Forty years after first eyeing Robert Rauschenberg's Rebus, the Museum of Modern Art announced today that it has bought the three-panel "combine" painting long thought to be a seminal work in the artist's development.
Created in 1955, the 11-foot painting takes its name from the Latin for a puzzle of images and words and mixes oil paint with found images of comic strips, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, an election poster and bits of newspaper and fabric.
According to Glenn Lowry, MoMA's director, Rauschenberg once said that the images jostle with each other "like pedestrians on a street."
A pioneering contemporary artist whose work led to the Pop Art movement, Rauschenberg said Rebus was intended to be "a record of the immediate environment and time."
Rauschenberg's relationship with the museum has been lukewarm, as documented most recently by a May article on the artist in the New Yorker that said the two "never quite hit it off."
In 1963, when MoMA's legendary curator Alfred Barr sought to add Rauschenberg to the museum's collection though he couldn't quite "respond" to the artist's work Barr turned to Jasper Johns, who immediately advised him to acquire Rebus.
Barr did not. Since then the painting has been traded among the market's highest profile collectors from the painting's original buyers, Victor and Sally Ganz, to Charles Saatchi and Franois Pinault, who, according to the New York Times, sold it to MoMA (through Christie's) for an undisclosed amount mostly likely around $30 million.
The painting now joins the museum's 10 other paintings and 183 works on paper by the American artist, including his controversial Bed, which was given by dealer Leo Castelli in 1989 in Barr's honor.
Rebus will go on display at the museum in mid-July.
Emmanuelle Soichet All images courtesy of the Museum Of Modern Art, NY, and PaceWildenstein. Copyright Robert Rauschenberg.