Automobile Tire Print, 1953
61 Fulton Street

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Robert Rauschenberg’s studios were located in Lower Manhattan throughout the 1950s, a groundbreaking period of his expansive career. Between April 1953 and September 1955, Rauschenberg worked at 61 Fulton Street, a space he often shared with the artist Cy Twombly and with whom he had a two-person exhibition at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in 1953. In September 1955, Rauschenberg moved to 278 Pearl Street, where he lived and worked until March 1958. Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg’s partner during this period, had his studio one floor below. When the Pearl Street space was condemned, Rauschenberg remained in Lower Manhattan and moved to 128 Front Street, where he lived and worked until July 1961.*

It was in the fall of 1953, outside of his Fulton Street studio, that Rauschenberg created one of his best-known works, Automobile Tire Print. Having glued twenty sheets of paper together and placed them on the street, Rauschenberg instructed composer John Cage to drive his Model A Ford through a pool of paint and then over the papers. A landmark in modern art, Automobile Tire Print is Rauschenberg’s tongue-in-cheek response to the prevailing Abstract Expressionist ethos of emotive gesture. By replacing the handmade gesture with a machine, Rauschenberg upended the primacy of the artist’s touch central to the Abstract Expressionist ethos. The print is the index of Cage’s action — literally capturing and recording the performative gesture. The mechanically-made inscription of the tireprint subverts the heroicized notions of the autographic mark in Abstract Expressionism. This distancing of authorship in Automobile Tire Print is an early nod towards post-modernism.**

The work epitomizes Rauschenberg’s spirit of collaboration and his commitment to making work that existed in the “gap between art and life.” Throughout his career, Rauschenberg collaborated with notable artists including Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, and Jean Tinguely, among many others. In speaking to the collaborative nature of his practice, Rauschenberg noted, “I love collaborating because art can be a really lonely business if you are really just working from your ego, or your style, which is the same thing. When you have two people thinking at the same time about a single outcome or object, its multiplied and mirrored back and forth until it becomes a whole group of brains, and feelings, and sensations.”*** The Automobile Tire Print is just one example of the innovative artworks that resulted from the rich communal dialogue and dynamic artistic exchange characteristic of Lower Manhattan during this period.

– Alex Fialho

 

*An innovative Google Map of Rauschenberg’s artist studios can be found here. Notably, Barnett Newman had a studio on Front Street from 1952­–68 and a studio on White Street from 1968–70.
**For an extended reading of Automobile Tire Print, see Sarah Roberts, “Automobile Tire Print,” Rauschenberg Research Project, July 2013. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
***http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/35

 

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):

Automobile Tire Print, 1953
Monoprint: house paint on 20 sheets of paper, mounted on fabric
16 1/2 x 264 1/2 inches (41.9 x 671.8 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through gift of Phyllis Wattis
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Robert Rauschenberg or Cy Twombly
Untitled [portrait with Odalisk, early state, Fulton Street studio], ca. 1954
Contact print
2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches (5.7 x 5.7 cm)

Robert Rauschenberg or Cy Twombly
Untitled [portrait with black painting, Fulton Street studio], ca. 1954
Contact print
2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches (5.7 x 5.7 cm)

Robert Rauschenberg or Cy Twombly
Untitled [portrait between white and black paintings, Fulton Street studio], ca. 1954
Contact print
2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches (5.7 x 5.7 cm)