Why Cy?

MUMOK hosts first ever retrospective of Twombly

His unpretentious style with scribbles and scratchy marks could almost have been left by anyone. Cy Twombly’s paintings look like children’s hand-writing exercises and may be difficult to defend as art.

As soon as you enter the exhibition you are overwhelmed by three gigantic white and blue paintings created by the artist especially for this MUMOK exhibition. What is he telling us with his white calligraphic notes? His ambitions? His dreams? Or simply reassuring his presence?

On viewing other sections of the exhibition, you have a clearer idea of Twombly’s artistic roots. One room is devoted to famous alumni of Black Mountain College, the pioneering institution in Asheville, North Carolina, where the study of art is seen as central to a liberal arts education. Here you experience the freedom of expression that nurtured Twombly’s passion for art when he was a student there in the early 1950s.

Another room is devoted to Classical Modernism showcasing some of the methods Twombly used in his paintings, like spreading the paint with his fingers, for example in the painting from Jean Egger Haus in der Landschaft.

Twombly’s paintings have a calming and liberating effect, a retreat to infancy – simple and trouble-free. His style reveals what a movement was supposed to be. The scribbled brushstrokes leave a mark that treats the white canvas surface like a recording space where everyday life can leave an imprint. His sculptures seem to float, and the lightness of the white with the delicacy of some of the materials, like sticks and plants, creates a contemplative effect.

The individual paintings and sculptures seem to communicate with each other. His sculptures mirror the simplicity of his paintings, resisting expressions of meaning, appearing to assume an entirely unintentional form. It is almost as if his paintings detach from the wall and assume a three-dimensional form.

Some of his paintings reinterpret ancient myths, themes of Mediterranean culture, explained in the audio guides that interpret the symbolism of the paintings like Raphael’s famous fresco in the Vatican that Twombly used as model. The same information is also provided in the free booklet included with entry to the exhibit.

Gaps and open spaces in the walls offered many possibilities and angles for viewing the works, a decision that makes it possible for earlier and recent works to merge together at the viewers will.

In rejecting traditional composition, Cy Twombly has redefined our concept of art. Whether he scribbles, squeezes paint from the tube or loops a white chalk on a blackboard like a rebellious student, he activates our memories through narratives of contemporary life.

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