Although their lawyer says the Sonnabend heirs don’t really care about such things, the long-running dispute between the IRS and the family over the monetary value of ‘Canyon,’ the combine with the stuffed eagle at the center that cannot be sold due to restrictions on trafficking in endangered species but the IRS says has a value of $65m, has been resolved by a donation of the work to MoMA in exchange for including Ms. Sonnabend’s name on the museum’s wall of founders.
MoMA bested the Metropolitan museum in the battle to acquire the work simply because of it focus on 20th Century art and the presence of other classic Rauschenberg works like ‘Bed’ and ‘Rebus.’ Here’s the New York Times on the decision which has director Glenn Lowry very chuffed:
On Tuesday, Ann Temkin, the Modern’s curator of painting and sculpture, took a break from overseeing the hanging of the work to summarize the argument she had made to the family. She told them the Modern already owned five other Rauschenberg combines, including “Bed” and “Rebus,” from the same period, as well as several works by his contemporaries and other artists like Willem de Kooning and Joseph Cornell who influenced him. Seeing an artist in context, she said, gives viewers an insight into his work that is impossible to get from seeing the work in isolation.
Mr. Lowry said, “If you were going to sit down and close your eyes and dream of an installation, you would envision ‘Rebus,’ ‘Bed’ and ‘Canyon’ in conversation with each other.”
As a side note, the work holds a special place in the debate around the role of the art market in determining the value of art. Given the restrictions surrounding the stuffed eagle, there was never a question about the work being sold. Its market value had been null from the very beginning. You could even say that ‘Canyon’ had a negative market value considering the legal liabilities that any purchase would trigger.
However, the family determined that the work’s art historical value would be enhanced greatly by its presence at MoMA, a reminder that real value in art history doesn’t come in market denominations.