Cy Twombly: Gagosian Gallery

By Kuspit, Donald | Artforum International, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Cy Twombly: Gagosian Gallery


Kuspit, Donald, Artforum International


GAGOSIAN GALLERY

What I like about Cy Twombly's sculptures is the way they subvert all the cliches about his paintings. An original one - if a cliche can be called "original" - is Roland Barthes' notion that the canvases are a kind of writing manque; more ordinary is Arthur Danto's remark that the paintings are "dense with classical allusions" while remaining an "anthology of [abstract expressionist] marks." Peter Selz contradicts both, maintaining that Twombly's "scrawls carry no linguistic meaning" but rather "combine derisive gesture and indeterminate action." I suppose one sees what one is predisposed to see, but looking at Twombly's bronze sculptures one can't help but notice their patina, and realize the extent to which time has been his theme all along, regardless of medium. Twombly's art marks time at its most "primitive" - "duration experienced in the course of action," as Jean Piaget says in another context - which is always "mingled with impressions of expectation and effort." The scrawls on his canvases can be seen as the residue of that duration experienced in painting, and the patina of his sculpture as the apotheosis of primitive time. Twombly's whole art is an attempt to make time, as "experienced internally," in Piaget's words, external and conscious. He succeeds in doing so, with subtle decisiveness, in his sculptures.

In this recent show, ten pieces cast from earlier wood and found-object sculptures were on display, ranging from what is ostensibly an abandoned chariot, treated manneristically - the reins and platform are absurdly elongated, as though made for a Giacometti charioteer - to a group of five flowerlike forms. The flexible stalks of the latter, also elongated, are attached to rigidly upright verticals, as though they were young shoots requiring support. Whether mounted on a geometrical base or emerging from an inchoate mass of material, they also obliquely resemble Giacometti figures with their noble air of petrified abandonment. By contrast, Rotalla, 1990, and an untitled piece from 1997 can be read as pure geometry - both make use of half-circles, mounted upright. In two others (By the Ionian Sea, 1988, and Vulci Chronicle, 1997), the elements register as isolated gestures. Each seems like an actor who discovers his role only when put next to another actor, creating just enough of a formal plot to make a barebones drama.

Twombly's pictorial language, often a barely legible graffiti blur, loses its immediacy in the immensity of his canvases, becoming a temporal whisper. It too reduces to the language of patina, of temporal surface, just as the patina of his sculptures becomes liquid gesture. Patina not only bespeaks the movement of time, but does so in a manner as seductive as a siren song. The lush surface dares to announce the presence of death, if not without the Delphic flourish appropriate to a royal mystery. In the sculptures of flowers or stalks, it is as though Twombly has drained the life from their fragile bodies, leaving behind a perfect shell marked with the auratic patina. This concise act of mourning results in an artistic shadow - a form of immortality that is ironic insofar as it is dependent on mortality. …

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