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Cy Twombly, 1928-2011
July 5, 2011 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928, friends with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and victim of art vandalism, artist Cy Twombly died today . Some of his works can be seen here and here.
posted by TedW (71 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Renoroc at 3:04 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by roll truck roll at 3:11 PM on July 5, 2011


I certainly recommend that any Mefites passing through the Houston area check out the Cy Twombly gallery at the Menil Collection (2nd to last link). It is a pretty impressive way to experience his (very large) works.
posted by SkinnerSan at 3:14 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by Bohemia Mountain at 3:15 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by dog food sugar at 3:18 PM on July 5, 2011


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I was too wiped to hit the Twombly gallery the last time I visited the Menil, but now I'm sorry I skipped it.
posted by immlass at 3:19 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by cberret at 3:21 PM on July 5, 2011


Not a fan personally, but an important and influential figure. Rest well, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:22 PM on July 5, 2011


Sad. I've always liked Twombly.
posted by item at 3:30 PM on July 5, 2011


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That article is right, they really don't reproduce well. I was quite surprised at how much I liked his chalk board paintings when I finally saw them in real life.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 3:31 PM on July 5, 2011


Twombly was difficult even for his era of difficult artists. I could never tell whether my problems with getting his language was because I failed to work hard enough, or because I was working too hard at it. It was always clear, though, that there was something going on in his work, and that it could be gotten if the right light went on in my head.

He inspired many more artists who did get it, or who seemed to.

I'm sorry to hear he's passed on. He had a productive life.
posted by ardgedee at 3:35 PM on July 5, 2011


Yeah, I was going to say the same thing about seeing them in person. They do lose a lot in reproduction -

Rest in peace painter.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:37 PM on July 5, 2011


What ardgedee said.

I stared and stared at his work at MOMA NY and could not get past that it looked like the scribbles a 4-year-old had done on the wall. I wish I'd seen his sculptures though.
posted by essexjan at 3:42 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by Iridic at 3:44 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by juv3nal at 3:45 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by quazichimp at 3:46 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by scody at 3:46 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by Thorzdad at 3:49 PM on July 5, 2011


He was brilliant in 3 medium (print making, sculpture, and painting) and good in another (photogrpahy) He transitioned almost single handledly abex gestural work into pop and conceptualism.

In terms of his paintings and drawingsl His marks were both delicate and harsh, gentile and raw; e makes little delicate graphite scratches and wide black charcoal squares, and white on white erasings, and big gashy cunty red swaths, and delibrate swirls of grey on green, and every way that you can imagine putting an insturment to a peice of paper. They are intensely bodily--the body that makes the work is found in the work itself, but often they are about bits of the body itself, the failure of the body to communicate its own flesh.

The failure to communicate, through the body, through context, through both literal transcription and through abstraction, is vital to this understanding. Sometimes, like in the roman notes series of lithographs hereor the letters of resignation here seires of drawings, the language, through over writing, erasure, muliti media, etc--hints at meaning, but never delviers it--just as our bodies attempt to translate their existence thru the abstraction of language but never succeed.

This scrawl of competing signifers, of signs like tantaolous grasp and sink into the waters, is only half or a third of his practice.

His sculptures almost refuse language, they give up on the seeking, and grasping. They move towards an elegant, decayed silence. Taking trash, or that which is disposed and broken--and making v. tiny, table top works--works that flirts with history--with greek columns, egyption temples, victorian natural history musuems, but which collapse in on themselves, in the Beckettian sense, fail better--become another way, a back door to the questions of language and desire for meaning. The american national gallery has a great set of essays about it related to an exhibition they had

I have stood in front of the Egyptian temple work of the 70s and wept, in an almost religious sense. There was a tall but slight three part sculpture of painted cardboard at Mary Boone a couple of years ago, that was the middle place formally, b/w a Cambodian Linga and Xian exhortations towards monastic living--best sculpture ever.

