New York

Cy Twombly

Vrej Bahgoomian Gallery

Since the Abstract Expressionist era, Cy Twombly has kept the question of draftsmanship alive in his work—but with an appropriately changed, or reversed, focus. His drawings and drawinglike paintings represent not external sense objects but the state of mind that is sensing. He draws the inside of the mind as it grapples with data that seems to be coming in from outside. And he finds this mind to be like a child’s, trying to give rudimentary shape to a chaotic flow of impressions which are almost, but not quite, coagulating into concepts.

The 15 works in this exhibition, ranging in date from 1958 to 1985, convey a sense of the developmental process the work has undergone. In the earlier pieces such as Untitled, 1959, and Roma, 1962, the mind that is trying to give shape to the world seeks to grasp it in inchoate doodles. Energies flowing too quickly to take definite shape are interspersed with occasional random words and numbers that float disconnectedly around the field, unable to establish order. Later works, such as two untitled works from 1969, look like rudimentary penmanship lessons. The mind learns to write and to order space in the artificial way of lined paper by means of swirling strokes; words and names begin to pile up. In Untitled, 1972, the names of various other artists fill the screen, but these alternative subjectivities still fail to reach any outer connectedness. The concept of intersubjectivity, familiar from British analytic philosophers, comes to serve as a substitute for an elusive objectivity. In still later works, such as Untitled, 1974, Twombly introduces more representational tools, increasing his emphasis on color and montage elements to bring the outside world in, not through representation, but through presentation. The works are still loosely shaped; they bear a sense of natural process, like gradually evolved rust patterns. Twombly maintains the organic flow of indeterminate meanings represented by Pollock’s allover field in the midst of his own attempts at primary visual and syntactic conceptualization. Most recently, his work has shown a more consistent ordering of elements. Protea, 1985, for example, shows its own name, an image of a flower, and the scrawled words “Key West.” The coherence of the three stands like a triumphantly brandished memorial of a briefly grasped and fleetingly ordered moment.

Thomas McEvilley