Cy Twombly - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, November 11, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne
    Private Collection, Europe
    Christie's, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art, November 11, 2010, lot 228
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    This work will be included in the forthcoming volume Catalogue Raisonné of Cy Twombly - Works on Paper.

  • Catalogue Essay

    “It's instinctive in a certain kind of painting, not as if you were painting an object or special things, but it's like coming through the nervous system. It's like a nervous system. It's not described, it's happening.”

    - Cy Twombly (in an interview with D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 179)

    A passionately gestural, erotic and dynamic combination of dramatic, freehand drawing and energetic masses of pink and black crayon and pencil, Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1969, represents a transformative period in the artist’s career. From his emergence into the vibrant New York art world of the 1950s, Twombly’s wild, seemingly erratic paintings and drawings confounded fellow artists and critics alike, simultaneously referencing and renouncing the teachings of the New York School. Working alongside his one-time partner, Robert Rauschenberg, and sharing a studio with Jasper Johns, Twombly and his peers ushered into the artistic community a revitalized form of abstraction, filling canvases with thin, wavering lines, creating what the artist himself called the “…fusing of ideas, fusing of feelings, fusing projected on atmosphere.” (A. Sherwood Pundyk, "Cy Twombly: Sculpture," The Brooklyn Rail (September 2011))

    Untitled, 1969, exemplifies the growing complexity and lyricism evident in the evolution of Twombly’s work throughout the 1960s. Initially concerned with the simple, linear symbolism of early tribal markings, Twombly’s early, sparse compositions reflect not only his desire to reference a past, primal simplicity of form and meaning, but also his own experience as an army cryptographer – a profession in which simple signals and symbolic devices implied a full spectrum of nuanced meaning. Delineating the genesis of Twombly’s gestural representations, Katherina Schmidt writes, “His special medium is writing. Starting out from purely graphic marks, he developed a kind of meta-script in which abbreviated signs, hatchings, loops, numbers and the simplest of pictographs spread throughout the picture plane in a process of incessant movement, repeatedly subverted by erasures. Eventually, this metamorphosed into script itself.” ("Immortal and Eternally Young. Figures from classical mythology in the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly", in Nicholas Cullinan (ed.), Twombly and Poussin – Arcadian Painters. London: Dulwich Picture Gallery/Paul Holberton Publishing, 2011) Freeing himself of pre-conceived artistic notions and his own learned talent, the artist sought to “…disconnect…his hand from his eye” in an unfettered, almost subconscious manner – a technique espoused by contemporary Willem de Kooning. (J. Lawrence, "Cy Twombly's Cryptic Nature," in Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection, London and New York, p. 13) Nowhere is Twombly’s freehand “script” more apparent than in the present work, in which an enlivened and intimate language leaps forth from the paper, inviting us to engage the artist’s forms in our own connotative dialogue of representation.

    Incorporating these numeric, figurative and literal devices into his work with increased fervor as the 1960s drew to a close, Twombly maintained a continuity of allusion to mythological and literary figures past, even as he eschewed traditional practice. From his relocation to Italy in 1957, the artist began an exploration of antiquity, its themes and contemporary relevance, that would characterize much of his work over the next decade. In Untitled, 1969, explicitly erotic renderings of a succession of female breasts, drawn as though moving through the picture, are punctuated by phallic figures encroaching upon the central feminine component. Framed by mathematical figures, both geometric in form and evidently numeric, Untitled intimates a sense of controlled chaos that Twombly’s conceivably architectural elements – denoted by “entrance”, “2 x 16” and “2 miles” – impose in a frenetic, sexualized cloud of energy. One of the most prevalent, recurring themes in Twombly’s work from this era, the artist’s treatment of the erotic elements in Untitled keenly suggests the paradigms offered by the oft-cited Birth of Venus. Alternatively, the artist’s Dionysian juxtaposition of the female and male components within his work intimate a more sinister, violent allegory – that of the Rape of Europa. Returning time and again to the eternal themes of birth, death, sex, violence and love, Twombly both symbolically and physically captures the complex interaction of the emotions associated with the cycle of life.

    Enigmatic both in execution and essence, Twombly imbues his work with a thoughtful rhetoric that references past and present, releasing the mind – and the hand - from pre-dispositions while re-imagining a visual language. Though Twombly often, as in Untitled, enacts his theory in graffiti-like, abstract scrawl, his practice and form suggest a depth of meaning beyond the physicality of consummation. Illuminating our understanding of his intention, in a 2007 interview with Nicholas Serota, the artist noted, “Graffiti is linear and it's done with a pencil, and it's like writing on walls. But in my paintings it's more lyrical.” (“History behind the thought”, Interview with Cy Twombly, Rome, 2007) Informed, then, by the stories of human history, Twombly’s ideas achieved reality only in the artist’s natural state; his wild, seemingly erratic visual gestures are a function a liberated pencil meeting its paper – coherent chaos. Untitled, 1969, is a sensual and sublime symbolic mirage – one in which Twombly transcends purpose and spontaneity to dynamically connect the human experience to that of the visual.

  • 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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graphite, wax crayon, felt-tip pen and colored pencil on paper
23 x 30 3/4 in. (58.4 x 78.1 cm.)

$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM