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It’s Cy’s World. We just live in it.

July 12, 2011

Cy Twombly Portrait by Robert Rauschenberg Mid 1950's

Cy Twombly passed away last week. In a week that was filled with other loss and milestones, Twombly’s exit from this mortal coil was particularly resonant. I admired the work. It was part of the cannon as I grew up and continues to this day. By no stretch of the imagination was Twombly’s work easy to understand or digest. But you couldn’t shake it. And most often you didn’t want to. It was a voice that was so singular that, much like Jackson Pollock, he claimed an entire aesthetic.

Here then a few thoughts about the man, the myth and the work:

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, 1961

No arc to the mature. Twombly’s entire oeuvre seems to have been born mature. Like a child who arrives from the womb quoting Proust and casually rotating a tumbler of single malt scotch. This arrogant disregard for the tentative is one of the elements of my admiration. Even the emotional archeologist, scouring articles and interviews, finds neither bone fragments of doubt nor shards of hesitancy.

Cy Twombly, Cold Stream, 1966

Quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Seeing MoMA’s excellent and exhaustive retrospective in 1994, I came away slighty woozy and disappointed. Cy’s work, from any decade of his creative wellspring, worked far better in smaller portions. It wasn’t so much that seeing a dozen blackboard paintings from the early seventies made them boring. The problem stems from the repetition of euphoria. See too many good paintings and this nagging feeling of the formulaic enters the picture. Even if, as I believe, Cy could harness the horses of improvisation and immediacy at will, it’s always better to sample those moments of epiphany in moderation.

Cy Twombly, Rome 1960 Photo by Horst

LifeStylePorn  Let us not discount the effect of life style porn on the myth and magic of Cy Twombly. Having settled in Rome in 1957 at the ripe old age of 29, he began his own path of senior expatriate. Living with books and sculptures in the city of history and architecture lent an air of authority to his endeavor. This is not to make light of his artistic exploits. However to deny, or worse ignore, the impact of the pedestal on which this life was led is disingenuous. The sheer wire frame portrait of his life and trajectory reads like a Patricia Highsmith novel. We root for his success without ever knowing why.

Cy Twombly, By the Ionian Sea, 1987

His Sculpture Rocks! I am the greatest fan of Cy when it comes to his sculpture. It is for me the surest path towards the sublime. Here too, the sense of unapologetic authority reins supreme. They are both ancient and contemporary. They perform feats of balance and asymmetry on pedestals of theatrical drama. They convey emotion and narrative without ever once lapsing into confession. They are at once heroic and intimate. And lastly, and to me this is the real kicker, they evoke and never illustrate.

And lastly, in becoming the expatriate he seems not so much to have turned his back on America as turned his heart and psyche towards the bubbling caldron of history, myth and tradition of Europe. An embrace rather than rejection.

The Epitome of Cool.

Kicking Back in Rome.

Thoughtful musings by Peter Plagens on Cy

The best obituary offered by the Guardian, England

Mario M. Muller, July 11th, 2011, Los Angeles

From → Aesthetic Arrest

4 Comments
  1. Can’t handle the repetition of euphoria? I’ll take it — give it here! Saw the retrospective at MOCA and swoon to this very day, remembering. Also made a pilgrimage to Menil collection to see his private wing. Talk about ecstasy, I almost levitated! No one can touch him. The sooner we acknowledge our collective debt, the sooner we can be transformed by his legacy.
    Thank you for another great post.

    • Many Thanks Ruth, I knew this would strike a nerve with you. Would have loved to have seen the Retrospective in a different venue. MoMA was cluttered. The more you dig the more there is though and just preparing for this post was delight of research. For any fan, and I know you are one, I’d definetely check out the first link in the post as it not only has alot of work to browse but interviews and articles which were informative. Happy hunting, Mario

  2. Excellent post.

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