To my mind, one does not put oneself in place of the past; one only adds a new link.
Cy Twombly (1928–2011) developed a gestural vocabulary in which each line and color is infused with energy, spirituality, and meaning. Emerging as a prominent figure in the mid-1950s following extensive travels throughout Europe and North Africa, he produced works that are simultaneously personal and mythological, allowing narrative, language, and inner visions to erupt from his intimate, abstract notations.
Twombly was born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, and studied art in Boston and New York, then at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the early 1950s. Although he was a contemporary of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, his work soon digressed from the aims of American postwar abstraction. While prevailing tendencies of the period, such as Pop art, sought to abandon historical narratives altogether, Twombly directed his focus toward ancient, classical, and modern poetic traditions. In the late 1950s he moved to Italy, where he produced colorful, diagrammatic works, such as Ode to Psyche (1960), that feature erotic allusions and sly jokes while maintaining an abstract charge. Shortly thereafter the sebaceous, bright colors of these works gave way to the more austere grays and blues of the “blackboard” paintings, in which terse, white scrawls and loops recall the powdery effects of chalk on a blackboard. As Twombly continued to work in various locations over the following decades—including Rome, Lexington, and his final residence, in Gaeta, Italy—places, landscapes, and natural forms came to figure prominently in his drawings, collages, photographs, and watercolors.
For Twombly, the poetic and the rational were not mutually exclusive. Collage, which engaged him briefly in 1959, then began to appear more regularly in 1971, allies Twombly to the Dadaists and their descendants, such as Rauschenberg and Johns. Visual information from everyday life—travel postcards, reproductions of paintings, scientific illustrations, personal drawings, and more—entered his work as a way to explore the potential of both structure and meaning.
From his student days on, Twombly also captured his daily life in photographs. He recorded the verdant landscapes of Virginia and the coasts of Italy; close-up details of ancient buildings and sculptures; studio interiors; and still lifes of objects and flowers. Beginning in the early 1990s, he used specialized copiers to enlarge his Polaroid images on matte paper, resulting in subtle distortions that approximate the timeless qualities of his paintings and sculptures.
In 1995 the Cy Twombly Gallery opened across the street from the Menil Collection in Houston. A collaboration between the Menil, Dia Foundation, and Twombly himself, the gallery serves as a permanent home for a number of important works made between 1953 and 2004. Included is the series of paintings Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair (1985), which features floral forms in deep reds, pinks, and purples, with quotations from Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, and Giacomo Leopardi. In 2010 Twombly was selected to install a permanent work at the Louvre: a painted ceiling for the Salle des Bronzes. The Ceiling spans 3,750 square feet and pays homage to the greatest Hellenic sculptors, from Phidias to Praxiteles, each of their names inscribed over an immense blue sky populated by floating, cosmic orbs.
In Beauty it is finished: Drawings 1951–2008
March 8–April 25, 2018
West 21st Street, New York
Twombly and the Poets
Anne Boyer, the inaugural winner of the Cy Twombly Award in Poetry, composes a poem in response to Twombly’s Aristaeus Mourning the Loss of His Bees (1973) and introduces a portfolio of the painter’s works accompanied by the poems that inspired them.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2021
The Spring 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Gerhard Richter’s Helen (1963) on its cover.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies
Bobbie Sheng explores the symbiotic relationship between the poet and visual artists of his time and tracks the enduring influence of his poetry on artists working today.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2020
The Summer 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Joan Jonas’s Mirror Piece 1 (1969) on its cover.
The River Café Cookbook
London’s River Café, a culinary mecca perched on a bend in the River Thames, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone and the publication of her cookbook River Café London, cofounder Ruth Rogers sat down with Derek Blasberg to discuss the famed restaurant’s allure.
Sally Mann and Jenny Saville
The two artists discuss being drawn to difficult subjects, the effects of motherhood on their practice, embracing chance, and their shared adoration of Cy Twombly.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Intimate Grandeur: Glenstone Museum
Paul Goldberger tracks the evolution of Mitchell and Emily Rales’s Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Set amid 230 acres of pristine landscape and housing a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art, this graceful complex of pavilions, designed by architects Thomas Phifer and Partners, opened to the public in the fall of 2018.
