Robert Rauschenberg

c. 1951

Not on view

c. 1951


Enamel and paper on canvas, four parts

Overall: 87 1/16 × 170 1/2in. (221.1 × 433.1 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President

Rights and reproductions
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled belongs to a series of black paintings that he began in 1951, shortly after starting a group of white paintings. These monochromatic works were partly a response to the color theories of Josef Albers, with whom Rauschenberg studied in 1948 at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Rauschenberg worked on the two series simultaneously, as he remarked, “so neither would be the answer.” To compose the black paintings, Rauschenberg used variously sized panels and incorporated newspaper into his canvases, lending them a weathered, charred texture. Untitled originally comprised five panels, but the artist later removed one; he would hang both the four- and five-panel versions of the work in varying sequences and orientations. When the black paintings were first exhibited, critics interpreted the torn and blackened newspapers as allusions to death, pain, and nihilism. For Rauschenberg, however, the newspaper was a tool for anchoring the paintings in the everyday world outside the paintings; as he explained: “I began using newsprint in my work to activate a ground so that even the first stroke in a painting had its own unique position in a gray map of words.” Indeed, Rauschenberg’s incorporation of newspaper in the black paintings presaged the artist’s career-long embrace of unconventional materials drawn from everyday life.