(John Water's collects his work, and has a sense of humour about it--he wrote about it in Art Forum almost a decade ago, and compared this one sculpture to a pile of pigeon shit, and of late has written about Twombly senstively in his new book Role Models; As well read Barthes catalog copy about the work, this qoute comes from that: ‘In his own particular way, Twombly tells us that the essence of writing is neither form nor usage but simply gesture - the gesture that produces it by allowing it to happen: a garble, almost a smudge, a negligence. We can reason this out through a comparison. What would be the essence of a pair of trousers (if it has one)? Certainly not that carefully prepared and rectilinear object found on the racks of department stores; rather the ball of cloth dropped on the floor by the negligent hand of a young boy when he undresses tired, lazy and indifferent. The essence of an object has something to do with the way it turns into trash. It is not necessarily what remains after the object has been used, it’s rather what is thrown away in use. And so it is with Twombly’s writings. They are the fragments of an indolence, and this makes them extremely elegant; it’s as though the only thing left after the strongly erotic act of writing were the languid fatigue of love: a garment cast aside into a corner of the page.”

I cannot begin to describe how important, how life changing seeing the Roman Note lithos were when i was 16 and in Vancouver; or seeing Leda and the Swan last year in NY or some of the Chalkboard paintings in London...

I haven't been to Houston yet, but soon.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:53 PM on July 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


I stared and stared at his work at MOMA NY and could not get past that it looked like the scribbles a 4-year-old had done on the wall.

Trust your instincts, kid. Twombly is a test case for pretension. Oh, and dig the mid-career Twombly that appears in the background of this Helen Levitt (a real artist, unlike Twombly) photo.
posted by Faze at 3:56 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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One of my very favourites, ever since I first consciously noticed art, up to the retrospective held here in Rome two years ago.
posted by progosk at 4:00 PM on July 5, 2011


Part of Twombly's charm is that he manages to make the violence and utter id of 4 year olds, and the adult frustration of contempary existence--the low art graffiti and the high art gallery, communicate in a peice.

One of Barthe's essays talks about the 4 year old instinct--and how we assume that four year drawings are ffortless, but it takes an enomrous amount of control to make them--and what marks adult translations of this--is to hide the effort.

There is nothing instinctual in Twombly--and his work is about avoding the knee jerks obsessions against mess, he controls his shit, while still noting its shit.

Interestingly, his photographs are unlike Siskind or Levitt or Baltz---who try to document this kind of mark making, and by extension domesticising it. Which is a way of going about things, and is not illegitimate. Twombly's photographs are like the poetry of Seidel--formal, lush, smeared with fat, and horribly rich...they are sensous enough to be so decadent that one worries about it.

I have the big monogrpah, but am having trouble finding more than a few images on line.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:05 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by theartandsound at 4:06 PM on July 5, 2011


llink didnt work
posted by PinkMoose at 4:06 PM on July 5, 2011


ℓℓℓℓℓ
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:06 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2011


His name always sounded like it was taken from an Edward Gorey comic.
posted by lfhnsn at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


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posted by gingerbeer at 4:08 PM on July 5, 2011


SkinnerSan: "I certainly recommend that any Mefites passing through the Houston area check out the Cy Twombly gallery at the Menil Collection (2nd to last link). It is a pretty impressive way to experience his (very large) works."

It's one of the nicest halls I've ever been in -- and I've been in museums everywhere I've gone -- built solely to house some of his paintings.

From the NYT obit: The critical low point probably came after a 1964 exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York that was widely panned. The artist and writer Donald Judd, who was hostile toward painting in general, was especially damning even so, calling the show a fiasco. “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”

I'm with Judd on this. And I'm all over the map on paintings, art in general, I'm as open as I can possibly know how to be, the wackier it seems the more it opens the doors for others to walk through and then bring us back the beauty they find there. But Twombly ... I went into that beautiful hall and I'm like "wtf?" there are these huge expanses of canvas or paper but canvas mostly, and over on one corner is some inane scribble-scrabble and a splash or two of color and I'm truly like "wtf?"

