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

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  • Video

    CY TWOMBLY 'Untitled (Bolsena)', 1969

  • Provenance

    Galerie Art in Progress, Munich
    Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg
    Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
    Sale: Christie’s, London, Contemporary Art, December 6, 1983
    Saatchi Collection, London
    Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, April 30, 1991, lot 47
    Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris
    Sale: Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, November 11, 2002, lot 22
    Private Collection
    Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Evening, May 12, 2004, lot 16
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Düsseldorf, Städtischa Kunsthalle, Surrealität, Bildrealität 1924-1974. In Den Unzähligen Bildern des Lebens; Baden-Baden, Stattliche Kunsthalle, December 8, 1974 – February 2, 1975
    Munich, Galerie Art in Progress, Cy Twombly: Grey Paintings + Gouaches, March 6 – April 14, 1975
    London, The Saatchi Collection, Donald Judd, Brice Marden, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, March – October, 1985
    London, The Tate Gallery, Past Present Future; A New Display of the Collection, January 1990
    Paris, Galerie Karsten Greve, Cy Twombly. Peintures, Oeuvres sur Papier et Sculptures, May 29 – October 20, 1993

  • Literature

    J. Harten, Surrealität, Bildrealität 1924-1974. In Den Unzähligen Bildern des Lebens, Düsseldorf, Die Kunsthalle, 1975, no. 366, p. 153 (illustrated)
    Cy Twombly: Grey Paintings + Gouaches, Munich, Galerie Art in Progress, 1975, no. 1 (illustrated)
    R. Rosenblum, “Cy Twombly,” Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, New York, 1984, vol. 2, pl. 67, n.p., comm. p. 27
    P. Schjeldahl, “Painter’s Painter,” in Interview, July, 1993, p.29 (illustrated)
    H. Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of The Paintings, Volume III, 1966-1971, Munich, 1982, no. 79, p. 178-179 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I like to work on several paintings simultaneously because you are not bound. You can go from one to another and if you get strength in one you can carry it to the other, they are not isolated. Anyway they are a sequence; they are not individual, isolated images…Like when I painted the Bolsena paintings, it was a very long big room and they were all around the room.


    (Cy Twombly in an interview with Nick Serota, Writings: Cycles and Seasons, Rome, June 2008).

    Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, reveals a multifaceted commentary on narrative through the study of movement, topography and temporality. From the artist’s grey period (1966-1970), the present lot epitomizes Twombly’s signature use of large-scale canvases with monochromatic backgrounds, punctuated with sporadic washes of light grey. Resembling erased chalk, the lyrical white lines inscribed across the surface have appropriately evoked the descriptive term “blackboard” painting. On a broader scale, the notion of a blackboard is cohesive within Twombly’s body of work; the artist is known for his investigation of semiotics and the study of linguistics. In Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, scrawled white lines are coded, loaded with the potential of being received with limitless meaning and narrative. Considering the use of text as a possible antithesis to abstract expressionism, Twombly states: “I never separated painting and literature because I’ve always used reference… I’m not an abstractionist completely. There has to be a history behind the thought.” (Cy Twombly, in an interview with N. Serota, Writings: Cycles and Seasons, Rome, June 2008). It is precisely this reference and the notion of history that allows narrative to interact with the present lot. Moreover, it is reference that defines Twombly’s practice as conceptually driven expressionism as the artist navigated primitivism, modernity and the philosophy of perception.

    After attending Black Mountain College, Twombly traveled to North Africa with Robert Rauschenberg, an experience that would inspire the artist’s practice for decades. In 1957, five years after his trip to Africa, Twombly traveled to Rome, where the influence of landscape, antiquity, myth and literature would become integrated into his artistic expression. Ultimately, this convergence would give way to Twombly’s Bolsena series, produced during his stay at the Lago di Bolsena, a town historically known for its position along the ancient Roman route, Via Cassia. Here, the past was “apprehended as the autograph of a language of human action... the topos of a world of thought imbued with the forms and reflections of its own life.” (H. Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Vol III, 1966-1971, p.24). In this way, Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, can be understood as topography and landscape, read as an abstract map of multiple histories, where draftsman-like lines, inscribed numbers, and washes of grey suggest a thinly veiled accumulation of fragmentation, the character of a palimpsest, the topography of imagination, and uninhabitable ruins in fixed material form. Giving way to the performative gesture, the Bolsena series was created in a large long room in which the artist was free to work simultaneously on several pieces, untethered, mapping the autobiographical into practice while developing a sequence rather than isolated artworks.

    While Twombly dismissed comparisons of his work to graffiti, Rosalind Krauss nonetheless pressed such comparison as a (mis)interpretation of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Krauss noted Twombly’s gestures as “performative, suspending representation in favor of action: I mark you, I cancel you, I dirty you… convert[ing] the present tense of the index: it is the trace of an event, torn away from the presence of the marker.” (R. Krauss, “Cy was Here; Cy’s Up,” Artforum International, vol. 33, no.1, September 1994). Indeed, gazing across Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, one encounters the gestural actions described by Krauss: three white horizontally scrawled lines spanning from left to right of the canvas; two of these lines run across the canvas fractured by a small space at the center of the composition. Parallel to this fractured line runs another long, slightly divergent horizontal stroke of white also interrupted by gestures of erasure.

