen process lead him to pursue printmaking in a monumental way in the 1960s. The collaborative aspect of printmaking was central to his interest in the medium. Rauschenberg spent much of the 1960s working on collaborative projects including performance works with friends John Cage and Merce Cunningham, set design and printmaking. In 1966, he cofounded Experiments in Art and Technology, an organization that sought to promote collaboration between artists and the sciences. Throughout this period, Rauschenberg was represented by Sonnabend and Leo Castelli, with whom Sonnabend maintained a strong personal and professional relationship.
Innate to Rauschenberg’s talent as an artist was his ability to construct detailed compositions that are both dynamic and sophisticated in their layering. Using photo-images from current events and popular culture, Rauschenberg was able to be an activist with his art, bringing awareness to social, environmental and political issue. An example is the 1968 series of lithographs titled Reels (B+C) that incorporates film stills from the movie Bonnie and Clyde in a collage-style composition with bright colors.
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Storyline from Reels (B + C), Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1968, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 56/62. Estimate: $1,500-3,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Still from Reels (B + C), Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1968, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 1/34. Estimate: $2,000-3,000
The technique of printmaking was perfectly suited to Rauschenberg’s methodology of layering found images and allowed him to use these along with the painterly process of lithography. Rauschenberg created over eight-hundred published editions with several different printers and publishers, including Gemini GEL., ULAE and Tyler Graphics. In 1969, NASA invited Rauschenberg to the launch of Apollo 11 and provided him with scientific maps, charts and photographs of the launch that Rauschenberg used as the basis for a series of thirty lithographs he made at Gemini GEL called the Stoned Moon series.
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Shell from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 68/70. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Rack from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in black on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 46/54. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Loop from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in black on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 71/79. Estimate: $1,500-2,500
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Tilt from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 39/60. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Post from Stone Moon Series, Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated on white pencil, numbered 39/44. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Medallion from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in black on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated on pencil, numbered 39/48. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Spore from Stoned Moon Series, Lithograph in colors on wove paper, 1969, signed and dated in pencil, numbered 34/50. Estimate: $1,000-2,000
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008): Composition from The Man Ray Portfolio, Offset lithograph and screenprint in colors with collage on cardboard, 1975, signed and dated in pencil, inscribed ‘H.C.’ (the edition was 100). Estimate: $800-1,000
Where Rauschenberg’s prints from the 1960s were dominated by pop culture imagery, his work in the early 1970s saw a shift in subject and material. We can still see Rauschenberg’s obsessive use of photographic material combined with the physical gesture of the lithographic crayon, the juxtaposition of the mechanically produced and painterly that is fundamental to his work. As with his Combines, Rauschenberg mixes techniques, processes and materials in unconventional ways. An example is Composition, from 1975, which combines offset lithography, screenprinting, collage and hand-additions on cardboard.
This change has been attributed to Rauschenberg’s move from New York City to Captiva Island, Florida which had a profound effect on his work. Rauschenberg started to incorporate fabric, cardboard and other elements into his printmaking during this period. His 1973 series Crops combines screenprinting with the solvent transfer process and was published by Graphic Studio, USF Institute for Research in Art in Tampa, Florida. The titles of the individual prints in the series refer to the plant life depicted in each print and are examples of Rauschenberg’s shift to themes of nature and the environment.
Rauschenberg travelled extensively during the 1970s, pursuing collaboration with other artists and artisans around the world. The concept and creative possibilities of collaboration are fundamental to his work, creating a dialogue between various mediums and tangential art forms. The integration of a global viewpoint and artistic collaboration come together in the creation of the New York Collection for Stockholm portfolio which was published by Experiments in Art and Technology in 1973. Rauschenberg, along with artist Robert Whitman and engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, founded E.A.T. and Rauschenberg worked with the organization to create the New York Collection for Stockholm project. Works by thirty New York artists were solicited to be donated to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in recognition of the support the museum had shown to American artists. To raise money for the project, E.A.T. published a portfolio of thirty prints by these artists who represented the core of New York’s Pop, Minimal and Conceptual avant-garde. Rauschenberg contributed to the portfolio and designed the portfolio box that was used for part of the edition.
ELLSWORTH KELLY: Untitled from The New York Collection for Stockholm
ROY LICHTENSTEIN: Finger Pointing from The New York Collection for Stockholm
DAN FLAVIN: Untitled from The New York Collection for Stockholm
JAMES ROSENQUIST: Untitled from The New York Collection for Stockholm
Printmaking was an important aspect of Rauschenberg’s work throughout his career and it is no wonder that Ileana Sonnabend collected his prints in her personal holdings and sold many of his editions in her New York Gallery.
We are pleased to be offering a large selection of prints from the collection of Ileana Sonnabend and the estate of her daughter Nina Castelli Sundell on December 2, 2017. Along with prints by Robert Rauschenberg, the sale will also include works by Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Terry Winters.