I think of Khrushchev, an exhibition of modern art in Moscow; found referenced on wikipedia, as follows: "Khrushchev was taken to the Manezh Gallery to view an exhibit which included a number of avant-garde works. On seeing them, Khrushchev exploded with anger, describing the artwork as "dog shit", and proclaiming that "a donkey could smear better art with its tail". Khrushchev had been in Stalingrad, he was pretty grounded, seems to me, almost certainly too much so, but had he said that about what I've seen by Twombly, well, I'd be with him.

And I think of my father, and how difficult it was to go do museums with him, his mockery -- he's stand in front of a thermostat or whatever, maybe the janitor would have left a bucket and mop and my father would stand in front of it, making like he's all mesmerized, oohing and aahing, saying "Ah, this is Art, True Beauty!" etc and etc. He helped keep me on the ground. He didn't take from me what I see or saw as beauty, but he would absolutely puncture a balloon of hogwash.

And I think of Watterson, how he's put words exactly like my fathers words into Calvins fathers mouth, Watterson was right on the mark so much of the damn time.

Anyways, I'm sorry he's gone, Twombly I mean, and probably not good to speak ill of the dead or what-have-you, and really I'm not, just that I don't get it, is all, and I'm truly hoping that the nice people at the Menil will open that hall dedicated to his paintings to some of the other spectacular paintings that the Menil has but cannot always display due to space limitations...

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posted by dancestoblue at 4:10 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


He is beautiful, one of the purest painters, in the way of beauty though. The chalkboard paintings, in terms of form and colour--the grey to green on them--or the violent splashes of pink and red in the late bloom fotos.

His really tennous work, like this one from 1955 i can understand how you might say, you know, i don't know.

but this with its colour and its size or exurbance or this are just formally gorgeous

(and i actually have some problems with the late bloom paintings, because they are a little too seductive in their presentation for me, and lack the wide variety of other peices)
posted by PinkMoose at 4:19 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Twombly encompassed the whimsical and gestural attitude that I always found pretentious in other abstract artists. My friends often disagree, but his work made the abstract ideal click for me. Basquiat does the same thing....for me.

I am sad he's gone, but man what a great life in art.
posted by Benway at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2011


This is almost certainly in the space that the Menil has built then dedicated to paintings by Twombly. Sunlit, as are all the galleries at the Menil collection, lighter floors and more light than the other space, truly a beautiful hall.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:26 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by idiopath at 4:30 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by godshomemovies at 4:43 PM on July 5, 2011


Oh fuck. I love Twombly.

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posted by shakespeherian at 4:51 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The failure to communicate, through the body, through context, through both literal transcription and through abstraction, is vital to this understanding.....His sculptures almost refuse language, they give up on the seeking, and grasping. They move towards an elegant, decayed silence.

Twombly is a test case for pretension

No shit?
posted by jonmc at 5:02 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hate the word pretension, because it is one of those morally shaming words for people to assume that one is being false, when one is using both head and mind to be geniune.

How can I make that paragraph suitable for you...how can i make it so an artist i am moved by and consider genuinely talented, isnt pretentious...or are you just going to dismiss the work out of some sense of yr own superiority.

if you don't like it fine, but I have worked on trying to explain it to you....want to try or do you just want to shit in an obit thread.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2011


How can I make that paragraph suitable for you...how can i make it so an artist i am moved by and consider genuinely talented, isnt pretentious...or are you just going to dismiss the work out of some sense of yr own superiority.

You can start by typing like an adult, not a 12-year-old learning to text message.
posted by jonmc at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2011


still not seeing an argument about the work
posted by PinkMoose at 5:11 PM on July 5, 2011


I saw the work linked. I'm still wondering what I'm supposed to be impressed by, and like Faze, your description did little to illuminate, sorry.
posted by jonmc at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2011


His drawings, paintings, and prints use a variety of materials, these materials are used in such a way that it is obvious how they were created. Much of the work is about how language fails to accurately describe what our bodies do when we are writing or making art.

