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When Robert Rauschenberg erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning in 1953, he was investigating the possibilities of what art could be—not just additive creation, but also conscious erasure

The Erased Rauschenberg (2018), the artist Nikolas Bentel

When Robert Rauschenberg erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning in 1953, he was investigating the possibilities of what art could be—not just additive creation, but also conscious erasure. In his project The Erased Rauschenberg (2018), the artist Nikolas Bentel has undertaken a similar investigation, only the terms have been updated for the 21st century. Rather than a formal gesture, Bentel has executed one that’s crassly commercial: he obliterated a 1973 Rauschenberg print by literally selling ad space on it. The money from the ads funded his purchase of the work, which he proceeded to cover with whatever his advertisers had given him: QR codes, an unofficial McDonald’s logo, pictures of Jesus and Kanye, text for something called the “Anti Capitalist Capitalist Club” and, inevitably, a big drawing of a dick. The result looks like what might happen if early net art mated with bathroom graffiti. But the stunt’s value is less in aesthetics than it is in the proof of concept (Rauschenberg would be proud): people are more interested in novelty and self-promotion than in preserving a valuable work of art. Bentel has said he hopes Erased Rauschenberg will “change the art world for the better”. That seems a tad lofty, but it will at least make a difference in a few people’s lives. The work is being auctioned off today, starting at $20,000. Proceeds will go towards starting a scholarship fund for artists who need financial help to attend NEW INC, the New Museum’s art and technology incubator where Bentel himself is currently a member.