Untitled Press, Inc. was established in spring 1971 by Robert Rauschenberg with the assistance of Robert Petersen, a printmaker who had worked with Rauschenberg at Gemini G.E.L. (Graphics Editions Limited). Rauschenberg, who had moved his studio and permanent residence from New York to Captiva in 1970, created the print shop as a space for collaboration. As he explained in a 1973 interview: “My whole area of art activity has always been addressed to working with other people […] In collaboration one can accept the fact that someone else can be so sympathetic and in tune with what you’re doing that through this they move into depths which might not be obvious if that person had been working alone in a studio with the door shut.”1
Collaboration is seen throughout Untitled Press’s short history with visiting artists quickly becoming the focus. A handwritten list by Rauschenberg shows that Cy Twombly was the first to visit and make a series of prints in April 1971. He is quickly followed by Brice Marden, David Bradshaw, Robert Whitman, and Susan Weil. Artists worked closely with Rauschenberg, who often made his own works during the process.
Unlike other print studios as the time, Untitled Press focused on producing small editions, finding specialized handmade papers, hand-mixing inks, and supporting new processes. Petersen’s notebook, kept during the planning and studio set-up of the studio, is crammed full of lists, receipts, and formulas showing orders and requests for squeegees, newsprint, talc, stones, gum arabic, and funnels. Visiting artists were encouraged to collaborate and experiment, gaining new skills in printmaking techniques.
Even the press’s name, Untitled Press, was the result of a collaboration. Legend has it that Rauschenberg’s art dealer Illeana Sonnabend, and her husband Michael, were part of the brainstorming session. Ileana requested a name easily understood in Europe; Rauschenberg turned to Michael to ask what word Europeans most commonly associated with contemporary art. Michael responded: untitled.
By the late 1970s, Untitled Press’s informal visiting artists program had run its course. The press transitioned into a studio for Rauschenberg and was well used throughout his life time. Today, the press’s use continues as part of the Foundation’s Residency program assuring that Untitled Press’s spirit of collaboration lives on.
Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends is on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York through September 17, 2017.
- Prints from the Untitled Press, Captiva, Florida. Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1973.