Cy Twombly at the Centre Pompidou

Paris, Centre Pompidou, hasta el 24 de abril

For Cy Twombly, a mark was a mark, whether painted on canvas or written in a book. Like a graffiti artist, he tip-toed along the border of writing and painting, ultimately settling in the primal space where the urge to make one’s mark first begins to form. The Centre Pompidou’s engrossing Twombly retrospective, the first since the artist’s death in 2011, reveals how the melodramatic literary masters who inspired him most—Homer, Rilke, Sappho, Catullus—drew out a savage painter of sex, death, and violence.
At Twombly’s most poignant, his work picks up at the point where words fail us, such as his 1971 “Nini’s Painting,” a love letter to his friend Nini Pirandello that appears in the exhibition’s middle phase. In the wake of her suicide, Twombly scribbled a hurricane of blue and pink marks on a canvas, a testament to the urge to express one’s pain creatively, and the impossibility of saying anything at all.

The rare places where Twombly’s painting veers into figuration are in his depictions of male genitalia, usually done in a childlike scribble that gives them a perverse potency. His work moves in and out of abstraction, sometimes within a single series, such as with his “Nine Discourses on Commodus,” 1962–63, which look like abstract red splotches until one discovers that the inspiration for the series came from the murder of John F. Kennedy.

The show was not an easy one to organize. Twombly’s exorbitant prices—his auction record was set at $70 million in 2015, four years after his death, though he was already considered an expensive artist during his lifetime—made it difficult for curators to secure loans. But the museum did manage to transport Twombly’s 10-canvas history of the Trojan War, “Fifty Days at Iliam,” 1977-78, which has never been shown in Europe nor left its home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since the late 1980s.

The bleeding flowers, dripping crimson loop de loops, and eye-searing neon pigments that appear in the show’s final chapter reminds viewers that Twombly was an impassioned virtuoso until the very end. It is a pity that the works here will be dispersed back into exclusive collections around the world rather than traveling to a museum beyond the Pompidou. Those of us left speechless by the political upheavals in America, and across the globe, could use Twombly’s wordless wisdom right about now.

Contemporary Arts News Features Visual Arts Rachel Corbett Modern Painters Cy Twombly Centre Pompidou Nini Pirandello Homer

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