His sculptures are made out of trash. They quote classical (Ancient Greek and Egyptian) sources. They are very small. The small scale and what they are made of, make the quotations ironic. This irony is dramatic, and often very sad. Sometimes, in their exaggerations they are funny as well. The use of white make the sadness solemn. The use of white make the exaggerations obvious.

Sometimes people say that his scrawls are like a four-year old. But four-year olds work really hard at their drawings. The effort that Twombly makes to appear like a four-year old suggests he is nothing at all like a four-year old. This tension is found in many abstract artists. The tension between the messy bits, and the control over the messy bits, is more adult than it is child like.

His photographs, unlike his sculptures and drawings/paintings, are not of trash. They are not messy. They are not crisp. They look like fat has been smeared against the lens. They are often, but not always, of expensive things. This means that they are different then other photographers, who take photographs of accidental things that look like Twombly's deliberate things. These photographers include Helen Levitt, Aaron Siskind, and Louis Baltz.

Even if all of this does not make you like Twombly, he still can do visually pleasing things with line and colour. One example of this is the late paintings of blooms. They are pink and red on yellow. Another is the mid-career paintings of chalkboards. They are grey and white on green. Both use circucal and linear lines to add visual complexity.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:25 PM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Looking at the art, and my reaction to it, even the earliest pieces, I get it instantly. Because there is very rigid structure in these apparently abstract forms; structure and balance and contrast. Things one wouldn't find in the swish of a donkey's tail.

I say this taking a risk: Looking at the art I think maybe he was a bit autistic, which I don't mean as an insult, I mean that's how he processed stuff. I think because I get it instantly, and I'm kind of like that, and I notice a lot of similarities about how I feel about an image of his when looking at my own art. And I'm a little autistic. And maybe that's projecting a lot, but it kind of makes sense. Even the multiple "takes" of the florals make sense to me, just as walking around a swimming pool a hundred times can make sense, because it's something that needs to be done.

There's hundreds of pieces to see in the second link in the galleries once you get past the dumb flash intro. They feel kind of like home to me, some of them. Others like a place I'd like to visit. (But not in a landscape sense, more in a mental pattern sense.)

Thanks for sharing, I met a new artist today.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by cazoo at 5:34 PM on July 5, 2011


I didn't want to bring it up, but i do wonder about the language stuff and autism...
posted by PinkMoose at 5:37 PM on July 5, 2011


Label
In the summer of 1977, Cy Twombly began working on a "painting in ten parts" based on Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad. Completed in 1978 and collectively titled Fifty Days at Iliam, the works evoke incidents from Homer's epic poem in Twombly's characteristic synthesis of words and images. The ten large canvases follow one another much like a developing narrative. They are ordered as follows: Shield of Achilles; Heroes of the Achaeans; Vengeance of Achilles; Achaeans in Battle; The Fire that Consumes All Before It; Shades of Achilles, Patroclus, and Hector; House of Priam; Ilians in Battle; Shades of Eternal Night; Heroes of the Ilians.


posted by Toekneesan at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


So much about modern art is, for me, about opening my eyes to seeing what are considered the ordinary, not usually thought about or not thought of as attractive things of life with new appreciation, wonder and amusement.

Many modern artists' paintings are a sort of threshold to another perception state that is not viewed with workaday eyes or common sense values.

Cy Twombly is, imo, that kind of artist. I can totally understand that some people with a commonsense view might look at his stuff with a wtf. But modern art may offer, for others, an opportunity to go to experience another dimension, some part of the unconscious, non-verbal, pre-verbal perhaps, a child's vision or like taking acid.

