Epic Art Battle

Canyon by Robert Rauschenberg

Detail of “Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg

Did you see the recent story in the New York Times  about the duel between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art?   It was over who would own Robert Rauschenberg’s famous work “Canyon”.

The painting has been on loan at the Met, but its owners had to donate it somewhere on a permanent basis to settle a tax bill.   Technically, because the work includes a taxidermy bald eagle, it is against the law to buy or sell it,  thereby rendering it valueless.

Tell that to the IRS who priced it at $65 million and required its donation as part of a $41 million tax settlement.

Both institutions made a big play for the painting, each promising plaques on their lobby walls and  special exhibitions.  MoMA, the ultimate  winner of the duel, will be placing the name of the original buyer of the painting on its “founders wall.”  Never mind that the buyer was only 15 when MoMa was founded, and didn’t buy the painting until much much later when she was an adult.

It all reminds me a bit of when Sotheby’s and Christies would  battle for the right to sell a painting.  All sorts of perks were promised, like catalog covers, and special traveling exhibitions. Heck sometimes it seemed as if the owners’ teenaged daughter and all of her friends got to travel with the painting. It could get a little out of hand.

In this case the family members decided to give “Canyon” to MoMA because it would be “more of a star” there, reported the New York Times.

“Canyon” is a mixed media work known as a “combine”.  It is a mix of photographs., fabric, paint, wood, string, cardboard, a pillow, and the aforementioned stuffed bald eagle.  MoMA already owns several important “combines” by Rauschenberg  and it was felt that the painting was best appreciated when placed in context with the other works.

Here is “Canyon” together with two other famed combines by Rauschenberg in MoMA’s collection,  “Bed” and “Rebus”.  “Bed” is a mix of  oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet on wood supports.  “Rebus” is comprised of oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, and fabric on canvas mounted and stapled to fabric in three panels.

Rauschenberg Combine Quilt, Canyon, Rebus

Left, “Quilt”, right top, detail, “Canyon” , right bottom, “Rebus” , all by Robert Rauschenberg

What do you think? Do they hang well together?

First inage of “Canyon” from theslideprojector.com .  Image of “Quilt” from Boston.com,  Image of “Canyon” in collage from Forbes.com, Image of “Rebus” from MoMA.com


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