Dead Blogging the New Cy Twombly Exhibit at MFABoston

Well the Missus and I trundled over to The Fens yesterday to catch Making Past Present: Cy Twombly (through May 7) at the Museum of Fine Arts and say, it was swell except for the parts that were head-scratching.

More on that later. Here’s how the MFA’s overview of the exhibit begins

Unique among his peers at the vanguard of postwar American art, Cy Twombly (1928–2011) sought inspiration from ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. Throughout his career, he created thousands of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and prints inspired by the cultures of the past he encountered through his travels, reading, and collecting. Twombly wanted to demonstrate that “Modern Art isn’t dislocated, but something with roots, tradition, and continuity. For myself,” he wrote, “the past is the source (for all art is vitally contemporary).”

Work by Twombly appears alongside ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern art from the MFA’s collection, as well as objects from Twombly’s personal collection of antiquities, which are on public display for the first time.

While major American artists were moving toward Abstract Expressionism, Twombly moved to Italy, married up, and immersed himself in antiquities.  In 1952, erstwhile fling Robert Rauschenberg took this picture of Twombly standing next to the massive hand of Emperor Constantine in Rome’s Capitoline Museums.

Twombly, who specialized in cryptography during a stint in the Army, adopted a “characteristic, often illegible handwriting that appears throughout [his] paintings, drawings, and sculptures,” echoing ancient inscriptions in stone.

As time went on, a good deal of Twombly’s scrawlings became more legible, although arguably less interesting.

As the exhibit progresses, Twombly’s scrawlings seem to grow more self-referential and self-indulgent, but maybe that’s just me.

(To be fair graf goes here)

To be fair, you’re well advised to seek a second opinion in Boston Globe art critic Murray Whyte’s smart review of the exhibit, which has – to put it mildly – a different perspective on some of the works.

In “Apollo,” 1975, which appears midway through the 150-work exhibition, he scrawls the sun god’s name on the canvas in a rich cobalt hue. It dissembles in a cascade of words etched in pencil that include a string of the God’s aliases, like “Phoebus.” Less clear are random words like “mouse” and “grasshopper,” chaotically dashed off in a corner of the frame. Twombly didn’t aim to be knowable; his works are often opaque and spontaneous-seeming, deliberately rich with beauty and mystery. To me, they often feel like painterly embodiments of the vagaries of lost history, buried too deep for collective memory to access.

(To be sure graf goes here)

To be sure, Whyte has some reservations of his own: “The exhibition, and indeed, Twombly’s entire oeuvre, is chock-a-block with indulgent paeans to ancient poetry and myth, and his fervent desire for connection to art and history. This can get a little eye-rolly, but the extravagant beauty of his wildly expressive mark-making balances things out; you can be deeply with the work, while dipping lightly into the backstory.”

Loose translation: Making Past Present: Cy Twombly is well worth a trundle.

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3 Responses to Dead Blogging the New Cy Twombly Exhibit at MFABoston

  1. Second Cousin Curly says:

    Nobody makes me question my allegiances with respect to contemporary art like Twombly. On the one hand, I am increasingly skeptical of artists who are lauded for their “mark making” (talk about setting the bar low!). On the other hand, there is a visceral charm to Twombly’s pared-down, essentialism that tends to reduce critics to inanities (present company excluded). At its best, Twombly’s work both beguiles and resists analysis. At its worst, it is expensive wallpaper.

  2. Charles M. says:

    Nobody makes me question my allegiances with respect to contemporary art like Twombly. On the one hand, I am increasingly skeptical of artists who are lauded for their “mark making” (talk about setting the bar low!). On the other hand, there is a visceral charm to Twombly’s pared-down, essentialism that tends to reduce critics to inanities (present company excluded). At its best, Twombly’s work both beguiles and resists analysis. At its worst, it is expensive wallpaper.

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