Cy Twombly, Ferragosto I, 1961, oil paint, wax crayon, and lead pencil on canvas, 65 3⁄8 x 79 3⁄8".

Cy Twombly

Tate Modern

BY WHAT STANDARD are we to comprehend the career of an artist whose significance to artmaking, while everywhere felt, nonetheless manages to elude critical consensus? Cy Twombly has long been such a figure. Many artists (not just painters), now two generations of them, revere him, although the visual evidence of his impact on their work is in some cases difficult to discern. Yet it is safe to say that, while Twombly likewise commands an intense following in the museum community, he has managed to escape the kind of public interest that, over time, has been heaped on his close contemporaries Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. We sometimes speak of Twombly as the most transgressive of the three, although the terms we use to measure transgression as a value must be carefully weighed. Of course, the work’s violation of decorum is striking: crude sexuality; drawing as a form of scrawl; paint

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