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Rosalind E. Krauss

Cy Twombly, Olympia, 1957, oil-based house paint, lead pencil, colored pencil, and wax crayon on canvas, 78 3/4 x 104".

IN 1994, shortly after “Cy Twombly: A Retrospective” opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I had the honor of being conducted through the show by its curator, Kirk Varnedoe. Tracing the works’ progression from the painterly abstraction of the early ’50s to Twombly’s signature style of aggressive graffiti etched into grounds of cream-colored gesso, we came to the 1957 canvas titled Olympia, the name of its dedicatee prominently scrawled in black. Varnedoe told me he had hung the exhibition with Twombly at his side, and that the artist had pointed out to him the almost invisible verb knifed into Olympia’s surface—FUCK—so that the dedication, despite the painting’s official title, actually reads FUCK OLYMPIA.

The pictorial nominalism that Roland Barthes identified in works with performative titles such as To Valéry, 1973; Virgil, 1973; and To Tatlin, 1974—works

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