Art: Cy Twombly

by anneMoore on June 25, 2009

My sister had more time than I to tour the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, and stopped into the Cy Twombly show (through Sept. 13.) The next day, she had to go back, and wanted me to see the Twombly show, too. She even persuaded her “love art, dread museums” 10-year-old niece Alex to come along. It’s a brief show, she promised, held in a few rooms: no more than half an hour.

We stayed longer than that, on the insistence of said 10-year-old, who kept circling back to Twombly’s oversized, intensely colorful “peony” paintings. Her priceless observation: “Now I won’t be afraid to make a mess when I make art.”

untitled_secsplsh Twombly’s art is messy: paint drips, phrases scratched into the painted panels are in a shaky hand’s block-print scrawl. Words are misspelled…or are they? A haiku is repeated, carried from one painting to another, to another.

I pictured Twombly’s art as black and white, somewhat bleak. (That’s his earlier work, from the 1950s.) These works, created from 2000-2007, offer a kaleidoscope of color. Peonies are fire-engine red in one work, maroon in another: each are set against intense yellows.

Some peonies are white puffs, like huge cotton balls, the white paint left to drip down over panels of sea green. Alex thought these peonies looked like jellyfish, with their trailing tentacles. I thought the puffs looked like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. Either way, it reminded me that even something we see as horrific — jellyfish count — can also be beautiful.

In the final room, deep green panels are overwritten with looped letters in a ghostly white paint. It’s not graffiti; rather, it’s a painterly technique that dates back to the “automatic” writing of the Surrealists (1920s).

Twombly (b. 1928, American) created the monumental works in this show as an old man; he’s 81 this year. What struck all of us was the physical strength one would need to paint on such a high, broad scale. The peonies and looped letters are huge; you can see their wide brush strokes.

Chicago is the sole venue for this Cy Twombly show: The Natural World, Selected Works, 2000 – 2007. See it.

One response to “Art: Cy Twombly”

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