A selection of important early painted assemblanges by Robert Rauschenberg are to be sold to benefit the future and legacy of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The four works stand as a monument to the spectacular artistic collaboration and friendship between the legendary dancer and choreographer, Paul Taylor, and Robert Rauschenberg – two towering cultural figures of the 20th century. Two works will be offered on the evening of 14 May, including a rare Combine from circa 1954 (est. $5/7 million, left), and two will be offered the following day. The group includes pieces that were gifted by the artist and one that was created especially for one of Paul Taylor’s
productions. The auctions will follow the celebration of the dance company’s 60th anniversary this March; a milestone that also commemorates the auspicious year that Taylor and Rauschenberg first met in a Manhattan gallery. Highlights will be shown at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles in March and all four works will be exhibited in New York beginning 9 May.
Hugh Hildesley of Sotheby’s who has served as the auctioneer at the Paul Taylor Dance Company annual benefit auction for the past eight years commented: “It is most exciting for Sotheby’s to present four superb Robert Rauschenberg works which translate the movement of dance into works of art to benefit the future and legacy of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The sale in May gives us an opportunity to showcase this bridge between dance and the fine arts while at the same time celebrating Paul Taylor and his groundbreaking choreography.”
Paul Taylor is widely regarded as the greatest living pioneer of America’s indigenous art of modern dance. In early 1954, he was an esteemed dancer and choreographer who had recently left the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to strike out on his own. It was at the Stable Gallery in New York that same year that he met Robert Rauschenberg amidst an exhibition of the artist’s work. Rauschenberg soon
began work as a set and costume designer for Taylor’s new dance company, while Taylor assisted the artist with commercial window displays for stores including
Bonwit Teller and Tiffany & Co., which Rauschenberg was creating with his friend Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg subsequently designed the sets and costumes for a number of Paul Taylor productions including: Jack and the Beanstalk (1954), the solo dance performance Circus Polka (1955), Three Epitaphs (1956), The Least Flycatcher, The Tower (1957), Seven New Dances (1957), Rebus (1958), Images and Reflections (1958), and Tracer (1962), for which he also created a work of the same title that will be offered in May.
This was a remarkable collaboration that traversed conventional boundaries between different art forms and media: together Rauschenberg and Taylor pioneered a new synthesis of visual art, performance, dance, and music. The Combine Paintings were Robert Rauschenberg’s unique contribution to 20th century artistic innovation, with the present example from circa 1954 a stunning illustration of this inimitable practice. At the time Rauschenberg was living and working out of a studio on Fulton Street in downtown Manhattan, directly upstairs from his close friend Jasper Johns.
Both painting and sculpture, the Combines integrated found objects and message-laden imagery to create a distinctive aesthetic that began to break down the barriers between painting, sculpture, and collage. Given as a gift to Paul Taylor circa 1964, Combine incorporates a light bulb and Crookes radiometers in addition to collage with every part of the work’s dense and richly variegated surface covered by an array of media.
Tracer was created in 1962 for the Paul Taylor dance of the same title (est. $600/800,000, below left). The bicycle wheel rotates according to the movement of the dance, owing its artistic success equally to the mechanisms that make it rotate and to the dance movement that inspired its construction. Tracer, premiered at the Théâtre des Nations, Paris on April 11th 1962 and included costumes marked with tire treads and the work.
Paul Taylor Dancers with Tracer in 1962 Photograph by Martha Swope, courtesy of Paul Taylor Dance Company © 2014 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY