Makin’ Copies: Cy Twombly Photos

A literal photo of my computer screen showing a scene from Cy Dear (2018) in which Nicola Del Roscio has placed the urn with Cy Twombly’s ashes on a bookshelf with a view of Twombly’s house in Gaeta, in a composition with a small antelope skull and a Polaroid of a peony

Cy Dear was a saddening revelation. The 2018 documentary by Andrea Bettinetti tells a story of Cy Twombly’s life, but its subject is actually Nicola Del Roscio, Twombly’s longtime partner who has spent his life enabling the artist’s work, and managing his legacy. In the process Del Roscio’s own sadness and grief seem to have gone untended, and now loom over the landscape he’s so fastidiously cultivated. I’ll need more time to process Cy Dear and the implications of Twombly’s life on his work and the people around him.

But one thing that finally makes some sense is Twombly’s photographs. Not how their copyrights have all been assigned to the Nicola Del Roscio Foundation. That always struck me as a natural gesture: the Polaroids Twombly made throughout his decades of days were left to the person he spent all those days with. What I could never figure out is what they were, and how he made them.

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Fit To Print

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2002, acrylic on paper, 36×30 in., framed by the artist

I got to Josh Pazda Hiram Butler’s sales archive through an odd John Cage search, and I stayed for an unusual Cy Twombly find: a painting on newsprint—the Washington Post from April 5th, 2001, to be precise.

How did this? What is this? There are clear edges, plust some bleed; the acrylic shows no brushmarks, but does show the folds of the paper. It says framed by artist, but there’s also a bit of scorching right around the painted part, and the signature in the lower margin, like it was matted differently for a while?

Anyway, it turns out to be very similar to a work on, of all places, the Twombly Foundation’s own website, in the Prints section.

Untitled, 2002, monotype, 60 x 45 cm, image: Galerie Bastian via Cy Twombly Foundation

Described as a monotype, this work contains the same lozenge-shaped, leaf-like motif. It’s also on newsprint, and has borders very much like those kissed in place by the sun up top.

I think these are cardboard prints, where the image is carved into a sheet of cardboard with something rough, like a nail, and which are painted and pressed against a surface—in this case, straight up newspaper from the porch—to transfer the image.

Twombly made raw, scratchy monotypes right after getting back to New York in 1953, and in 1996, he revisited the cardboard engraving technique for an edition Twombly and Nicola del Roscio printed for the Whitney Museum. Whether it was a pump-priming exercise, a diversion, a warm-up, or something else, this rough, disposable, DIY printing medium seems to have struck a chord with Twombly. At least it worked well enough to let these things out of the studio, conservators bedamned.

“Printed by Cy Twombly; printed by Nicola del Roscia”? [whitney.org]

What Is This Statue In Cy Twombly’s Library

screenshot from Mary Jacobus’ 2016 talk at Cornell about Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint

Didn’t think anything of it the first time, but this summer when I watched Mary Jacobus’ 2016 talk at Cornell’s Olin Library about her then-new book, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint, I was intrigued by this Tacita Dean photo of Twombly’s library, and wanted to know what this sculpture is.

Maybe I noticed it because Dean’s 2008 photos of Gaeta had since been exhibited publicly, at the Fondazione Nicola del Roscio in 2021-22. [Frith Street Gallery has the writeup in English.] Dean had asked Twombly to help select 50 pictures for a photo essay in the catalogue for his 2009 show at MUMOK in Vienna. Prints of these 50, plus one more (a detail of Giorgio Morandi’s workspace), were shown alongside Edwin Parker (2011), Dean’s quietly observant film portrait of Twombly, shot in Lexington, Virginia in late 2010, not long before his death.

detail of a screenshot from somewhere of Tacita Dean’s Edwin Parker (2011), with Twombly’s meds and mail on Twombly’s sculpture

I’ve always loved how Dean captured how Twombly’s sculptures existed in his cramped, storefront studio, thoroughly embedded in life, arrayed with meds, mail, and bulldog clips. Which is exactly how Twombly installed [sic] the classical figure on the console table in his library.

Or as Jacobus described it, “the so-called library,” which was also (?) “the room where Twombly slept. Three walls were covered with art books, and this one, the fourth, with literature and poetry. She explained that Dean didn’t publish this image because it had a blurry spot on the side. Dean is fluent in blur, so we must defer. But about the sculpture:

Angel, Neapolitan, 2nd half of the 18th century, terra cotta, wood, fabric and wire, via MetMuseum

Jacobus called it a “flying sculpture,” which, yes and no. What might look like angelic wings are actually very exuberant drapery, which the twisted, nude figure with a tablet is just about to escape completely. I’ve come back to this sculpture several times this year, trying to identify it, and it’s only now, at Christmas, that I see drapery that wild. Except it’s actually fabric, on the 18th century Baroque Neapolitan crèche figures on the Christmas Tree at the Met. The pose, meanwhile, feels like someone knew the Sibyls on Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling.

Michelangelo, The Delphic Sybil, Sistine Ceiling

So I’ve been rummaging around in Italian sculpture fragments, plaster ornaments, pediment sculptures, it says Le on that plaque, is he an allegorical figure of the law? But does it, though?

Cy Twomb-LEE? I think this is painted terra cotta? And what’s up with that left hand?

Because now I think it says “LEE.” Is that somehow related to the former president of the college Twombly attended, in the Virginia town he grew up in, and to which he returned later in his life? Because that would be Robert E. Lee, who is indeed buried along with much of his family and his horse on the grounds of what became Washington & Lee University. These are the Lees I’ve found so far; I would very much love to find others, and to learn that Twombly rescued this statue from their home renovation, or even their gravestone toppling, rather than that he schlepped a melodramatic Lost Cause beefcake statue to Italy to put over his library bed.

[Day Later Update: Of course, maybe the answer lies in the 2019 book, Cy Twombly: Homes & Studios, which contains 136 images compiled and edited by Lothar Schirmer, and an account of the featured locations by Twombly’s longtime collaborator Nicola Del Roscio, in which the pictured locations are revealed as unique repositories of art, antiques, and furniture, and as sanctuaries for their late resident’s creative expression. Re-read this description and buy the book at Gagosian Shop.]

Book Talk: Mary Jacobus — Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint [youtube]
Mostra Tacita Dean the show was called Sigh, Sigh, Sigh btw, love that for her [fondazionenicoladelroscio.it, frithstreetgallery.com]
Previously, related: 2022 discussion of Edwin Parker in Chain Thiebaud

Destroyed Not Twombly Sculptures

On my first speedrun through the catalogue raisonné for Cy Twombly’s sculpture, I was interested to see some early lost sculptures I’d never seen discussed anywhere else. There was also an object described as a fragment of an early sculpture. And there were sections of damaged and rejected works, mostly unsatisfactory bronze casts.

I was surprised not to see most of the sculptures in these photos Rauschenberg took of Twombly in 1954 in their shared Fulton Street studio.

The Twombly Sculpture Is A Series Of Tubes

5/7ths of the installation of Cy Twombly: Sculpture, 2011-2012 at MoMA

In 2010 MoMA went deep on Cy Twombly sculpture, purchasing five works and receiving two more as gifts. They all went on view the next year, after the artist’s death. On the far right, the Kravises have promised the earliest work, Untitled (Funerary Box for a Lime Green Python) (1954), and the Cy Twombly Foundation gave the sleekest, Untitled (1976), on the left.

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1976, cardboard, cloth, house paint, 76 inches tall, collection: MoMA

Gotta admit, at the time, I did not pay it appropriate attention. In the rough, gestural, elemental, bricolaged world of Twombly sculptures, it definitely hangs back, looking sleek and a bit out of place.

It wasn’t until yesterday, in fact, that I realized there was another. In fact, there are fourteen, but that’s not important now. At some point in 1976, Twombly is sitting in Rome, and he decides to make sculptures again, for the first time in 17 years. Was he looking at the cardboard tubes he stores his drawings in, and he had an urge to stick one in the other, and paint the resulting column white, and then realized, “Oh wow, I’m making sculptures again?” Or was he jonesing to make a sculpture—after showing his 1950s sculptures for the first time in years—at the ICA in Philadelphia, and the closest material at hand was this bunch of tubes?

Because Twombly made at least four of these cardboard tube sculptures, of varying heights and diameters. Sometimes he really stuck it in there, and it was 50 inches tall. Sometimes he’d just put in the tip, like the MoMA example, which is the tallest, at 76 inches. To keep it real, he stuck them on the floor.

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It’s My Lime Green Python In A Funerary Box

if there were a lime green python in this funerary box, what’d it look like? a speculation on a 1954 Robert Rauschenberg photo of Cy Twombly and his work in their Fulton St studio, image via RRF

In Spring 1953, after our boys got back from Morocco and Italy, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly set up a little place on Fulton Street. They spend a year making work and posing for each other. In 1954 Rauschenberg took several photos of Twombly with his paintings and sculptures, almost all of which are lost or destroyed, except for one, the one on the right, above, with the fans, Untitled (Funerary Box for a Lime Green Python).

