Rauschenberg often kept an eye out for curious items in the street while walking around downtown New York, later repurposing “whatever the day would lay out” for his artistic ends. In 1959, he received a phone call from his friend, artist Sari Dienes, who offered him a taxidermied eagle she found in a pile of discarded belongings in Carnegie Hall. Rauschenberg incorporated it into his canvas among other materials (the cuff of a man’s shirt sleeve, a metal canister, a pillow), collaged among fabric, photographs, and other printed matter and covered with paint. Rauschenberg's juxtaposition of everyday objects—including an image of the artist's son—with the eagle may allude to the Greek myth of Ganymede, the beautiful young boy that Zeus abducted in the form of an eagle.
Gallery label from "Collection 1940s—1907s", 2019
Canyon is one of Rauschenberg’s Combines, the hybrid works incorporating painting, collage, and found objects that he began making in 1954. Rauschenberg often kept an eye out for curious items while walking the streets in downtown Manhattan, later taking “whatever the day would lay out” and using it toward artistic ends. In 1959 he received a phone call from a friend, the artist Sari Dienes, who offered him a taxidermy eagle she had found among objects destined for the trash. Back in his studio, Rauschenberg set to work incorporating the bird into a canvas along with other nontraditional materials—the cuff of a men’s shirtsleeve, an industrial metal canister, a photograph of his young son, a pillow—all collaged among fabric and printed matter and covered with various kinds of paint. “A pair of socks,” Rauschenberg declared of his Combines, “is no less suitable to make a painting with than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.” By incorporating the stuff of the everyday world into painting, Rauschenberg challenged the heroic gestural painting of the Abstract Expressionist artists who had preceded him and asserted an openness to ordinary objects that would be widespread among later generations of artists.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Canyon is one of Rauschenberg’s Combines, hybrid works incorporating painting, collage, and found objects that he began making in 1954. Rauschenberg often kept an eye out for curious items in the street while walking around downtown New York, later repurposing “whatever the day would lay out” for his artistic ends. The centerpiece of Canyon is a stuffed bald eagle that was found in a pile of discarded belongings in the hallway of the Carnegie Hall studio building and given to Rauschenberg by fellow artist Sari Dienes. It juts out from a canvas covered with pieces of a collared shirt, floral fabric, a photograph of Rauschenberg’s young son, a flattened metal drum, and a wrung–out tube of oil paint, among many other items. Canyon was perhaps Sonnabend’s favorite work of art: she once joked, “If they build a pyramid for me when I die, I would like it in there with me.” Rauschenberg’s esteem for Sonnabend was just as high—he claimed that he “never finished a painting without wondering what Ileana would think of it.”
Gallery label from Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New, December 21, 2013–April 21, 2014.