Magazine article Artforum International

Cy Twombly: Gagosian Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Cy Twombly: Gagosian Gallery

Article excerpt

The big surprise of Cy Twombly's recent show at Gagosian Gallery was his newfound sense of scale. First, although the eight paintings in "Bacchus, Psilax, Mainomenos" are individual works, their perfect fit in the large, squarish gallery made them an environmental piece: If not executed precisely for the space, these horizontal tan canvases covered with swirling red loops were obviously created with it in mind. One sculpture (polychromed, oddly, in red and Granny Smith green) stood like a sentry in the corridor outside the main gallery, but once past the threshold, one was submerged in a sea of red. There was the rich, fully saturated red of Twombly's painted marks, as well as the more subdued, diffuse red of their reflection in the shiny wooden floor. No one has painted redness this way since Barnett Newman in Anna's Light, 1968.

That's for the external scale--but there is also something particular about the internal scale of these bacchanals. For years Twombly's painterly strategy was to stretch the proportional relationship between the size of the marks and that of the canvas to the point of an irreconcilable contradiction. We could either come close and graze the surface of a mural-size work as if it were a miniature, reading its diminutive inscriptions but forgoing our desire to grasp it whole, or we could stand back to get the overall effect, thereby missing the details of the rich graffiti. True, this changed with the so-called Blackboard paintings of the mid-'60s to mid-'70s, but not entirely: In those large works Twombly still courted the intimate space of drawing-as-handwriting, a space to which he fully returned in the mid-'70s and to which he remained faithful until now.

The current works set the clock back to the moment when Twombly bade farewell to the absurd loops of the gray paintings and envision for them a new progeny, one in which squiggling is no longer tied to the limited spread of handwriting. The jump in scale (such that internal and external scale now match) is enhanced by the reduced palette and Twombly's banishment of the quasi-atmospheric modulations engendered by the smudgy erasures in the gray paintings. (Here pentimenti are unhesitant: When dissatisfied with a particular mark, Twombly painted it over with a flat coat of ground color.) We immediately intuit that the huge span of the loops involved the whole body, an athleticism unprecedented in Twombly's entire career and, for that matter, rarely seen in the history of twentieth-century art. …

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