Leah Dickerman: These “White Paintings” may not be prepossessing, but they’re among the most radical statements about painting made in the middle of the 20th century.
They are blank canvases stretched in units of various combinations. And the paint is basic house paint applied with a roller. And the result is a canvas that acts as a screen, is sensitive to the ambient effects of a room, to the flickering qualities of light, and shadow, and weather.
Here’s Robert Rauschenberg:
Rauschenberg: I called them clocks. If one were sensitive enough that you could read it, that you would know how many people were in the room, what time it was, and what the weather was like outside.
Leah Dickerman: When the White Paintings were shown at the Stable Gallery in 1953, Rauschenberg’s friend, the composer John Cage wrote a statement accompanying them.
And the statement went, in part, “To whom: no subject, no image, no taste, no object, no beauty, no message, no talent, no technique, no why, no idea, no intention, no art, no object, no feeling, no black, no white, no and.”
He didn’t make them all by himself. And in fact, that whole idea that it doesn’t matter much who makes them is key to the work of art. In the 1960s, Rauschenberg asked his studio assistant, the artist Brice Marden, to make a new set.
Brice Marden: They weren’t exact replicas, but they were the same size, shape, and everything. And he said, “Paint them so they look like they haven’t been painted. No hand, just put a coat of paint on them.” And that’s what I did.