Cy Unseen


Left: Filmmaker Gerry Fox and artist Tracey Emin. (Photo: Gareth Harris) Right: Dealer Leslie Waddington and Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí. (Photo: Rolf Marriott)

The early signs were not encouraging. A decidedly thin crowd had gathered at the start of the evening for the opening of Cy Twombly’s exhibition at Tate Modern, the artist’s first retrospective in fifteen years. A long row of keen black-shirted waiters greeted the few visitors filing into the upper echelons of the gallery. But where were the rest of the guests? Gradually, as the red wine flowed and the asparagus sticks (vegetables are all the rage at Tate) were devoured, a steady stream of stellar artists and dealers turned up to pay homage to the Rome-based superstar who, characteristically, decided not to attend his own private view. (His son, Alessandro, came instead.)

First up was Conrad Shawcross, the young British sculptor known for his eye-catching wooden contraptions, who was full of beans and more than happy to divulge his numerous future projects. He noted that he’s just about to head across the pond for a six-month residency at New York’s Location One institute, a center devoted to merging art and technology. His US jaunt culminates in a new project to be unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach in partnership with the Paris-based dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. 
Shawcross was the first person that evening to argue that the Twombly show “rises as you go through.” The same point was made by the ubiquitous party boy and dapper coauthor of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, Peter York (“The show gets hotter and hotter”), who grabbed me midway through the exhibition to playfully ask, “How did that octogenarian manage to hang works all the way up there?” Before I could hazard any guesses as to curator Nicholas Serota’s approach, which was widely applauded by the private-view throng, I was waylaid by the porkpie-hatted Gerry Fox. The amiable documentary maker disclosed that he’s just put the finishing touches to a film on Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles for a Tate Modern exhibition launching this autumn. Tracey Emin, fresh from her barnstorming stint at the Folkestone Triennial, joined in the conversation and waxed lyric about the work on view. “I love Poems to the Sea,” she said, referring to a 1959 work hanging in the gallery. Rock star Bryan Ferry ran past and also joined the chorus of approval. “I’m a huge fan,” he shouted over the crowd, while Lady Helen Taylor, wife of dealer Timothy, said that she would definitely be making a return visit. Gagosian director Robin Vousden (predictably) couldn’t utter the superlatives quick enough: “Brilliant . . . glorious . . . exhilarating.”

Left: Artist Dexter Dalwood. (Photo: Gareth Harris) Right: Art historian Tim Marlow with Gagosian's Robin Vousden. (Photo: Rolf Marriott)

Would anyone be prepared to voice criticism? A few rebels could be found out on the Tate’s veranda, a heady haven for art-world smokers. Chirpy artist Dexter Dalwood, resplendent against the backdrop of St. Paul’s cathedral, was less shy than others. “Twombly was fantastic until 1988,” he confidently declared. After a lively debate about the problems of making art when you’re an “art titan” (as Twombly so obviously is), an equally academic discussion ensued with Chris Stephens, a curator of the Tate’s forthcoming Francis Bacon show, about the late British-art bad boy’s love of all things French. Big-name dealers Nicholas Logsdail and Victoria Miro strolled past while photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd and artist Maggi Hambling encircled the canapés.

Distraction then came in the form of artist Ed Linse, a member of the collective Artists Anonymous, who studied at one time with Georg Baselitz at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. When pushed to describe the experience of being taught by the high-profile veteran, Linse would only quip: “The worst thing one could say about Baselitz is what he says himself.” Apparently, even German art giants experience self-doubt.

Gareth Harris

Left: A view of the crowd. (Photo: Rolf Marriott) Right: Tate curator Chris Stephens. (Photo: Gareth Harris)