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Cy Twombly

Centre Pompidou
Place Georges-Pompidou
November 30–April 24

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

Pieter Vermeersch

Galerie Perrotin | Paris, Turenne
76 rue de Turenne
January 7–March 11

View of “Pieter Vermeersch,” 2017.

Belgian artist Pieter Vermeersch’s second solo show at this gallery’s Paris location comprises seventeen abstract paintings, all Untitled, 2016, made on canvas and marble. They do not readily blend into the architecture of the space—a strategy the artist has employed before.

The show opens with a series of large chromatic fade-outs on canvas. Each painting has been defaced with scratches: meditative gestures that seem to function as indices of the body. In another room of the gallery, two paintings with more rigid monochromatic gradations, created to mirror each other, have been partially obscured by a pair of marble slabs leaning up against them. The artist sets up an interesting dynamic between the permanence of the marble and the impermanence, even feebleness, of human mark-making.

Other pieces highlight the intensity of the rich pigments he uses. Vermeersch’s colors, like blades, cut through the natural patterns of his hard supports, such as onyx and red travertine. His planned abstract forms contrast remarkably with the abstractions—built over hundreds of years—of the stones. In five smaller paint-on-marble works, the artist stops playing illusionistic games. The daubs of oil paint atop smooth, cold planes create perceptual phenomena that are decidedly sculptural.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Maria Chiara Valacchi

Ricardo Brey

Galerie Nathalie Obadia | Rue du Bourg Tibourg
18 rue du Bourg-Tibourg
January 7–February 25

Ricardo Brey, Birdland, 2001, showcase, saxophone, ostrich eggs, coats, rubber tube, buttons, parts, license plates, metal objects, tie, pencils, desk, dishes, 63 x 55 x 55".

Ricardo Brey’s current mixed-media exhibition consists of photographs, text, and various pieces of badly aged man-made detritus, such as old-fashioned metal buttons, broken crockery, threadbare work gloves, and rotting wool coats. The Cuban artist assembles these forlorn pieces of ordinary life around photographs of trees printed on weathered fabric. Almost all of Brey’s utilitarian objects are now useless. But the trees, which fell victim to deforestation in Cuba, retain their nobility and grace—they’ve aged beautifully. Brey’s complex series of works presents the simple message that we’re ruining nature without creating anything of comparable value and longevity.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Birdland, 2001, a vitrine containing some of the aforementioned materials, in addition to shattered ostrich eggs, license plates, pencils, and lost keys: a horn of plenty presented as a spill of irredeemable trash. Many of the items nonetheless hint at interesting histories: The buttons here, though mostly cracked, are intriguingly carved, and the coats, once upon a time, might have been chic. The intricate, thick, and knotted trees depicted in a pair Brey’s collages—Mono-no-aware and Voyage, both 2016—transmute nature’s unpredictability into beautiful forms and curves. Soggy bits of cardboard and rusted metals surround these works. It’s fair to say that the junk—potential tetanus hazards and proof of humanity’s misguidedness—looks considerably older than the ancient trees themselves.

Ana Finel Honigman