Collection 1950s–1970s

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Robert Rauschenberg. Canyon. 1959 459

Oil, pencil, paper, metal, photograph, fabric, wood, canvas, buttons, mirror, taxidermied eagle, cardboard, pillow, paint tube and other materials, 81 3/4 x 70 x 24" (207.6 x 177.8 x 61 cm). Gift of the family of Ileana Sonnabend. © 2024 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Alex Fialho: Robert Rauschenberg scavenged all kinds of materials—junk, old furniture, ropes, wallpaper—anything that caught his eye for potential use in his art. Rauschenberg’s use of a stuffed bald eagle in this work is particularly noteworthy. Here’s Rauschenberg and curator Leah Dickerman to tell the story behind it:

Artist, Robert Rauschenberg: All my stories start “I was on the street.” I was working with stuffed animals and it was more to, like, continue their life, because I always thought, it’s too bad they’re dead, and so I thought I can do something about that.

Curator, Leah Dickerman: Rauschenberg said his friend, the artist Sari Dienes, first spotted the taxidermied eagle in the trash outside of one of the apartments at Carnegie Hall. Rauschenberg took the eagle back to the studio in order to put it into a painting. And that's an extraordinary thing if you think about it. How do you put something so physically awkward onto the surface of a canvas? But he managed it. The eagle extends into the space of the viewer. It starts to break down the boundary that we expect between the space of the artwork and the space of ordinary life.

Alex Fiahlo: Rauschenberg called works like this Combines. Here’s his son, Christopher.

Christopher Rauschenberg: People were freaking out because they couldn’t tell if it was painting or sculpture. So he had to make up a word to scare ‘em off. And so “Oh okay. They’re combines,” which is you know – it’s fun because they’re farm machines. He was very interested in language and wordplay.