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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cy Twombly and us in Rome

We've never been fans of Twombly and had decided to write off the exhibit here at the national modern art gallery - Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea Italia (likes to call itself Gnam). But we were enticed, or shamed, as the case may be, by Shara Wasserman's class at Temple University in Rome, who described to us a large retrospective of an American artist living most of his career in or near Rome, and a well-mounted, well-explained, i.e. well-curated exhibit.

So taking advantage of a rainy Sunday & free admission (it's European culture week - go for it!), we ventured forth. Still can't say Twombly's on our favorites list, but the "focus and intensity" (yes, concepts from the intro to Rome the Second Time) made us spend a lot of interpretive time in the large exhibit, and I feel like we'll be able to appreciate isolated Twomblys we see elsewhere (e.g. the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)). Dianne
Even so (Bill adds), Twombly's place in the art pantheon remains problematic. While his goals as an artist--to dispense with anything resembling "readable" representational form, to sluff off every vestige of his formal artistic training, to find a way to revert to his early, primitive self (ala Jung and Pollock)--seem plausible ones, the results are so personal, so outside of and beyond the ordinary viewer, that one is left without content, essentially without the ability to interpret or understand. I'm reminded of Roger Williams, the 17th-century Puritan, whose obsession with religious purity led him to worship in total isolation. I've no objection to obsession--it's at the heart of much great art and literature--but it's not clear why I should care about Twombly's art when he seems to made such an effort to make it incomprehensible to me.
The curators of this exhibit offer lots of good help; for example, we are told that one series that's a bit different from the others is about the death of friend's wife. Fine, and complementi to the curators. But if such commentary is essential to an understanding of the work, then the work itself--really one canvass of scribbling after another--isn't designed to be accessible to me. Let him stew in his own juice.

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