Cy Twombly: the Narcissism of our Age

Cy Twombly, 1928-2011, American

 

 

The featured image has the name The Shield of Achilles.

 

This painting hangs just outside a fairly sizeable room of fairly sizeable white canvases covered with scribbles, names, partial names, whorls and amoeba-like blobs. 

The room is dedicated entirely to Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam. (The word Ilium the artist changed to Iliam, to have the ‘a’ refer to Achilles).

 

 

 

 

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Fifty Days at Iliam, in ten parts; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas.  

Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

The room was installed in 1989 at the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It is under both electronic and continuous human surveillance because people are always trying to add their marks to the scribbles of these paintings.

 

Who can blame them? 

 

 

 

 

One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas. 

 

 

 

One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas. 

 

Anyone can scribble and many do.  In kindergarten.

 

 

 

 

One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas

 

Only adults, of course, go on to give their scribbles fancy names. 

 

And other adults yet to develop whole theories about this kind of ‘art’. 

 

 

 

You don’t know what this story is about looking at this work.  You don’t know that Achilles was killed in battle.    You don’t know who is divine and who is a mortal.

 

 

 

 

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One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas

 

 

You don’t know anything about anything except that someone marked these canvases with random marks that mean little either by themselves or in relation to any other marks. 

 

 

 

 

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One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas

 

 

 

You don’t think the marks mean anything because they are like those of a child set down at a table with paper and crayons and encouraged to try his hand. 

 

And this is supposed to be the story of Achilles?

 

 

 

One part of Fifty Days at Iliam; 1978;  oil, crayon and graphite on canvas

 

 

The artist lost an opportunity to illustrate one of the greatest stories of the way men interact and behave in the world and with their gods:  fighting, scheming, loving, killing, grieving, mourning, surviving, conquering, dying. 

One of the heartland stories of the ‘West’ which he reduced to drivel. 

 

 

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TBD.  Philadelphia Art Museum.  On display 2016/2017

 

 

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Rome 

 

 

 

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 Untitled (Rome), 1982, oil pant, wax crayon and graphite on canvas.  On loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016

 

 

 

 

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Untitled (Rome), 1961, oil-based house paint, oil paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

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Untitled (Rome), 1976, bronze.  Promised gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

 

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Untitled (Rome), edition 2 of 3, 1997, bronze.

  Promised gift of the Cy Twombly Foundation to the Philadelphia Art Museum.  On view 2016/2017.

 

 

 

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The Dutch Golden Age

 

 

 

Dutch Interior, 1962, wax, crayon, lead pencil and oil on canvas.  MOMA, NY. 

The painting’s title refers to Dutch painting of the 17th century and is also, according to the museum, an homage to the Spanish Surrealist, Joan Miro, who painted a series referring to these same Dutch paintings.

 

 

 

 

Leisure Time in an Elegant Setting, oil on canvas, 1663-65.  Pieter de Hooch, 1629-1684, Dutch.  Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

 

This is a painting of the Dutch Golden Age.

 

By what mysterious means has this de Hooch been transmuted into a childish disorder of meaningless lines to be hanging, now, at the Museum of Modern Art? 

 

 

 

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Synopsis of a Battle, 1968, oil-based house paint and waxed crayon on canvas. 

Corcoran Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

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Academy, 1965, oil-based house paint, coloured pencil, led pencil and pastel on canvas. 

MOMA, NY

 

 

 

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Untitled, 2005, plaster, paint, wood, metal, paper, cloth, twine and pencil.  Cy Twombly, 1928-2011, American.  MOMA, NY

 

 

 

In 1994, Cy Twombly prepared the Four Seasons for a retrospective of his work at MOMA, NY

 

 

 

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The Four Seasons:  Spring, and detail, 1993, synthetic polymer paint, oil, house paint, pencil and crayon on canvas. Gift of the artist to MOMA, NY in 1994

 

 

 

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The Four Seasons:  Summer, and detail, 1994,  synthetic polymer paint, oil, house paint, pencil and crayon on canvas. Gift of the artist to MOMA, NY in 1994

 

 

 

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The Four Seasons:  Autumn, and detail, 1993, synthetic polymer paint, oil, house paint, pencil and crayon on canvas.  Gift of the artist to MOMA, NY in 1994

 

 

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The Four Seasons:  Winter, and detail, 1993, synthetic polymer paint, oil, house paint, pencil and crayon on canvas. 

Gift of the artist to MOMA, NY in 1994

 

What is all this about?

