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Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59 © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg / Bildupphovsrätt 2016, Stockholm/VAGA, NY.

28.7 2016

Monogram Goes on Tour

One of our best-loved works, Monogram by Robert Rauschenberg, is about to go out into the world. The first stop on the tour is London’s Tate Modern at the end of 2016. Monogram will then move on to MoMA in New York and SFMOMA in San Francisco. Prior to this historic trip, the artwork with its stuffed goat has undergone a thorough examination by the museum’s conservators.

X-ray examination

In order to be able to plan the Goat’s long journey and to guarantee its safe transportation we have given it a thorough examination. The Goat leans slightly to one side and, after the many years of pressure on the Goat’s back from the heavy rubber tyre, we needed to investigate its interior construction. Together with the Swedish National Heritage Board we X-rayed Monogram using a mobile digital X-ray machine, which has for the first time made it possible to take a look inside the Goat without subjecting it to risky transportation to an X-ray laboratory. We took a full-scale X-ray image of the Goat from the side and detailed cross-section images from in front. The painting on which the Goat stands was also investigated with X-rays. Besides staff from the National Heritage Board, a natural-history conservator from Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum with specialized knowledge of the preparation of animals was on the spot as a consultant to interpret the X-ray images.

Monogram with x-ray equipment
Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59 Moderna Museet together with the National Heritage Board examines how Monogram is feeling. Photo: Åsa Lundén / Moderna Museet © Robert Rauschenberg / Untitled Press, Inc. / Bildupphovsrätt 2016

The investigators from the National Heritage Board spent three days at Moderna Museet and, apart from the digital X-ray system, had brought with them equipment for conducting an elemental analysis (X-ray fluorescence, XRF) and colour-fastness tests (microfading tests). The microfading tests allow the determination of the light sensitivity of the various materials and hence the appropriate light intensities and exposure times. With the aid of the XRF spectrometer we were able to map out the pigments that Rauschenberg used in his painting. These investigations provide valuable information about Rauschenberg’s painting technique and serve as a basis for the handling and preservation of Monogram in the future.

The XRF examination additionally showed that the Goat contains arsenic, which used to be a normal ingredient in the preparation of objects to protect them against insects. This information is important so that the Museum’s staff can safeguard themselves against exposure to toxic substances when handling the work.

Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59 © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg / Bildupphovsrätt 2016, Stockholm/VAGA, NY.

What does the Goat look like on the inside?

“From the X-ray images we could see that there are no visible fractures in the construction that might prevent transportation of the work,” says Sculpture Conservator My Bundgaard.

“We could also see that bits of the skeleton are still there inside the Goat, which is quite unusual with prepared animals of this size. We saw the skeleton in all four legs and the cranium still there in the skull. We were further able to see that the Goat has been constructed on a profiled wooden board to which an iron stand has been fixed with nails. Wood wool, clay and steel wire have been used as building materials and to give the shape,” she continues.

“To sum up, we now know that the Goat is not seriously damaged in a way that would prevent an external loan. But Monogram is still a highly sensitive, fragile work that requires careful handling. Taking the X-ray images as our guide we can now construct a transport crate that will support and protect the Goat in the best and gentlest way when he goes on tour.”

How will the Goat be transported?

“The external loan of an artwork involves shipping it by truck and often also by plane. When we at Moderna Museet are to transport works of art we use specially constructed, airtight crates to ensure a stable climate. These are lined with shock-absorbent material and have an interior frame to which the artwork is securely anchored to minimize the vibration and jolts that can occur during transportation,” Bundgaard explains.

“Besides that, specially trained staff keep an eye on the transport crate the whole way from leaving our museum to arriving at the museum where the work is to be shown.”

X-ray image of Robert Rauschenberg's Monogram (1955-1959) by Magnus Mårtensson, Swedish National Heritage Board, 2016. The image is composed of twelve separate plates, combined into one.

Rauschenberg’s combines

In the mid-1950s, when ideas about a purification of painting were dominant, Rauschenberg chose to turn a fresh mixture of painting and sculpture, rags, newspaper clippings and discarded objects into the giant Monogram collage. He dubbed this style “combined painting”. Rauschenberg’s “combines” can best be described as free-standing or wall-hanging objects that mix painting and sculpture, and which were created between 1954 and 1964. It is no exaggeration to say that Rauschenberg redefined American art when he invented his combines. With them he exploded the traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, and brought the street into the studio.

Monogram was first shown to the public at a gallery in New York in 1959. The work came to Stockholm and was shown at Moderna Museet in 1962 as part of the 4 Americans exhibition. It was acquired for the museum’s collection three years later with a contribution from the Friends of Moderna Museet.

Monogram is made of oil on canvas, printed paper, textile, paper, a metal sign, wood, rubber heels, a tennis ball, a stuffed Angora goat with paint, and a painted rubber tyre. 106.5 x 160.6 x 163.5 cm.

Published 28 July 2016 · Updated 21 May 2019