Claudio Santambrogio emailed a funny reminder of it after seeing the Underground Projection Room For Snakes study I posted last night. So I made a little rendering of what it might be like for the python (RIP).

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Untitled (Gaeta), 1989, By Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Gaeta), 1989, acrylic and tempera on paper mounted on panel, 80 x 58 5/8 in., exhibited in “Cy Twombly: In Beauty it is finished,” Spring 2018 at Gagosian 21st St.

@wernerherzoghaircut had reblogged this Cy Twombly onto my tumblr dash, and it was so ravishing I had to go back and look at the show it appeared in again.

In March-April 2018, Mark Francis organized a significant show of Twombyl works on paper at Gagosian’s 21st Street site in New York, titled “In Beauty it is finished: Drawings 1951-2008.” The title came from a text element in a work in the show.

Screenshot of Untitled (Gaeta) installed at Gagosian, Spring 2018, via gagosian.com

The thing about Untitled (Gaeta) is how much it looks like a painting here, but how clearly it was a drawing in real life. Or rather, a work on paper; it is a giant, proud sheet floating in a shadowbox frame.

Which feels relevant to the text Twombly inscribed, a fragment of a poem by Archilochus, as translated by Guy Davenport:

ca MAR 20 1989
Archilochos

[a thin ribbon of
paper]

1 WINE

2 CONCERNS

3 weeps

4 inclines

5 crash

Here’s an image of Twombly’s marked up copy of Davenport’s Archilochos, Sappho, Alkman — Three Lyric Poets of the Greek Bronze Age, reproduced from Mary Jacobus’ 2016 book, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint. Here’s Thierry Greub mentioning another Archilochus fragment used in Twombly’s epic Say Goodbye, Catullus, To The Shores of Asia Minor. Jacobus and many others discuss Twombly’s appreciation of Davenport, but I can’t find any mention of this specific instance. Should I call someone? It’s probably in the CR. Here is poet John Yau reviewing the 2018 show by clapping back at Rosalind Krauss complaining in 1994 that surely, Twombly can’t be serious. As for me, I think I’m convinced: the man loved poetry.

Cy Twombly’s Other Picasso

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1985, graphite on paper mounted on wood 9 3/8 x 7 1/4 in., on view at Amanita NYC, via ig/ctorre and touchtone7

I could be doing worse than to be known as the guy trying to find Cy Twombly’s first Picasso. This is at least the second, which makes the other one at least the third.

Amanita, a Florence-based gallery founded by “a veritable boy-band” of dealers, including Twombly’s grandson Caio, opened a permanent space on the Bowery last fall. Their current show of 28 drawings spanning 100 years, includes at least two works by Nonno Twombly, including the extravagantly framed Picasso head above.

Cy Twombly copy of a Picasso painting, 1988, as exhibited at the Prada Foundation

For those keeping a timeline, the head above is from 1985, three years before the copy Twombly made of a 1939 painting. That still leaves Twombly’s first Picasso, which is also the first painting he ever made, he said, unseen. That, any any additional Twombly Picassos in between. [shoutout to ctorre, 165bleeckerst, and matt/touchtone7 for sending this image along via instagram. We’ll get our Twombly Picasso boy band back together soon, I can feel it.]

Previously: Turns Out This Is Not Cy Twombly’s First Picasso

La Nuit at the Opéra

close up of Cy Twombly’s curtain for the Opéra-Bastille, 1989, as tumblred by garadinervi, via google arts & culture

When I saw this 1989 photo of the Opéra Bastille on Tumblr last night, I was surprised. Not just because I’d never seen Cy Twombly’s curtain for the Opéra, but because I’d completely forgotten it ever existed. I didn’t remember, even when I was writing about Cy Twombly making curtains for European opera houses. I’ll take responsibility for that to a point, but looking into it, I think the invisibility of Twombly’s monumental public work starts at home.

Cy Twombly, Sans titre, 1986, 234 x 326 mm, pastel, graphite, and ink on paper, one of six studies for the Bastille curtain, purchased in 1989 by Centre Georges Pompidou

There is no mention of Twombly’s curtain on the website of the Opera de Paris, or on the Opéra Bastille’s Wikipedia. It didn’t yet exist when Harald Szeeman organized his 1987 Twombly retrospective that traveled to the Pompidou in 1988. From the Pompidou’s perspective, it exists as six tiny sketches. It’s not in Kirk Varnedoe’s catalogue for Twombly’s 1994 MoMA retrospective. To paraphrase Rauschenberg, it existed in the gap between art and opera, a painting Twombly didn’t actually paint, and the thing operatic artists literally move out of the way to present their real work.

