Huntington Acquires Robert Rauschenberg Painting

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today the acquisition of a major painting by Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), who said it was a visit to the Huntington Art Gallery in the 1940s that inspired him to become an artist. Global Loft (Spread), 1979, a dynamic example of the groundbreaking artist’s “Spreads” series, will go on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art on July 5, 2012.

Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), Global Loft (Spread), 1979. Solvent transfer on fabric and paper collage to wooden panels with acrylic paint, three metal brushes, 96 x 111 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © The Estate of Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Photograph by Robert McKeever.

“This is a tremendous day for American art at The Huntington,” said John Murdoch, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Huntington Art Collections. “This is our first purchase of a major painting representing the period in which American art was indubitably at the leading edge of international innovation. It means we are now pushing forward with the development of our collection on a much broader and more modern front. It is a wonderful pledge to our own future.”

The eight-foot–tall, more than nine-foot–wide Global Loft (Spread) incorporates pieces of fabric, found objects (three glue brushes), and appropriated images with acrylic paint on three conjoined wood panels. The images used in the painting include photographs of the earth taken from space, a reptile cracking out of an egg, skiers making patterns in the snow, and a landscape with a windmill and grazing cattle, among others.

“Global Loft is not intended to be narrative, yet it is impossible to avoid engaging with the iconography of the images that Rauschenberg chose to incorporate into the piece,” said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. “You begin to ask, ‘What’s this? What’s that?’ It draws you in, inspiring study and contemplation. And, like so many of the materials in The Huntington’s collections—from Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, which originally inspired Rauschenberg, to botanical specimens and complex illuminated manuscripts—it prompts you to look closely and make your own discoveries and comparisons.”

Rauschenberg made about 105 of the paintings he called “Spreads” between 1976 and 1981. The name “Spread,” like the imagery in the artwork, is deliberately open to interpretation. The series grew out of a period of reflection on his career, spurred in part by a traveling retrospective that opened in 1976. So the work that followed explicitly spread from this earlier work, such as Bed (1954), one of his first “Combines” (for which he combined painting and found objects in unexpected and innovative ways). Or the word might refer to the fact that the works spread widely across a wall, or to Texas ranches—sometimes called “spreads”—as his first Spread was entitled Rodeo Palace (Spread) (1975–76) and involved imagery suggesting life in Texas. Whatever the source, Rauschenberg’s Spreads marked the artist’s return to the size and complexity of his earlier Combines and large silkscreen paintings after approximately five years of making mostly austere, minimalist art. Examples can be found in museums across the United States and in Europe.

A prolific and versatile artist credited with moving American art beyond Abstract Expressionism, the dominant movement of the immediate post–World War II years, Rauschenberg created paintings, sculpture, and even sets for dance and theater. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, where, he said, “it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting,” Rauschenberg repeatedly told an anecdote about a visit to The Huntington. It was in 1946 when he was stationed in San Diego as a young medical technician in the Navy Hospital Corps that he saw the large 18th-century British portraits that hang in the Huntington Art Gallery—an experience that changed the course of his career, as he was struck by the realization that art was something a person could do for a living. He enrolled in art school soon after.

“When I came to The Huntington knowing the story of Rauschenberg’s inspiration from the place, I thought perhaps someday we could have one of his paintings on view here. And it appears as though that day is upon us,” said Smith. “It’s simply thrilling.”

The acquisition of Global Loft (Spread) was made possible by a gift from an anonymous donor for the purchase of American art made after 1945 in memory of Robert Shapazian (1943¬–2010), whose estate gave The Huntington Andy Warhol’s painting Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle), 1962, and Brillo Box, 1964, as well as a group of Brillo boxes by Pontus Hultén in 2010. Global Loft (Spread) is being acquired directly from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, represented by Gagosian Gallery.

Other works by Rauschenberg in The Huntington’s collections are two prints with collage from the Shirtboard, Morocco, Italy ’52 Portfolio published by Styria Studio in 1991 and donated by Dean Hansell in 2009.

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