Cy Twombly at Centre Pompidou

30 novembre 2016 – 24 avril 2017
de 11h à 21h ou de 11h à 23h
Galerie 1 – Centre Pompidou, Paris

Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus, 1962, Oil, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas, 259 x 302 cm

Hardly any artist of recent fame has been regarded as ‘active’ as long as Cy Twombly, an American artist who lived in Rome towards the end of his life. He first came to the attention of the international art scene in 1956 during his first set of solo exhibitions in Rome, Düsseldorf and Paris. He has since been considered a famous artist after that, but him being famous meant being famous only within his circle of peers, where the judgments of his colleagues (some of whom are Twombly’s earliest collectors) are a far more valuable achievement than jacked-up prices in the auction house.

Cy Twombly’s continued rise in 1970s seem a bit puzzling. How is it compatible with the realistic, but infinitely cruel, Warhol statement on fame, which he says takes only 15 minutes?

Perhaps it is Cy Twombly’s peculiar relationship to the history of art and the kind of life that allowed the artist to constantly change over long periods of time and without breaks. This allowed him to be more consistent and to fully establish his identity as an artist. His relationship to history – even his own – is not short-sighted. It does not rely on the gradual results of his present fascination.

His series of paintings which can later be separated completely into individual pictures without changing the concept of the work significantly, are sometimes the culmination of monthly researches, investigations, analyses, and other preparatory work. History is for him a mature and permanent present.

In 1509 Raffaelo da Urbino was received most graciously by Pope Julius II in Rome. There he presented in the Camera della Segnatura a painting of how the theologians sought to unite philosophy and astrology with theology, and in such picture, according to Giorgio Vasari – “all worlds are portrayed, which in different ways relate to each other.”

On the side you can see some astrologers who write all sorts of definite figures on tablets and the writings of the art of astrology and they are sending them through some beautiful angels to the evangelists who explain them. Diogenes with his bowl lies on a staircase; Aristotle and Plato, has one hand with the Timaeus, and the other with the ethics, see the semicircular school of philosophers. Not to mention, the beauty of astrologers and mathematicians, who draw a lot of figures and signs on the boards with the compass. Furthermore, Federigo II, the architect Bramante, Zoroaster, and Raphael himself, the artist of the ‘School of Athens’,  arguably one of the most inspiring works of art in the history of art.

Twombly’s ‘Scuola di Atene’ was finished in 1964 and is exhibited right now at the Centre Pompidou. It has come a long way from the scandal with far-reaching consequences it has caused for the owners of the gallery which originally exhibited it..

In those days, Twombly had confronted his audiences about their lack of knowledge of the history of art behind his works. Although Twombly has since become less controversial with his paintings, a large audience still ignores them or are intolerant of them: Just because it does not conform to the idea of how art should look like, because their often invoked and by now should be infamous “five-year-old daughter ” can also do it.

But perhaps his art, which does not look like art, is a starting point. According to Walter Benjamin true dialectics takes an object as carefully as a cannibal prepares for a baby. First of all there was and at the same time there was no style for Twombly. Or better yet, no pattern can be fully extracted, understood and described.

School of Athens, 1961. Oil, Oil-based house paint, coloured pencil and lead pencil on canvas, 190,3 x 200,5 cm
School of Athens, 1961-64. Oil, Oil-based house paint, coloured pencil and lead pencil on canvas, 190,3 x 200,5 cm

The images are very rare, there is no basic recipe that could make the artist’s work easier for the viewer’s recognition. Neither the art history nor the present are definite concepts of the Here (or There), Now (or At that time), So (and not otherwise).

For his strange limbo state within time, he chooses a certain geographical zone, a mood, perhaps, or an atmosphere. He is as calm as Rafael is provocative, as opposed to the photo-realism of today.

On a public appearance in Berlin, John Cage was asked by a locomotive caller after the concert, if that was not all Dadaist shit. Cage replied that he had always behaved correctly against DADA. The same is Twombly’s casualness. It is not his indifference, his disinterest or ignorance. Histories are sometimes more important to him than a visit to museums, some films, books or poems are more important than galleries and pictures. But how could an artist be so surely moving in the present and in his locale, if his pictorial utterances were not of a comparable kind?

At first he fails to appreciate the style and thus the certainty that may be embedded in something comparable. He was not a pop artist, not an action painter, he is not an informel or a realist of the present cut. Furthermore, there is almost never a large-scale and manageable composition, no division into individual zones, thus also no central figure or a ‘hero’. At all, nothing is really solid and quiet in its place – most clearly perhaps recognizable in the seemingly quiet dark pictures with the Allusions to concrete geometry, but, if one were to examine them, nothing is true. Allusions are once again clearer than the one formulated at the end. Instead of static uniformity and measured paint application, there is an overpowering movement, sometimes casual, sometimes rushed, sometimes in an almost calm state.

At the moment something is fixed in the picture before it dissolves into complete confusion. A free flow is apparent, but this flow has direction, the various picture details are related, they seem to be independent of one another, seem randomly placed, but they get energies and impulses from other places and pass them on. Processes emerge and sink and passages, made up of multiple additions of indifferent things.

Tearing signs flow over the whole, differently distinct and differentiated in the color, which often approaches the non-color by superimposition. Presence of color, but not applicable to a single color. In other painters, a basic tone, a predominant coloring, with Twombly, it is a kind of color space, bright, white, silvery, dark, almost black. The images are often ‘unfinished’ and then have a partial character, justified in the demand to the viewer to accomplish something that has not been formulated to the end. The sensitive attention of the beholder then leaves the eyes at some point, with clear passages, with a nervous-hurry gesture, with vehement or calm colors, or with frequent glazes, which appear to cover something which was not there at all.

The chronological sequence is reminiscent of reading processes or musical connections. The formal arsenal used has become a meta-script, which is not suited to general-purpose information, or even allows an appointment to meaningful ciphers or letters, which is, however, to the extent that ‘Scripture’ is never the sign itself, Whose carrier it is. Twombly writes and writes, he introduces series, proportions, which can often be disturbed. According to 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6 does not necessarily have to follow – for perhaps now the 7 would be more adequate; It is not a question of counting things, but of counting them – and then the disturbances do not mean a logical break. In some recent pictures one could think of problems of  minimal-art (if Twombly was not conscious of such styles), for example, to Donald Judd, in whose works 7 boxes are different from works that have 11 in one room.

In both artists, what we see does not exist and what really exists, we do not see. Perhaps a brief reference to the structural method of C. Levi-Strauss helps us. According to him, the fine arts are based on organized conventions to be understood as art. This concept of art is connected with two systems, the first being based on the ability of the viewer to organize sensory experiences, the second is a learned system of visual values.

Both of us are burdened by education, experience and the environment. In contrast to eastern calligraphy, abstract art is an important language and communication, saving itself with contextual meanings, art history, criticism, and biography. Signs (not only in structural linguistics) have such a flexibility that they are both neutral images and active concepts; The artist manipulates signs in such a way that all possible new permutations arise, the circumstance that they are subject to new arrangements, changes their forces and their potential future behavior. But what happens in a picture, which is scribbled, written, painted or blurred? It is arranged for the producers as well as for viewers in a process that runs across the entire image surface, not just fixed on fixed points.

The perception runs over an ultramarine memory – which fixes nothing – into the short-term memory. Only now, after a short period of evaluation, do actions and perceptions go into that long-term memory which allows us to experience and learn processes at all. The painter would have erased them, and we could not claim to have seen anything of it, although we have seen it. To most of us, Twombly is known and familiar – but can we really succeed if we are not constantly dealing with it again? It is a retrospective of contemporary adaptation.


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