Cy Twombly - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Cy Twombly, 'Untitled', Lot 35

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Vrej Baghoomian, Inc., New York
    Private Collection
    Sotheby's, New York, November 8, 1989, lot 51
    C-Two Network Co. Ltd., Tokyo
    Sotheby's, New York, February 25, 1994, lot 60
    Gallery Mukai, Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Vrej Baghoomian, Inc., Cy Twombly, September 24 - October 22, 1988, n.p. (illustrated, cover)

  • Literature

    Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings, Cat. Rais. Vol. 4 1964-1969, New York, 2014, no. 240, p. 204 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Twombly has descended from the heights of a mature realized art to the elemental beginnings. After the capitulation of a vast style, Twombly has learned to write again” – Robert Pincus-Witten, art critic and curator

    Lyrical yet elegant, penetrable yet ineffable, Untitled, 1969 captures Cy Twombly’s idiosyncratic ability to emanate the emotional power of poeticism and gesture through painting. In Untitled, the artist has filled the desert-colored expanse with numerous layers of free-flowing cobalt blue coils reminiscent of cursive handwriting despite their illegibility. Birthed during the just five-year production of his acclaimed blackboard works, the work features the same enigmatic, activated loops that characterize the series but shifts the “writing” surface from a blackboard to a notebook page. After embarking on this chapter in 1966, Twombly had hit his artistic stride by 1969, and paintings from that year are held in preeminent institutions such as the Dia Center for the Arts, New York; Broad Collection, Los Angeles; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Kunstmuseum Basel. Reflective of his preoccupation with art history and exploration of then-in-vogue Minimalism, Untitled embodies Twombly’s transition from the vivid and climactic European narratives that defined his artistic production in the early 1960s to an investigation of the inimitable and evocative capacity of infinite spirals on a page.

    Though he was principally based in Italy since 1957, Twombly painted Untitled in his Manhattan studio, his second home during the late 1960s because “if you really are interested in being in the art world,” he once explained, “you are in New York, not in Gaeta” (Cy Twombly, quoted in Alan Cowell, “Art: The Grandaddy of Disorder”, The New York Times, September 18, 1994, online). The American artistic climate during the second half of the decade was characterized by the unadorned coolness and clarity of Minimalism, which was rapidly dominating both the institutional and commercial focus of the art world; meanwhile, the period between 1966 to 1971 marked Twombly’s swift progression toward his acclaimed, mesmerizing calligraphic paintings and drawings following his precipitate abandonment of the ecstatic and vibrant so-called “Baroque paintings.” While Twombly’s interests in the emotion-charged poignancy of paint dramatically differed from Minimalists’ purely phenomenological concerns, the movement’s ethos can still be subtly detected in Untitled’s repetition of a single motif and intention to reduce painting to its most essential form.

    Despite these formal affinities with Minimalism, the work principally betrays Twombly’s persistent engagement with Italian visual culture even from across the world, echoing Leonardo da Vinci’s frightful Deluge drawings of cataclysmic storms that he likely executed in the last years of his life. The resemblance between both sets of logarithmic spirals is extremely conspicuous, portraying the same sense of motion within a pictorial space that captivated Marcel Duchamp and the Italian Futurists. By arriving at contemporaneous aesthetics through Renaissance art history, Untitled functions as the fulcrum between his embrace of European heritage and his exposure to the newly developed vocabulary of Minimalism.

    Moreover, in its simultaneous expressivity and ineffability, Untitled betrays the affinity of Twombly’s poetic approach to that of Abstract Expressionism; it is unsurprising, then, that his visual language has specifically and consistently been likened to the intimately charged lyricism of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Embodying more than just formal similarities, however, Untitled is also reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism’s predecessor: the Surrealists’ rigorous investigation of automatic drawing spearheaded by the group’s staunch leader, André Breton. In these experiments, the Surrealists would approach paper with no preconceived composition, subject, or motif in mind, channeling their subconscious minds—as a psychic would with a supernatural spirit—to move their pens rapidly around the surface in front of them, such as in Automatic Drawing, 1924, The Museum of Modern Art, New York by the concept’s most enthusiastic employer, André Masson. Though there is a similar sense of profound interiority in Twombly’s “scribble” works—with its potent immediacy further accentuated by the use of paper in Untitled—the artist was very much in charge of his mark-making, meditatively considering not only the size or number of cylindrical forms, but also the pressure and sensitivity behind the execution of each stroke. In this sense, Untitled elegantly coalesces the subliminal mysticism of Surrealist automatism with Abstract Expressionism’s conviction of the individual personality and gestural intentionality of each mark.

    By envisioning signs, symbols, gestures that are impossible to translate into words, Untitled evinces Twombly’s cognizance that certain frameworks exist within the language, or vocabulary, of drawing that are at least as intricate or enigmatic as those of literature or any form of spoken communication. It is this essence—an ironically true understanding between artist and viewer that is facilitated by these continuous, illegible loops—that constitutes Untitled’s inimitable nature. Inspired by a few of Twombly’s drawings, renowned French philosopher Roland Barthes famously recorded his attempts to recreate the artist’s melodic pictures in his seminal essay, “The Wisdom of Art.” When he sat down at his worktable, however, confronted with paint and paper, Barthes found himself paralyzed, unable to even remotely reproduce the grace of Twombly’s touch. “I realize that I shall never be able to reproduce this background (or what gives me the illusion of a background): I don’t even know how it’s done!” the philosopher recalled. “I could never make it so light, or rarefy so much the space that surrounds it… [I was] in other words spoiling all; and my own mistake made me grasp what wisdom is in the actions of the artist” (Roland Barthes, Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 112). Each element of Untitled—the sense of infinity, the cerulean blue, the delicacy with which the paint is applied to the paper—are so meticulously yet expressively constructed, so carefully decided upon, that it would be impossible to adequately emulate any one of them.

    For Twombly, handwriting was a means of artistic rebirth, a way of combatting any ready labeling by a school or movement in a New York milieu crowded with Minimalism, Conceptualism, Pop Art, and lyrical abstraction. By exploring the evocative power of the line in Untitled, Twombly invoked the youthful experience of practicing the Palmer Method on a sheet of paper, one of the first tools a child is given to communicate his thoughts orthographically. This metaphor of infinite renewal imbues Untitled, in which the artist returned to the basics—paint and paper, rudimentary activities—a year after his large museum survey at the Milwaukee Art Centre, his first in the United States. Thus, Untitled represented Twombly’s inner psyche during a definitive moment in his oeuvre when he was, figuratively and literally, erasing all that he knew and starting from scratch again. By relinquishing the Baroque climax of his earlier paintings, art critic Robert Pincus-Witten illuminated, “Twombly casts down all that was grandiose in his mature style, rejecting a lush manner for simple and stringent exercises… Twombly has descended from the heights of a mature realized art to the elemental beginnings. After the capitulation of a vast style, Twombly has learned to write again” (Robert Pincus-Witten, “Learning to Write”, Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 60).

  • 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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signed and dated "Cy Twombly 1969" on the reverse
oil and wax crayon on paper
22 3/4 x 17 3/4 in. (57.8 x 45.1 cm.)
Executed in 1969.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $3,740,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019