    Near the right side of the composition, the bottom line seems to have been painted over in dark grey, another gesture of erasure, subsequently followed by its reassertion. Short scattered vertical strokes of white and numerical scrawls accompany the horizontal plane. A chalky grey wash spreads over the bottom line and sweeps diagonally toward the bottom right, thinly veiling the white sloping lines that lie beneath it. The gestural qualities of Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, are certainly performative and underscore the notion of temporality, however, as Heiner Bastian argued, the “principle of line itself [is] form generative.” (H. Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Vol III, 1966-1971, p. 21). That is to say, in even the simplest of forms representation is never fully suspended.

    Not only does narrative resonate through the performative gesture visible in Twombly’s paintings, it also manifests itself through the desire to read the white lines and inscriptions in Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, as one would a passage. Here, the aesthetic relation between artist and object, object and subject and the “I and You”, expands from person to person – to person to thing. Whether it is by physically bringing one’s gaze to a discerning distance of an artwork and projecting a narrative onto it, conflating temporalities and biographies; understanding the testimonial agency of a work; or renegotiating its meaning according to a sense of nostalgia, reading engages the viewer and the present lot in an exchange. The “I and You” relationship is a reflection of trace and the temporal present. In this case, language verges on the non-verbal, stripped down to the most minimal yet nuanced form of communication.

    Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, could convey a certain naïveté– the mimetic attempt of a child learning to write– hence the attribution of the blackboard, a receptor and transmitter of symbols and meaning– far from non-representational. Within Twombly’s pseudo-proto-script, however, lies the latent suggestion of another early symbol of communication, the Rosetta stone. As a monument to semantics, the Rosetta stone, with its white inscriptions incised into grey granodiorite is the coded medium par excellence; revealing three inscribed languages, Ancient Egyptian, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. The composition of Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, comprising of three prominent horizontal white lines, vertical dashes, and numbers floating above and below the lines, emphasize the concept of identifying forms of communication in written expression without necessarily being able to fully grasp the meaning. Indeed, Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, is a repetition of communication through variation and referent, through the projection of associations and narrative.

    While the title of the present lot, Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, physically situates the artist within place and time, at the Lago di Bolsena, it additionally situates itself as an autobiographical link between two of Twombly’s largest works, Treatise on the Veil, 1968, and Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), 1970. These two large-scale grey-ground works simultaneously capture narrative in music and motion as they reference French composer Henri Pierre’s Musique concrète composition The Veil of Orpheus, produced in 1951-53. Musique concrète is made up of fragments of natural and synthetic sounds, paired with ghostly vocals recorded in reverse tape effect. The subject matter of Pierre’s fifteen minute long composition is the myth of Orpheus, in which Orpheus travels into Hades to retrieve his love, Eurydice, and bring her back to earth. Orpheus was able to subdue and charm his way into the underworld by playing music on his lyre, convincing the gods of the underworld to allow him to claim Eurydice. Of course, the myth ends in tragic fashion, which is successfully captured by Pierre’s score and revisited by Twombly.

    Pierre’s The Veil of Orpheus features a recording of cloth being torn and cavernous echoes, reinterpreted by Twombly in Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), 1970, through a broad horizontal plane of grey, nearly 10 feet tall and over 30 feet wide, mapped with temporal signs, mathematical measurements that could simultaneously reference the reading of sheet music and fragmentation of cloth. The artist conveys movement and a sense of time through the use of white lines and numbers inscribed onto the cavernous depth of the grey washed background. This reference to both myth and musical score evoke sequence, a rhythmic variance beginning with the creation of Treatise on the Veil, 1968, in New York. The first Treatise on the Veil is comprised of six equal parts, each measuring 100 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches, created and exhibited in progression in Twombly’s signature blackboard style, white inscriptions moving across six grey-ground canvases. While subject matter deviates with Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, it suggests a continuum through the use of color, gesture, and the use of line resembling a musical score. The work conveys a kind of imaginary topography further linking music, mythological landscape and the artist’s autobiographical landscape, travelling from New York to Bolsena, and then to Rome, where he would complete Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), 1970.

    Reflecting on travel, performance, autobiography, history and myth, the present lot, Untitled (Bolsena), 1969, can be observed as a palimpsest. Various washes of grey act as both the multilayered depth of surface and surface cover. The grey ground acts as a communicative gesture as much as the white lines scrawled across its surface. If Twombly’s earlier works seemed to “avoid the autonomous psychographic dictates of gesture” in favor of maintaining the “presence of a reflected structure of line,” then the mutual exclusivity of such characteristics were certainly reconsidered when painting the Bolsena series. (H. Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Vol III, 1966-1971, p.21). Here, the structure of white lines serve to illuminate the gestural application of grey ground without being absorbed by it; the index of past and present, a narrative formed through the murmurs of erasure.

  • 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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Untitled (Bolsena)

oil based house paint, wax crayon, and lead pencil on canvas
79 x 94 3/4 in. (200.7 x 240.5 cm)
Signed, titled, inscribed, and dated “Cy Twombly, Untitled, Grey Painting, (Bolsena, May 1969) on a label affixed to the reverse.

$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

Sold for $6,242,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York