The following is part of the description of an installation in The Museum of Modern Art:
"This special installation of work by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg celebrates the recent acquisition of Rauschenberg's Canyon (1959), a gift from the family of Ileana Sonnabend to The Museum of Modern Art. Canyon is one of Rauschenberg's Combines, a group of works made between 1954 and 1964 that Johns once described as 'painting playing the game of sculpture.'"
The installation surrounds Canyon with two other works by Rauschenberg as well as several works by Johns. All the works are unexpectedly powerful with textures of found materials mixing comfortably in the two dimensional world they live in and escape from.
From a distance, the black American bald eagle from Canyon springs toward the viewer, wings flapping above a cardboard box. A real pillow is tied to a wooden support that juts from the canvas. The canvas itself has photographs and newspaper articles and corrugated cardboard and abstract painted colors.
Bed, also from 1955, looks like an abstract painting at first glance, but then, upon closer inspection, one sees a pillow and a real blanket. The texture of the blanket in the bottom half of this long rectangle is so powerful that, even though the material is old and hasn't been washed in almost 60 years, the viewer is invited to touch it and cover oneself with it. Even the pillow, full of paint in its lower half, is fluffed up and cozy, while at the same time, pushing the viewer away. (Who wants to rest one's head on a pillow full of paint?) The 3D pulls us in; the 2D pulls us away.
The third work by Rauschenberg, Rebus, also from 1955, is the least engaging of the three. This work is the least 3D, but once one gets close, one gets drawn in. And then, across the full width of the mounted canvases, small pieces of paper are seen, each one slightly bigger than a thumb, as if from the same notepad, page after page if colors that gradually change, going from skin tones to blues to ochres to more blues, until way down at the other end, are pinks and violets and browns and finally dark gray and a skin tone that can continue with the beginning, starting the process all over again.
Above the color strips is another type of strip, a newspaper clipping of Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip, which adds another flavor of entertainment to the piece (and also raises the question of how permanent a work of art this will be, given the fragile quality of newspapers and newsprint).
The works by Johns are equally engaging. In the works displayed here, the texture is the key; textures that could not have been replicated by paint alone. These works include Green Target (1955) and White Numbers, encaustic on canvas (1957). Johns uses newspapers extensively in his work as well, which sets them firmly in the time they were made.
The textbook, H. H. Aronson's History of Modern Art, shared the following analysis on page 618 of the second edition:
"The combine paintings of Rauschenberg have their obvious origin in the collages and constructions of Schwitters and some of the other Dadaists. His motivation and approach, however, are different not only in the great special expansion, but in the use of the topical, the specific association with which the artist at the same moment was concerned."
This installation is highly recommended.