Cy Twombly

Kunstmuseen Krefeld | Haus Lange

Anyone familiar with the painting of Cy Twombly, an American, will hardly be astonished by the fact that he lives in Europe, or more specifically in Italy. His work not only makes references in terms of content to ancient Mediterranean cultures; it reflects a general attitude toward painting that seems closer to the European than to the American intelligence. Twombly’s sculpture, however, caused astonishment when first displayed, in the late ’70s, in Naples. He had created these works over a period of years—initially, it seems, not for public exhibition. Their materials include found pieces of wood (like that used in vegetable crates) and such commonplace objects as fans, shells, and plastic flowers; almost without exception, they are covered with chalky white paint which does not fully conceal the raw wood. The larger pieces in this reshowing of the sculpture stood on the floor or on small pedestals, while the small sculptures stood on bases. There were also a few drawings, reminiscent of the familiar Twombly, which did not approach the question of the “new” Twombly raised by the sculptures.

At the “Westkunst” exhibition last summer, Twombly’s paintings were shown in the part of the show in which the curator indicated the abandonment of painting. Few visitors got the point at the time; here, the question is posed anew. In these sculptures Twombly really abandons painting and the plane. But the white color, which is so “natural” for Twombly, reveals a unity with his better-known work. The sculpture is in fact a continuation in three dimensions of his painting; it too offers a view into a solipsistic world, but one replete with suggestions of the cultural unity of the human being in both past and future. This ambivalence is the basis of the archaic and utopian character of the work.

As in Twombly’s paintings and drawings, some of the pieces stimulate cultural memory concretely. The fans, the shells, above all the rough cart refer conceptually to a cultural legacy. But the literary component thus provoked soon recedes, and becomes what it truly is: in their unpretentious obviousness, Twombly’s sculptures concretize a spiritual process. By retrieving images from our collective memory, as Gerhard Storck points out in his catalogue essay, they illuminate the basic substance of recurring human attempts at spiritual transcendence.

Twombly’s “memories” are strikingly removed from the pathos often implicit in the use of tradition. The brittle poetry of these sculptures provides a corrective to the occasionally artful delicacy of the paintings. Twombly stresses the ambivalence of his preoccupation with the noncolor white: the raw found wood and the mixture of plaster and sand (the basic medium of the sculptures apart from the found objects) permit the white to shine forth as if from within the materials themselves. Thus the objects are both materially present and suspended in the spiritual, free space of light.

Twombly’s strikingly playful tone here seems to be the sign of a fresh creative drive. Using archetypal images, he provides forms for the substantiation of human consciousness. Everywhere, the sculptures show the mark of the hand; the unabashedly craftsmanlike note struck by these works is an important element of their poetry.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.