Anyway, I liked him and his art, am glad he was born, lived long, created. Wishing him a good universal resonance, if such a thing exists.
posted by nickyskye at 5:43 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by mkim at 6:17 PM on July 5, 2011


The torch now passes to Cy Threembly.
posted by staggernation at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I certainly recommend that any Mefites passing through the Houston area check out the Cy Twombly gallery at the Menil Collection (2nd to last link). It is a pretty impressive way to experience his (very large) works.

I agree wholeheartedly -- if I recall correctly the building itself was specifically constructed to be an ideal showcase for his work.

The giant painting in the first chamber to the right gripped me unexpectedly and moved me to tears the first time I saw it (and still does). Something about the inevitable human tragedy of saying goodbye to what we love and have loved. And how beautiful that is, despite the pain of it. That's the best way I can describe the feeling it gives me.

Oh wait, here's a photo of Cy Twombly himself in front of the painting! It's called "Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor."

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posted by treepour at 6:25 PM on July 5, 2011


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posted by iamkimiam at 6:56 PM on July 5, 2011


Always instantly liked most everything I've seen by him, in galleries. I'd go "Oh, I love this," and then look closer and see his name.

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posted by troubles at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2011


Well I'll be damned. I thought Cy Twombly would live forever.

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posted by mygothlaundry at 7:48 PM on July 5, 2011


I was always kinda shruggo on Twombly, especially compared to Johns and Rauschenberg, but his photos are nice and anything that Faze doesn't like makes me curious.
posted by klangklangston at 8:12 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back in 2003, I took my then boss to the Twombly gallery in Houston. We had some time to kill, and he wanted to see the Menil. I told him that the Twombly gallery was one of the first buildings in the U.S. by Renzo Piano, and he was immediately interested. We strolled through the gallery, admiring the architecture as my then boss dismissed all of the artwork. I knew then, that this guy just didn't get it.

We went through the back area where the "Standing on Fishes" series concluded, and went around to Twombly's large scale 50's scribble paintings. My asshole boss walked right up to one of the canvases, stuck his face very close, and proceeded to rub on one of the scribbles. Fucking asshole. I can understand someone not getting Twombly's art...but defacing. Luckily it had fixer I guess, because there was only a minor smudge.

Still hate that guy.
posted by Benway at 8:18 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Twombly was greatly inspired by the American philosopher Charles Pierce.

That made him extra awesome.
posted by bardic at 9:50 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


<3
posted by unknowncommand at 10:39 PM on July 5, 2011


You know, I try to appreciate modern art, but completely blank canvases are pure pretentiousness. Art is all about perception, and anything with perceptual differences can be resolved with a double-blind trials. Unless there's something particularly awesome about the frame or the materials used (which I'm sure is not the point) then there's no way you could realistically distinguish it from a similar work created by any talented amateur. It's the art equivalent of the $6000 audiophile cable.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:18 PM on July 5, 2011


"You know, I try to appreciate modern art, but completely blank canvases are pure pretentiousness. Art is all about perception, and anything with perceptual differences can be resolved with a double-blind trials. Unless there's something particularly awesome about the frame or the materials used (which I'm sure is not the point) then there's no way you could realistically distinguish it from a similar work created by any talented amateur. It's the art equivalent of the $6000 audiophile cable."

There are several failures here for you:

First off, double blind trials is nonsense — there's a fair amount of assumed knowledge that goes into knowing the what and why of any given piece of art, and anyone who's significantly ignorant enough to be a good test subject isn't going to be able to evaluate the art in context — you might as well say that double-blind tests can resolve any legit physics paper from a crank's.

Second off, aside from the fact that totally blank canvasses are a bit of a straw man, there's perceptual work to be done in any Malevich painting, even if it's white on white. That informs a lot of work by people like Rothko.

Third, there are two parts to any piece (I'm simplifying) — the idea and the execution. So, the first artist who says, "Yes, a totally blank piece can be art because it can be treated within the context of art, and there's no reasonable line to draw that does not exclude other, legitimate art," can have that be legit work even if the execution is kind of bullshit, because other people will build on the execution later.

