Cy Twombly

Centre Pompidou
Place Georges-Pompidou
November 30, 2016–April 24, 2017

View of “Cy Twombly,” 2016–17.

In the November 30, 1978, edition of the SoHo Weekly News, William Zimmer wrote of Cy Twombly’s paintings, “One is reminded of graffiti on men’s room walls . . . brutish and even downright nasty—a compliment.” This institution, having dedicated two prior exhibitions to Twombly’s oeuvre (in 1988 and 2004), offers the first major retrospective of this artist since his death in 2011. This completist array of 140 works gives us expressive canvases, multimedia sculptures, and placid photographs culled from both private and public collections.

Twombly began his career by deploying industrial paint. His early series of untitled works from 1951 are followed by Volubilis and Ouarzazat, both 1953, in white lead pencil and wax crayon. Textural and gruff, these pieces are offset by the stoicism of black-and-white photographs such as Table, Chair and Cloth, Tétouan, 1953, and still-life photos, made at Black Mountain College in 1951, of glass bottles and stained cloth. Twombly’s shift to oil appears to crystallize with Empire of Flora, 1961, and Dutch Interior, 1962—works peppered with frenetically articulated genitalia and breasts. (As Zimmer put it, Twombly has a “strange co-tenancy of the life of the mind with the life of the body.”) The artist’s multicanvas painting cycles entwine measured historical allusions with visceral vigor. In the cycle Nine Discourses on Commodus, 1963—named for the violent Roman emperor—tempestuous crimson, white, pink, and yellow devolve like rabid Impressionist nymphaea against a cool gray.

— Sarah Moroz