Cy Twombly - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    I like the image of seeing just the paintings you have with a few drawings—the obsessive austerity of the idea rather than variation…


    (Cy Twombly, quoted in an essay by Kirk Varnedoe “Inscriptions in Arcadia”, Cy Twombly, New York, 1994, p. 32).

    Cy Twombly’s unceasing artistic effort was that of honesty; unrestrained communication of the artist’s intellect and his hand. During his enormously prolific career, which blazed through the space of seven decades, Twombly’s work has never been less than harrowingly controversial, yet, for the believer, nothing less than the height of artistic catharsis. From his early canvases that echo the gestural Expressionism of Franz Kline, through his final works executed just before his death this past year, Twombly’s mission was the poetry of a work that speaks for itself. During one of his many sojourns in Italy, in the late 1950s through early 1960s, Twombly reached his painterly maturation. Broken free from the movements that preceded him, and looking toward the future with a bold eye, Twombly had the courage to abandon a reliance on color in favor of a communion with the spiritual quality of white. In the present lot, Untitled, 1960, Twombly’s delicate relationship with a stark canvas provides a remarkable proving ground for the richness of his signature mythology.

    Prior to his time in Italy, Twombly’s work mainly concerned itself with the glorification of the painted or written line. Suddenly the pictorial was no longer a signifier—rather, it was an end in itself and representative of nothing other than the contours of its own figure. The formation of Twombly’s technique was heavily influenced by his partnership with Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he both traveled and shared a studio. A piece from this period, Untitled (Grottaferrata, Italy), 1957, demonstrates Twombly’s early fascination with the inherent importance of the written line, as each stroke possesses a history of its own, apart from forming any larger picture.

    As he traveled to Rome in 1959, Twombly’s canvases began to exhibit a wealthier symbolic content, gleaning a fullness of sign and symbolism from the climate of plenty. Upon tracts of blank or sometimes white painted canvas, Twombly created coalescences of myriad symbols and figures. While one could choose to view each gesture on its own and engage in a decoding project, Twombly himself served as an army cryptologist, the interplay of these many pictorial wonders becomes far more wondrous than each piece considered individually. While the Expressionists used color to bridge the gap between the mind and the hand, Twombly achieves a similar effect with line. It is as if each canvas forms a tale in the grand mythology of Twombly’s artistic narrative. In addition, with his succinct use of color, Twombly gives greater weight to the very limited and controlled portions of chromatic diversity, heightening the impact of both the spare canvas and the small areas of brightness.

    Untitled, 1960, is unique in its contained yet intricate scope. Twombly’s materials seem almost quintessentially American in their medium; the line of the lead pencil, the scrawl of the wax crayon, and the topographical texture of his house paint all possess qualities of the schoolhouse and the suburban landscape. And, though they are often used to realize the dreams of the student and the handyman, here Twombly employs them to create a poetic dream of symbol and silence. Upon his canvas, a whirl of motif and signature scrawl forms a delightful marriage of Twombly’s myriad artistic projects. While the boldest marks clearly may be the freeform lines that stretch the length of the picture from top-right to bottom left, they suggest a certain figure in their pattern. The concentric lines of the lower-right hand portion of the painting come to be players in a wider scheme of interacting symbols. Among others, we spot a charming gesture of Americana in what resembles a military notation in the top central area, blockaded by several lines as if Twombly’s playbook is that of his artistic poetry. In addition, many darkened spots and even bright red figures looming on the left give us an impression of the signs’ friendly cohabitation. It is as if they have banded together, living in a fantasy land defined by the peaks and valleys of white paint. As a final mark of seamless integration, the artist’s name and date appear on the top left corner of the painting, another player in the dream that envelops it.

    For Twombly, the interaction of a bright white canvas and his rich symbolbased mythology comes to be a reliable form of his authentic hand. His choice of white, influenced by his fascination with the poetry of the French poet Stephane Mallarme, lays out a state of pure intellect, one where communication of the subconscious and the artist’s hand have a constructive friendship. On a background of white, “this space represents poetic imagination: cascades of numbers, notations, signs and markings of all kind stream across the canvas in an epigrammatic architecture of movement.” (H. Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings—Volume 1: 1948-1960, Munich, 1992, p. 26). In Untitled, 1960, Twombly has succeeded in bringing together two of greatest achievements of human beings—that of the intellectual capacity for dreaming,
    and the manifestation of the dream itself.

    Perhaps the most important element of the present lot is that it comes from a phase of Twombly’s career that signaled his unrivaled originality: “These are parts of a general practice by which Twombly juxtaposes motifs of the irregular, organic, and intuitional with marks connoting the systematic, unyielding, and cerebral.” (Kirk Varnedoe, “Inscriptions in Arcadia”, Cy Twombly, New York, 1994, p. 32). In other words, on this particular canvas, Twombly shows us his unrelenting resolve to be uncompromising in his art. Untitled, 1960, possesses a bravery that is unsurpassed in the fifty years since it was created.

  • Artist Biography

    Cy Twombly

    American • 1928 - 2011

    Cy Twombly emerged in the mid-1950s alongside New York artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. While at first developing a graffiti-like style influenced by Abstract Expressionist automatism–having notably studied under Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell at the legendary Black Mountain College between 1951 and 1952–Twombly was a prominent figure in the new generation of artists that challenged the abstract orthodoxy of the New York School. Twombly developed a highly unique pictorial language that found its purest expression upon his life-defining move to Rome in 1957. Simultaneously invoking classical history, poetry, mythology and his own contemporary lived experience, Twombly's visual idiom is distinguished by a remarkable vocabulary of signs and marks and the fusion of word and text. 

    Cy Twombly produced graffiti-like paintings that were inspired by the work of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. His gestural forms of lines, drips and splattering were at first not well-received, but the artist later became known as the leader of the estrangement from the Abstract Expressionism movement. Full of energy and rawness, Twombly's pieces are reminiscent of childhood sketches and reveal his inspiration from mythology and poetry.

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lead pencil, wax crayon, and oil based house paint on canvas
11 3/4 x 15 5/8 in. (29.8 x 39.7 cm)
Signed and dated “Cy Twombly, Nov. 30, 1960” upper left.
This work has been reviewed by the Cy Twombly Foundation and has been endorsed with the identification number P01-60.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,314,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York