And since the 20th Century was all about radical expansion of what art can be, it's a reasonable thing to put out there.

Finally, art value is decided by the chance that the art will appreciate in value and/or be "important" or be something that people enjoy. There's plenty of shit-ass decorative art that sells for over $6000 that has no magical materials, but is valued by people who want to collect a certain thing (Antiques Roadshow had some $10000 painting of an ugly girl at a wobbly beach a week or two ago).

It's sort of like how there's no rational way that a baseball card is worth $6000 except that people want it and are willing to pay it, but no one describes baseball cards as pretentious.
posted by klangklangston at 11:52 PM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


klangklangston: First off, double blind trials is nonsense — there's a fair amount of assumed knowledge that goes into knowing the what and why of any given piece of art, and anyone who's significantly ignorant enough to be a good test subject isn't going to be able to evaluate the art in context — you might as well say that double-blind tests can resolve any legit physics paper from a crank's.

They'd better be able to! I mean, sure, you'll have to use real physicists, and they might need funding and equipment to recreate any experiments run, but yes, you could totally resolve legitimate physics papers from cranks (or at least good works from bad) without knowing the authors. Double-blind testing doesn't mean you don't use experts, you just make sure neither the tester nor the subject knows who was responsible for which item.

Second off, aside from the fact that totally blank canvasses are a bit of a straw man, there's perceptual work to be done in any Malevich painting, even if it's white on white.

Well, I was mostly intending to attack those specific works (without really knowing enough about the artists to criticize their other ones). But I do think the blank-canvas paintings really do highlight a huge problem in the art world - works are not judged on their own merits. It shouldn't matter if a work comes from a master or an amateur - good work should be good. When works are lauded that would obviously never be taken from someone who wasn't famous and accepted already, it really makes the whole system look silly.

As far as the baseball card example goes, I should mention that I do think that is kind of stupid. However, it helps a lot that the old baseball cards - the ones that are usually worth a lot - weren't really created with the intention of being overpriced museum pieces, which reduces any level of pretentiousness significantly.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:17 AM on July 6, 2011


Mitrovarr:

art can be looked at as a conversation between artists and artists, artists and audience, audience and audience, where ideas of what we will look at and why change with history. The difference between a Rothko blank canvas and a Joe Schmoe blank canvas is like the difference between Marilyn Monroe singing "happy birthday Mr. President" to JFK and a bartender checking my ID and saying "happy birthday" to me. The same communication can take on different meanings. A specific time and place helps to give the statement a meaning through context. Whether something has been said before, and by who, and what that person said before they said that other thing and whatever else sets the context for the statement are very important here.

Culture is not like physics, there are no laws of culture. And if there were laws of culture, one of them would be that context and timing are two of the very most important things. The awesome thing is that art has undergone the same sort of revolutions and fundamental rearrangements that physics did. Bertrand Russel showed that Force was only a convenience (a very helpful one, but not formally necessary for physics to work). I would compare that to the way that Rothko showed that marks on a canvas were only a convenience (a very helpful one, but not formally necessary for painting to work*). In the sciences just like the arts we totally wrecked the fucking place in the 20th century, we upturned a whole bunch of rules, we tested all sorts of assumptions, we pretty much freaked out. And we are much better off for it because we better understand the premises we are working with. Physics works because I can fly in an airplane. Art works because I can have pleasure and insight from looking at one of Rothko's color fields.

Twombly is one of those 20th century artists that helped us understand some of the borders of art - those boundaries where it approaches mess or scribble or trash or meaninglessness. That's not to say that this is the best kind of art to make today (if I really knew the answer to that question I would be an artist), but I and many others before me and after me have found that looking at Twombly's work helps us understand what was happening in the art world during his time, his innovations and his unique style and approach help open up new ways of looking at other art.

