"Cy Twombly: The Sculpture"

By Cooper, Harry | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

"Cy Twombly: The Sculpture"


Cooper, Harry, Artforum International


KUNSTMUSEUM BASEL

"One must desire the ultimate essence even if it is 'contaminated,"' Cy Twombly proclaimed in a rare published statement in 1957. The year is significant, for he had just begun a twenty-year leave from sculpture to focus on painting. This shift is mirrored in the aphorism itself, as it slides from "essence," the territory of Twombly's sculpture, to "contamination," which has more to do with his painting. To put it another way, Twombly's sculptures have the purity that his paintings always seem to defile.

Of course, that states the opposition too strongly. Twombly's sculptures are frontal in their address, making pictures in the air. They often share the iconography of his paintings, as the artist's 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York made clear. And they incorporate the secondary hardware of painting--picture wire, eye screws, nails, framing strips, paint buckets, storage crates-- as if admitting their ancillary status.

The virtue of this first major retrospective of Twombly's sculpture, curated by Katharina Schmidt at the Kunstmuseum Basel and now on view at the Menil Collection in Houston, is that the sculptures, sixty-six of them, are on their own and come into their own, emerging as a fundamentally different enterprise from the paintings.

In fact, the sculptures execute a neat reversal on the paintings, one that Christian Klemm pinpoints in an essay for the catalogue. In the paintings, the color white provides a ground for gritty, energetic graffiti; in the sculptures, it coats the object-signs and "transports them into the gravity-free, light-filled space of poetic association." To imagine this space, think of the artificial flower that Mondrian painted white and posted in the foyer of his Paris studio to signal that the visitor was entering another realm. (Does Twombly know Andre Kertesz's photograph of the painted bloom?)

The first works had an interactive complexity that Robert Rauschenberg ran with but Twombly soon abandoned. Untitled, 1954, one of the few early sculptures extant, is all mirrors and swinging parts. Coming first in the exhibition, it made everything that followed seem eerily still--a parade of mute chariots, panpipes, plants, burial mounds, abstract figures, diverse monuments, geometrical theorems. In representing an ancient Mediterranean, Twombly's sculptures make a civilization of their own.

Two caveats: It seems wrong to say "sculptures," for there is no literal sculpting (carving) here, and very little modeling either, but only binding, trussing, nailing, pinning, wedging, balancing, twisting, snapping, and crumpling. And it seems wrong to say "representing," for these objects (when they work) suspend disbelief, putting us in the presence not just of an image but somehow of the thing itself. To borrow the title of Kendall Walton's recent treatise on aesthetics, Twombly's three-dimensional work is "mimesis as make-believe": It partakes of the child's-play impulse to suspend disbelief. What makes the trick work is that the thing itself is often a representation--a figurine, toy, relic, or fossil--so all Twombly needs to provide is the illusion of a model boat, not a real boat. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"Cy Twombly: The Sculpture"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.