 

A determined man, for sure. 

 

This artist was one of the boys from young. He hung out with them.  He was taught by them.  He had love affairs with at least one of them.  They helped him.

 

They: the ones who became giants on the American artistic scene.

And fortunate to have been their friends from their young manhood: Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. 

 

 

 

 

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Untitled Drawing, 1954, gouache, wax crayon and coloured pencil on paper.  

 

 

 

Twombly had Ben Shahn, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline as teachers.  It was Motherwell who organized his first solo show in 1951.  He was 23.

 

Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns were and are (Jasper Johns is 90 this year) the most influential artists of their age.  Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, lovers for a while, shared studio space in NY in the 1950s before their stock began to climb.

And if the glow of the Rauschenberg sun was not enough, to illuminate his fortunes, Cy Twombly, especially after he migrated to Italy in 1959 and married, had a  devoted and well-connected publicist in his wife.

 

 

 

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Tiznit, 1953, white lead, oil-based housepaint, wax crayon and lead pencil on canvas. 

MOMA, New York

The painting is named for a Moroccan village.  The forms come from sketches Twombly made in the Pigorini Museum of Natural History and Ethnography.

  First exhibited in 1953 with works of Robert Rauschenberg with whom Cy Twombly was then romantically involved.

 

 

 

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 Leda and the Swan, 1962, oil, pencil and crayon on canvas. MOMA, New York

 

 

 

Once he had the interest of art critics to help evolve the theory of his work, it was a small step to the commitment of major institutions and dealers to buy and hang this work.  As with any commercially successful artist. 

 

 

Et voila!

 

Collectors begin buying the work.  In 1989, the year in which the Philadelphia Art Museum dedicated a room to Iliam, the artist’s paintings reached $1 million at auction.

 

Now there is such vested interest in the work not losing its monetary value that, for instance, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has been made a beneficiary of Cy Twombly’s sculptures.

 

It has even been noted that these sculptures raised nobody’s interest in the 1980s when they were made.  

 

Exactly. 

They raise interest now because the artist’s stock has risen and risen over the decades.  Not because something magical has happened to improve their indifferent quality.

 

 

 

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Anabasis, edition 1 of 4, 2011, bronze.

Promised gift of the Cy Twombly Foundation to the Philadelphia Art Museum.  On view 2016/2017.

Anabasis is the name of a history written in 370 BCE by Xenophon describing the effort of King Cyrus the Younger to capture the Persian throne. This was the artist’s last sculpture.

 

I don’t know how reducing portions of the foundational myth and history of the West to scribbles is valuable except in the very, very narrow sense of the bank balances of a tiny group of people in the art world.

 

Cy Twombly’s skill has been to sell this nonsense as art.

 

 

 

 

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The Cy Twombly room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was rehung and new sculpture acquisitions were installed on the occasion of the loan of the main works to the Beaubourg in the winter of 2016/2017.

The paintings are Shades of Night, 1977 and 1978, oil paint and graphite, some with oil stick also, on paper. 

They belong to the Cy Twombly Floundation and were on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

It has to be remembered, also, that as the London Guardian reported, in 2019, American museums devoted only 11% of their acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions to women artists in the whole decade ending 2019.   Even less for artists of colour. 

Even less in the period in which Cy Twombly’s star was rising: 1960-2000. 

 

Would a woman have gotten away with proposing this as art?

 

As explanation of his own work, the artist said:  “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.”Often, he said, he finished a painting in a state of ecstasy and would need to rest in bed for two days.

 

For me, his work expresses the narcissism our age: an expression of the experiences of one man dabbling with our common history and myths and world without any reference to anyone else or to our experience.

Childish to an extreme. A narcissism rotting so many other public areas of our lives.

 

 

Untitled, 1989, drawing paper, tracing paper, shredded drawing paper, glue, acrylic, wax crayon, pencil.

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Cy Twombly: the Narcissism of our Age

  1. omg. Good thing I don’t get to the museums any more, but at least they’re not spending money on that crap if it’s gifted or loaned to them. It will eventually go into their warehouses when they get their heads out of their asses. hahahahah Might take some time. The people in charge don’t dare question anything or they might look less smart than their credulous curators.

    1. The museums and private collectors have been buying Twombly, Chris. In the year in which the Phila Art Museum installed a room of Twombly – which may well have itself been bought – a piece of Twombly’s work reached one million dollars at auction.

      His work is the supreme example of that rule: it is all in whom you know. Just unbelievable!

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