*also it really helps to see one of these "blank canvases" in person. The details and nuances of brush stroke that come to light when it is there 9 inches from your nose are anything but a blank and featureless void.
posted by idiopath at 2:27 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was in Montreal a couple years back and stopped in at the MACM where they had a massive retrospective of Claude Tousignant, including some of the classic bullseye pieces and a couple of rooms of barn-door sized colour fields.

And while I don't especially like his work (leaves me cold; too sterile and mechanistic in its analysis), it's hard to deny its visual impact, and its impact on both graphic design and boundary stretching.

Art isn't about "does this piece make your heart sing" but instead "hey let's see if it does". As a scientific experiment not every piece of art succeeds on every viewer but the attempt matters as much as the results. Art's value, like science's value, isn't really in the success, but in the attempt. And if a piece of art or a certain artist's ouvre works for some people but not others, well that's really quite fascinating to me.

Actually there was one Tousignant piece that did work for me. It was a black room with zero ambient light with nothing in it except some geometric sculptural shape in the middle of the floor that was lit from above by some extremely high powered theatrical lighting with very rich gel colour filters. Essentially this was a room with the highest contrast, most brilliant colours one could ever see, projected on a shape one could walk around. It was intense. I didn't get any emotive benefit from it, but my visual cortex certainly went ZANG.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:48 AM on July 6, 2011


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posted by aught at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2011


Also, most of what is called blank canvases, really arent. Twombly is out of contention; Malevich paints very clear shapes; Newman uses blank canvas as an accent; Ryman comes closest, and is really inside baseball, but his use of materials and coverage is rarely canvas and is never blank; same with Mazoni's achromes. I mean, the closest we get is the Martin Creed thing where a blank room turns on the lights off and on, but that;s just taking the piss.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:44 AM on July 6, 2011


"They'd better be able to! I mean, sure, you'll have to use real physicists, and they might need funding and equipment to recreate any experiments run, but yes, you could totally resolve legitimate physics papers from cranks (or at least good works from bad) without knowing the authors. Double-blind testing doesn't mean you don't use experts, you just make sure neither the tester nor the subject knows who was responsible for which item."

Sorry, I didn't make myself clear — the double-blind tests require that the tester still knows a fair amount about physics. (And, honestly, given what I know about the handful of academic disciplines where friends have published, they're usually small enough niches that people do pretty much know what lab is responsible for what, even if it's nominally blinded.)

In art, distinguishing "masterpieces" from talented amateurs takes a fair amount of contextual knowledge. Rothko's erasure of a De Koonig drawing wouldn't make sense unless you knew who De Koonig was and why Rothko was erasing him; it doesn't look like all that much, but there's a pretty great and pretty snarky piece in there.

"Well, I was mostly intending to attack those specific works (without really knowing enough about the artists to criticize their other ones). But I do think the blank-canvas paintings really do highlight a huge problem in the art world - works are not judged on their own merits. It shouldn't matter if a work comes from a master or an amateur - good work should be good. When works are lauded that would obviously never be taken from someone who wasn't famous and accepted already, it really makes the whole system look silly."

The problem with this statement is that it does some huge question begging about what makes art good and what constitutes merits. There are plenty of works where it's the social or artistic context that makes them important.
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on July 6, 2011


Rauschenberg, not Rothko...Klang.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2011


Oh, yeah, you're right. It's Rauschenberg who erased De Koonig.

Which just goes to emphasize again that Bob was awesome (even if I sometimes feel like his use of personal narrative, especially within the combines, makes his work too cryptic and obscure to get a real sense of — in terms of people who you really are aided by having a large supplemental body of criticism on in order to get what he's doing, Rauschenberg is a great example).
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2011


.
posted by desuetude at 1:16 PM on July 6, 2011


I find myself in the (likely unprecedented) position of agreeing with Faze.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2011


.
posted by klausness at 2:00 PM on July 6, 2011


Roberta Smith, The NY Times main art critic, on Twombly and his work.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2011


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posted by safetyfork at 1:21 PM on July 7, 2011


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