Continue reading “La Nuit at the Opéra”

‘Oh, Have You Seen Cy’s Picasso?’

It wasn’t right there there all along, but it was somewhere. It being the question of whether this is Cy Twombly’s first painting, a copy of a Picasso.

We know now that it is not, that this Twombly copy of 1939 Picasso—in Nicola del Roscio’s house in Gaeta, published in the NY Times in 2016, and haunting me unexplained until 2021—was made in 1988. Part of the confusion came from the artist’s comments in a feature in the Times in 1994, around the opening of his MoMA retrospective.

So I was close, and yet. Because this paragraph was in the 1994 feature in Vanity Fair around the opening of his MoMA retrospective, written by no less than Edmund Wilson:

In Lexington he was taught by a Spanish artist, Pierre Daura, who had lived for years in Paris. The first painting Twombly recalls doing was a copy of Picasso’s portrait of Marie Therese Walter. In the course of interviewing Twombly, I saw a Picasso-ish portrait—perhaps the same one—on the dining-room wall in the house of his closest friend. “Oh, have you seen Cy’s Picasso?” he asked.

“the first painting Twombly recalls doing,” “Picasso-ish portrait,” “perhaps the same one,” “his closest friend.” There is useful truth to be found in the way these words do not say what’s actually going on.

Previously: Turns Out This Is Not Cy Twombly’s First Picasso
Also, one of the actual first documented Twombly paintings: Destroyed Cy Twombly Backdrop

Presumably Destroyed Cy Twombly Safety Curtain

You cannot overestimate my incredulity when I saw this jpg that purported to be a three-storey tall Cy Twombly painting at the Vienna State Opera. image: mip.at

I saw this gigantic Cy Twombly painting on the landmarked firewall of the Vienna State Opera, called the Iron Curtain, and was like, that is totally fake. It is a rendering. And it was.

OK maybe this is real? But still not a painting, though, right? image: mip.at

This is what the Twombly fire wall looked like installed in 2010-11. So pretty close, except for the color of the canvas and the paint. Except this 176 square meter image was inkjet printed on PVC mesh, like a billboard. The picture is of an untitled 2005 painting from the Bacchus series. Twombly painted these dripping red loop paintings with giant brushes on sticks, like if Cold Mountain-era Brice Marden just got back from the Iraq War. Everyone wants the Bacchus paintings to be about the Iraq War.

Untitled paintings installed at Cy Twombly’s Bacchus, 2005, uptown Gagosian

The original is 10×16 feet or so. Here it is installed at Gagosian in 2005. They really cropped that right down. In 2008, between this show and the Vienna State Opera commission, Twombly showed a couple of a third batch of Bacchus paintings at Tate Modern. After his death, the Foundation ended up donating three of them, plus some sculptures, enough to fill a permanent room, which feels astute.

The Safety Curtain Project has been selecting contemporary artists for the Vienna State Opera fire wall since 1998. It is run by Daniel Birnbaum and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the only two curators in Europe. Oh wait, there’s a third now. Bice Curiger has joined the group chat. I love them all like brothers, sisters, and/or non-binary siblings, but seriously, enough.

Previously, related: Destroyed Cy Twombly Backdrop

New Twombly Pavilion Dropped

a photo across the windshield of a car of a cy twombly tag in orange spray paint on the dingy painted brick facade of the long-ago closed sand dollar thrift shop in houston, as tweeted by @buffalosean
“You go cy twombly, good for you.” tweet & photo via @buffalosean

Cy Twombly is not letting a little thing like death slow him down. Twitter user @buffalosean spotted this new Twombly pavilion on the northern side of Houston, in a former Sand Dollar Thrift Shop at the corner of 19th and Yale Streets. Google Streetview’s last capture was just a few weeks ago, so this is feeling very fresh.

To those who say this is just an artful graffiti tag, I would point out that the Menil also once turned an old grocery store into a posthumous Dan Flavin pavilion? Maybe one standalone Twombly pavilion was no longer enough?

Imagine for the briefest moment that the Twombly Foundation did a capsule collection at a pop-up in a deserted thrift shop in Houston. Live the dream for $30, thru Sunday.

