Serpentine Gallery 17 Apr — 13 Jun 2004 Free

The Serpentine Gallery presented the first major exhibition in a public art gallery in London for more than 15 years of Cy Twombly’s work.

The exhibition spanned the artist’s career from the 1950s to the present, and brought together approximately 60 drawings and paintings on paper from the artist’s personal archive.

Subverting traditional distinctions between painting, drawing and sculpture, brush and pencil-work and written words and images, Cy Twombly made a highly individual contribution to the history of 20th century art and achieved an almost legendary stature. His work consistently defied categorisation, balancing both personal and historic references and mingling private memories with classical mythologies. This exhibition brought together approximately 65 works on paper from the artist’s personal archives. Made over the previous five decades, they ranged from his early drawings to his late, intensively colourful paintings.

Twombly’s work forms a unique bridge between European and American art in the post-World War II era, linking such disparate strands as Abstract Expressionism and conceptually orientated art. Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Twombly formed his early artistic style in New York, where Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were among his peers and friends. In 1951 he enrolled at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In 1957, following extended travel in Italy, Spain and North Africa, Twombly settled in Rome and ever since has lived and worked principally in Italy, most recently in Gaeta, an ancient port situated between Rome and Naples.

Since the beginning of his career, Twombly turned to themes from classical mythology and history in his work by referring to Roman deities, such as Venus, and to ancient sites like Bolsena, a town just north of Rome. Frequently, he inscribed the words and names of such figures and places directly onto his works, eradicating the distinction between title and subject and infusing the imagery with a sense of poetry. By often making text elements partially illegible, he blurred the distinction between writing and drawing, word and image.

Throughout his long career, Twombly’s work received widespread admiration and international critical praise, culminating in the Golden Lion he was awarded for lifetime achievement at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. Twombly continually expanded his artistic language, and his vision lost none of its force.

On the occasion of his 75th birthday Twombly collaborated on this eagerly anticipated survey of his work on paper, complementing retrospectives of his painting at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1995 and of his sculpture at the Kunsthalle Basel and The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., in 2000 and 2001. The exhibition at the Serpentine brought together approximately 60 works ranging from his early drawings of 1953 to his late, colourful, large paintings on paper, which were executed in Gaeta, Italy. Forming part of Twombly’s personal archive, most of these works had never been exhibited or published before.

Cy Twombly: Fifty Years of Works on Paper was curated by Julie Sylvester, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. It opened at The State Hermitage Museum and toured to the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, before its presentation at the Serpentine Gallery. Cy Twombly passed away seven years after the exhibition, in July 2011.

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