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.