‘Barely there’ but really here: Go!

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, July 3, 2018


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An original Robert Rauschenberg piece, “Barely There,” for more than a half-century in private hands, has been sold in the last year and, for the first time, is being shown publicly — and locally.

Rauschenberg, an artistic genius born in Port Arthur, has shown his work around the world, where it is prized everywhere. Tom Neal, director of the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, said that when the shah of Iran fled his native country, he took two Rauschenberg creations with him.

Now owned by Tony Webber, CEO of Southwest Museum Services of Houston, “Barely There,” the 27-by-36 inch combine painting — combines reflect a technique connected to much of Rauschenberg’s works — is being shown in the Rauschenberg gallery on the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s second floor. It was placed there Friday and will remain for 60 days.

So it’s not even “Barely Gone.” You have time to see it.

Rauschenberg enjoyed an uneasy relationship with his hometown, but relished his every visit here in his latter years. Born in 1925, a graduate of Port Arthur High School, he left at 16 for the University of Texas and then the Navy. Like young people everywhere, he was glad to leave his small-town home behind.

In his later years, he was unabashed about the happiness connected to coming home, where he was oftentimes known by “Milton,” his actual first name, and where his family lived for many happy years.

The homecoming of sorts for “Barely There” was made possible because Webber, whose company provides a host of services to museums, was instrumental in setting up our hometown museum. He knew we had a Rauschenberg Gallery and that the artist’s hometown revered him.

Rauschenberg himself selected most of what is included in the gallery that bears his name and donated much of it. There are about 24 pieces connected to the artist who studied in North Carolina and Paris before earning his fame in New York City.

“Barely There” evokes memories of a cosmetics campaign and incorporates various common materials, which is what “combine” art does. It also incorporates what Webber said was a “whiteout” technique.

It was likely painted between 1958 and 1962, given or traded to a New York deli owner, and remained in private hands, not listed in the Rauschenberg catalog. A forensic study of 115 pages confirms its authenticity and Webber and our local museum confirm this: It is here, being shown and gives local people an opportunity to ponder and embrace the work of one of America’s most influential artists, a local man who made an indelible mark on the world of art for generations.

Here’s your chance: 700 Procter St., open Monday through Friday.

You shouldn’t miss out.