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Robert Rauschenberg Honors Phyllis Wattis With Gift To SFMOMA Museum Also Acquires Major Works By Eva Hesse And Brice Marden

Released: January 01, 2000 ·

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, September 30, 1999—The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced today that artist Robert Rauschenberg has honored lifetime SFMOMA Trustee Phyllis Wattis by giving the Museum Hiccups, 1978, a significant work from his personal collection. In addition, continued support from Wattis has enabled the Museum to acquire Eva Hesse’s Sans II, 1968, and Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989–91. “Robert Rauschenberg couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate way to honor Phyllis Wattis, who made it possible for the Museum to acquire 14 pieces from his private collection last year,” notes SFMOMA Director David A. Ross. “Thanks to Phyllis and our other devoted supporters, SFMOMA has been able to build areas of great depth in its holdings of work by a number of important artists—including, now, Eva Hesse and Brice Marden, who will increasingly be regarded as key artists of their generations.”

Consisting of 97 linked transfer drawings on sheets of handmade paper, Rauschenberg’s monumental work Hiccups incisively explores issues of scale and seriality. Bearing images that include the artist’s trademark bicycles, tires and athletes, the panels fasten together with common metal zippers in an infinite number of combinations; when fully assembled, the work extends to nearly 63 feet in length. Rauschenberg had kept Hiccups in his own collection since its execution in 1978, but recent interest in the work propelled his decision to make the gift. Explains Robert Rauschenberg, “Within the urgency of a museum purchase of Hiccups, I turned my sweet thoughts to Phyllis Wattis, both priceless. My decision to present this artwork to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in her name is not a question, but a
fact. . . . Thank you, Phyllis.” The gift joins 16 Rauschenbergs already in SFMOMA’s permanent collection, including Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953—one of the touchstones of postwar American art—and 13 other paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and combines that the Museum acquired from the artist in June 1998.

Phyllis Wattis also supported the acquisitions of the Eva Hesse and Brice Marden works, which significantly strengthen the Museum’s contemporary art collection and holdings by these artists. As Gary Garrels, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Chief Curator and curator of painting and sculpture, observes, “Hesse’s work is pivotal in the radical experiments and redefinitions of sculpture in the 1960s and of enormous influence and importance for younger artists today. Marden also emerged in the 1960s, as one of a handful of artists who reinvested abstract painting with new potential. This painting is one of the most important of his later works and one of the most significant in his entire career.”

Sans II, one of Eva Hesse’s most famous works, was created for her first solo exhibition at the Fishbach Gallery in November 1968. Exploring the possibilities of the synthetic polymers fiberglass and polyester resin as sculptural media, Hesse originally produced five units that she linked and mounted horizontally (see photo below), suggesting the chainlike combinations polymers form on the molecular level. Due to its size—over 35 feet long—Sans II was considered impossible to sell as a whole; its modules were separated and sold individually after the Fishbach show. The unit SFMOMA has acquired resided for more than thirty years in the personal collection of a friend of Hesse
(the other four modules are in the institutional collections

of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Museum Wiesbaden in Germany and the Daros Collection, a private foundation in Switzerland). Like much of Hesse’s work, Sans II features a pattern of repeating geometric shapes combined with an extremely visceral, expressive surface that has an almost membrane-like appearance. It is this physicality—at once structural and solid, delicate and tactile—that gives the work its great power.

Art critic Lucy Lippard, in her definitive book Eva Hesse, notes that “Sans II is Hesse’s largest and most detached piece. It is a triumph between the frontality of painting and the subtlety of surface possible only in three dimensions.” The work is an ideal complement to Hesse’s early sculpture Untitled or Not Yet, 1966, acquired by the Museum in 1997, and the relief An Ear in the Pond, 1965, a 1995 fractional and promised gift of Norah and Norman Stone. Sans II and Untitled or Not Yet will be installed in SFMOMA’s second-floor galleries in January 2000. In addition, SFMOMA and the Museum Wiesbaden are organizing a major Hesse retrospective with independent curator Elisabeth Sussman; after premiering in San Francisco from January to April 2002, the exhibition will travel to the Museum Wiesbaden and to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Like SFMOMA’s recent acquisition of 22 works by Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge) was purchased from the artist’s personal collection. Marden created his Cold Mountain series between 1989 and 1991, and the suite of paintings—which rank among the most beautiful abstract works in postwar art—remains one of the artist’s most important achievements. The Cold Mountain series incorporated Marden’s interest in Chinese art and poetry (specifically writings by the eighth-century Chinese hermit poet Han Shan, also known as Cold Mountain) and influences from Western painting (most notably the work of Jackson Pollock). Each painting in the Cold Mountain series has a unique palette; Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), which is widely considered to be one of the finest of Marden’s recent gestural abstractions, is characterized by an organic web of linear blue, gray and black brushstrokes.

With the acquisition of this key painting, the Museum’s permanent collection now includes major works from all three decades of Marden’s career. The new acquisition joins The Dylan Painting, 1966, an exceptional early monochrome painting acquired by SFMOMA in June 1998, and Grove Group II, 1972–73, a 1994 fractional gift of Mimi and Peter Haas that is one of the best examples of Marden’s fully mature encaustic abstractions. Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge) and The Dylan Painting will be on view in the Museum’s second-floor galleries beginning in January 2000.

Jill Lynch 415.357.4172 jilynch@sfmoma.org
Clara Hatcher Baruth 415.357.4177 chatcher@sfmoma.org
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