Or maybe this is a pop-up shop for a capsule collection from the Twombly Foundation? And if it were, would the merch possibly look any crispier than this T-shirt? To celebrate the hilarious impossibility of such a thing, this CyTwombly T-shirt will be available this weekend was available through midnight wherever, Sunday, July 23rd.

It will be screenprinted in OG orange on a white Hanes Authentic T (to match the Twombly White Rabbit T-shirt from last Summer. Collect’em all!) and will ship worldwide for $US30.

As with previous t-shirt projects, this will only happen if ten people or more want one, and it breaks even. UPDATE: WE ARE THERE. IT IS HAPPENING. Which (MBA? lmao) ten people have always ordered, and between the surprise & delight and shipping, I have yet to actually break even on one of these. Maybe I should take some garbage bags full of them to Times Square and sell them to hypebeasts. Or maybe it’s just a way to share a moment.

UPDATE: It is done. Thank you.

Cy Twomblino

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1957, white lead and pencil on panel, 7 x 9 3/8 in., image via Christie’s

I absolutely love this tiny Cy Twombly painting from 1957, which is being sold from the collection of Margo Leavin, iconic LA gallerist.

Leavin’s label says it’s oil on canvas, but it does seem to be on a panel. The scrawl on the back, declaring this to be an “Opera authentico/ di Cy Twombly/ esposti alla Tartaruga/ (nell 1956-1957)/ Césare Vivaldi” by Twombly’s Roman dealer, is almost as perfect as Twombly’s marks on the front.

Cy Twomblino, verso

1957 was the year Twombly moved to Rome. The possibly early date makes this feel like something he brought with him. Or did he make it there? Was it a gift to his new dealer?,

From Galeria la Tartaruga, the provenance shifts to a couple of galleries in Milan, then London, where it was included in a group show at the Royal College of Art in early 1974. By late 1974, it was in Los Angeles, where Leavin showed it in a Small Paintings show. And there it apparently stayed, until now, where it is poised to possibly enter non-trade hands for the first time. If you’re buying it for me, please dm for shipping details. Or if it’s more convenient, I’ll gladly come to you to pick it up.

UPDATE: OK, since it sold for $819,000, I will definitely include a Facsimile Object and Certificate of Authenticity in the trade for this little Twombly. HMU.

May 13, 2022 Lot 175: Cy Twombly, Untitled (Rome) (sic), est. $150-200,000 [christies.com]
Previously, related: Twombly’s Schifano

The Wall (2021) and Pas Twomblu (2021– )

The Wall (2021), dimensions and The Ceiling (2010), installed in the Salle des Bronzes in the Louvre, photographed in Feb. 2021 for the NYT by Dmitry Kostyukov

As 2021 is finally shown the door, I am pleased to announce The Wall, which was next to The Ceiling. The Wall is a Marron Côte d’Azur and Noir painting executed directly on a wall or a discrete section thereof. Even more than the 19th century neo-classicist aesthetic of Napoleon III, who first executed it in his Salle des Bronzes Antiquites, it evokes the historic moment during the pandemic when leaks about the work’s installation drew the litigious ire of The Cy Twombly Foundation.

study for The Wall, 2021, dimensions variable, an altered 150 x 100px svg ganked from a hexcolor website for Marron Côte d’Azur (#A75949)

For a few months this year, the first realization of The Wall was installed alongside–or underneath, really–The Ceiling, Cy Twombly’s ceiling mural at the Louvre. In Napoleon III’s day, the Noir was the display cases. In the 2021 installation, the boundary between the two colors was demarcated by a dado. The composition of future installations may take cues from the space, and condition of the wall and its elements.

While it is available for individual purchase or commission, The Wall will also be free with the purchase of nine other works, as a treat.

There are other works associated with both The Ceiling and The Wall, the details of which are at present insufficient.

A big panel by Yves Klein, painted in International Pas Twomblu, at the Museum of Modern Art

While making The Ceiling, Twombly friend Barbara Crawford and French painters Laurent Blaise and Jean de Seynes joked “that the unique, precise blue for this particular sky, which they’ve spent weeks fine-tuning, should be trademarked and given the name Twomblu.”

According to Grant Rosenberg’s account of this process in The American Scholar, in late 2008, the Louvre produced “several” “big” panels of monochrome blue for color testing during a Twombly site visit. It is not clear what blues these were, but we know what they were not: Pas Twomblu.

Previously, related: Proposte monocrome, gris (2017); International Jarman Blue