Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cy Twombly 1928 – 2011

Yesterday the notable artist Cy Twombly passed away at the age of 83. His career began at a time post World War II where American artists delved into the world of the abstract. Where artists placed their canvas on the floor, created works entirely of blocks of color and where the real was communicated through shape, line and form in a way which it hadn’t been by artists on American soil.

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Cy Twombly, Tiznit, 1953, white lead, house paint, crayon, and pencil on canvas

With the death of Twombly, we are now at a moment in history where many of these great artists have passed on. Their impact on the art world shifted the geographic focus to the US and paved the way for other movements such as Pop Art, Minimalism and the contemporary work we find today.

Having just started at 13FOREST Gallery, I couldn’t help but think of how the abstract work of Twombly and his contemporaries has led to the work showing in our current exhibition Space/Light/City.

Kenji Nakayama, QTP, 2011, enamel on MDF board

The pieces in Space/Light/City are abstract. Lynda Schlosberg works with layer over layer of acrylic brushstrokes, defined lines, dots, and circles that create a certain flux, a space within which the work itself moves. Dana Woulfe’s brushstrokes and use of spray paint emit a kinetic movement, seen in his use of black in his Cerulean Tree pieces. Wade Aaron’s work in the exhibition focuses on abstracted geometry while Kenji Nakayama utilizes script as his medium. Each artist meticulously creates the energy and atmosphere of their work, using abstraction as a way to communicate their message.

Wade Aaron, Semi-Precious 1, 2011, graphite, metal leaf on MDO plywood

There is no way to compare these works to those of the mid-20th century without placing intention where there may be none (something which tends to happen regularly when discussing art). Their inspiration, intent, and process all differ from each other and from the work created in our recent history. Their brushstrokes and lines, their shadows and space, are all unique. Their existence, however, and their position as innovative contemporary artists working with the abstract, could perhaps be brought back to the motion of Pollock’s ‘drips’, the space and structure created by the Geometric abstraction of Newman’s ‘zips’, and the loops and script of Cy Twombly.

Dana Woulfe, Cerulean Tree 1 and 2, 2011, spray paint, ink & latex on board

By making their home in the abstract, the post-war artists, with their fluid brushstrokes, fields of color, and chaotic processes opened the door for a similar exploration of depicting the real through the abstract to be done today in exhibitions such as Space/Light/City.

Lynda Schlosberg, Falling, 2011, acrylic on panel


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  2. In 2005 I skipped out of a tech-talk conference for a few hours to see Cy Twombly’s monumental work "Bacchus" before it could be packed up and sent to the Tate Modern ( Jammed under the heading of “scribble works” it is a series of paintings of huge, vertical, overlapping loops of red against orange-washed canvases. They represented nothing from the outside world, but in size and appearance they bewildered, entranced and spoke of something ecstatically monumental. What? was the question, to which there were at least as many answers as viewers.

    Like members of the New York School and his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Twombly absorbed Western art history, foreign artistic expression and the world outside his own front door. He distilled what was needed, discarded what was oppressive and communicated in ways that could not be pigeonholed as “distinctly American” contrary to the efforts of many art critics.

    Twombly was distinctly Twombly. But throughout his career he frequently paid the price of being dissed by purveyors of taste and commodity. Such is the condition of contemporary artists: free to take the risk of exploring, adopting, and communicating outside of established visual formulas… but always at their own peril.

    In putting together "Space/Light/City" I was aware that curating an exhibition is greatly an act of providing a space in which artists and viewers can communicate with each other with as little interference as possible. The goal is hard to attain, but it can become even more difficult when selected works provide few (or no) comfy rest areas in the form of representational figures, illusions of depth or overt narrative. Aside from knowing artists’ intentions in these cases, the role of the curator is vital but limited to helping people stop for a moment, move beyond initial impressions and ask questions of whatever is in front of them. Why gold leaf? Is this graffiti or real words? Is the color supposed to emulate sound? How come? As a curator and someone with opinions of my own, I am surprised by many of the answers people arrive at when guided rather than lectured. Their process actually deepens my own relationship to the art. More importantly, though, it ensures that the art itself will stay with them long after they leave.

    At the 2005 Twombly exhibition was a book for people who wanted to join the gallery’s mailing list. Though there was no place for comments, one person wrote “I’m free!” in the margin. To her the show was a success because lines of communication and personal understanding had been established. But was it any less successful to the viewer who, from the next page, drew an arrow to the comment and wrote “Call me. I’m confused.”? Maybe not, if it meant the artist/viewer dialog continued and the man was about to re-enter the world seeking an answer.

    Twombly died just before the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London opened an exhibition of his paintings and drawings alongside the 17th-century work of Nicolas Poussin ( I can only imagine the visceral and intellectual sparks that occur between them and the viewer, and the skill gallery employees have to use to let it be okay. Sparks, after all, are what make art art.