Cy Twombly: In Beauty it is finished
Mark Francis, director of the exhibition Cy Twombly: In Beauty it is finished, Drawings 1951–2008, describes the impetus for this expansive presentation, the source for its title, and details the stories of some of the works on view.
Cy Twombly: Coronation of Sesostris
Cy Twombly’s Coronation of Sesostris (2000) receives a closer look by Gagosian Director, Mark Francis. In this video, he discusses the history of the work, the myths and poetry embedded within it, and considers its lasting impact.
Katharina Grosse reflects on the work of Cy Twombly.
Olivier Berggruen and Mary Jacobus spoke about the works in the inaugural exhibition at Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill outpost.
FIAC Online 2021
March 2–12, 2021
Gagosian is pleased to present Printemps oublié for the first online edition of FIAC. This curated presentation reflects the dual character of springtime as a reminder of past trials and the harbinger of a vibrant new season to come.
All the artworks will appear on the Gagosian website and a rotating selection will appear in the inaugural FIAC Online Viewing Rooms, from March 4 to 7.
Jeff Koons, Bluebird Planter, 2010–16 © Jeff Koons
Cy Twombly: Sculpture is available for online reading from November 1 through November 30 as part of the From the Library series. The book documents a 2019 exhibition at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London, which brought together important and rarely shown sculptures by the artist. Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry. The book includes a conversation between Nicola Del Roscio, president of the Cy Twombly Foundation; art historian and curator Sir Nicholas Serota; and Gagosian director Mark Francis.
Cy Twombly: Sculpture (London: Gagosian, 2019)
Tri-State Relief Fund
The Willem de Kooning Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Teiger Foundation, and the Cy Twombly Foundation, as part of their respective COVID-19 relief efforts, have established an emergency relief grant program that will provide $1,250,000 in aid to non-salaried visual arts workers in the tristate area who have experienced financial hardship from lack of income or opportunity as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. The program will be administered in partnership with nonprofit arts service organization New York Foundation for the Arts.
Tri-state area of the United States
Drawing at Midcentury
October 31, 2020–June 5, 2021
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Bringing together approximately eighty works on paper from the museum’s collection, Degree Zero illuminates how artists used drawing to forge a new visual language in the aftermath of World War II. Modest, immediate, and direct, drawing was the ideal medium for this period of renewal. The exhibition looks across movements, geographies, and generations to highlight connections between artists who shared common materials and ideas between 1948 and 1961. Work by Jay DeFeo, Willem de Kooning, Alberto Giacometti, and Cy Twombly is included.
Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Florence), 1952, Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2020 The Jay DeFeo Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
How Far Can Creativity Take You
VMFA Fellowship Artists
October 30, 2018–May 16, 2020
VMFA on the Road: An Artmobile for the 21st Century, various locations throughout Virginia
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s new state-of-the-art traveling museum and art studio offers an opportunity for residents of the Commonwealth to see and experience works of art from the collection up close. The inaugural exhibition, How Far Can Creativity Take You, celebrates the role this institution has played in the lives of fellowship recipients. Work by Sally Mann and Cy Twombly is included.
Cy Twombly, The Song of the Border Guard, 1952 © Cy Twombly Foundation
Pollock to Herrera
December 17, 2018–February 4, 2020
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera explores large-scale abstract painting, sculpture, and assemblage, from the 1940s to the twenty-first century, through works from the Met collection and special loans. Many of the artists in the exhibition worked in large formats not only to explore aesthetic elements of line, color, shape, and texture, but also to activate scale’s metaphoric potential to evoke expansive—“epic”—ideas and subjects, including time, history, nature, and existential concerns of the self. Work by Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly is included.
Helen Frankenthaler, Western Dream, 1957, collection of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
November 1, 2019–January 19, 2020
National Portrait Gallery, London
Exploring figuration and portraiture in Cy Twombly’s practice, across the media of painting, drawing, and photography, this exhibition centers on two paintings of the artist’s friends: the set designer Henry Heymann, whom Twombly painted in 1956, and the philanthropist J. Paul Getty Jr., represented in an abstract work from 1967. The exhibition also includes Twombly’s photographs of friends, family, and himself, alongside never-before-seen drawings that reveal the importance of classical art and figuration within his oeuvre.
Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1959 © Cy Twombly Foundation. Photo: Peter Schälchli, Zurich