Critics’ Picks

Cy Twombly, The Rose, 2008, acrylic on wooden panel, 8' 2“ x  24' 3”.

Cy Twombly, The Rose, 2008, acrylic on wooden panel, 8' 2“ x 24' 3”.


Cy Twombly

Gagosian Gallery
6-24 Britannia Street
February 12–May 9, 2009

In each of the five paintings in Cy Twombly’s latest exhibition, three big roses and a scribbled fragment of Rilke’s poem cycle “Les Roses” are suspended against a chalky background. All the paintings have floral color schemes in plausible shades except the last work, in which the flowers seem more like blackish-purple and green bruises. The background hue—the same in all the works—is somewhere between turquoise and a fresco’s pale sky. The flowers push and pull against the blue-green backdrops, then, lower on the canvases, begin to dissolve and run in bright trails. In most of the paintings, Rilke’s stanzas are written and overwritten until they’re almost illegible. The words and bursts of color combine to set up layered references—to real roses but also to archetypal blooms in art and literature and to Twombly’s own earlier use of floral motifs. Each piece is big enough to envelop the viewer, and they work together as a total painted environment: Evenly spaced around the room, they repeat themselves with slight, perfectly pitched variations, the flowers seeming to pulsate as rhythmically as the poetry next to them. In the end, Twombly’s delicate balance between word, image, space, color, paint, and history shines through.